by: Matt Rhodes

Next week I’m speaking at the SocialMediaInfluence conference in London on Measuring Influence and Audience online. It’s a tricky subject and looking around today I have been unable to find any examples of an approach which has been successfully and repeatedly applied.

The problem appears to be that whilst there are a whole range of metrics that we can measure in social media (see The Social Organisation blog for a fairly comprehensive list) but none of these truly gets to the crux of the problem. What we want to do is know is to measure the influence that a single blogger, commenter or video upload has. What is the value of a blog post praising Coca-Cola in terms that Coca-Cola could understand and measure. As many of our clients ask us, what’s the ROI of encouraging this kind of activity.

The answer is that it’s difficult to measure, not because we don’t have a range of metrics (we do) but because at the moment our understanding of what causes a particular post or a particular individual to be influential is limited. We can measure proxies, such as trackbacks, links to the site from other sites (and the number of links to the sites that link there). But these really only reflect an inherent influence that we still haven’t measured.

What we really want to know is how influential is everybody that is exposed to an piece of content, and how influential are all the people they influence. Of course calculating this number would be difficult if not impossible. And the information you need to gather would be huge. It really wouldn’t be worthwhile.

Which is why some more basic measure is needed. Take the sites like Dell’s Ideastorm and MyStarbucksIdea. These get peers to vote posts up or down depending how relevant they think they are. You can then migrate only the more popular posts to the front page or the top of the list. This kind of rough approach might be a crowd-sourced way of measuring influence. We know that the most popular posts are those that people in the community think the brand needs to listen to most. Perhaps this is the only measure of influence we need.

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