A few different projects have got my mind focused on influence this week. The first is planning the research design for the centrepiece of my book on social media in B2B (can we measure the influence that social media platforms have on the different staging of the B2B buying cycle?). The second is connected with our cooperation next month with Twitter at the Cannes Lions.
In both contexts I am reaching the conclusion that influence cannot be measured, and thus is a futile metric for exploration. Sure, you can ask people how much influence something has or has had, but do they really know? And what is influence anyway? In my mind it is a power that makes someone do something, not a property that any individual possesses. Invariably when an individual does have influence, it is only over a specific thing. Even the most influential people in the world (politicians, one could argue) have no influence over whether I will buy a Sony or a Panasonic television this weekend.
In a public environment, you might (just) be able to attempt to measure influence by looking at people’s networks, the re-communication of their utterances, but to me this is just reach. Someone who says something that reaches 100,000 people is no more influential than someone who reaches just 100, if all of the latter act on that communication but none of the former do.
In short, influence needs to be measured in context and at the receiving end not the transmitting end. That is not something you can do by looking at their blog posts, tweets or Facebook profile.
So do we continue to try and measure things that cannot be measured, or do we measure things that can be measured and can give us as marketers comparisons that we understand.
I think it’s the latter.