I first met BL Ochman years ago — I think at an event in New York that we were both speakers. She has lots of useful things to say on her blog and elsewhere. And I can confirm that she has an influential voice in the arena of online communicators.
However, when I read on her blog this morning her review of a new social media influence measurement tool, I nearly fell out of my seat laughing. I wasn’t guffawing at her, but rather about the insatiable quest for a numerical measurement of one’s influence that seems to have gripped much of the professional social media community.
Let’s start with where we agree. BL Ochman and I concur that a lot of the social influence tools out there now aren’t very good. As she aptly puts it: “Despite all the money thrown at it, measuring social media influence has been a tenuous match of art, science and the secret algorithm sauce of each monitoring platform … [brands] are very likely to be basing their budgets on incomplete, and often bogus audience and influence measurements.”
In her post, BL finds that a new service that may change that. “PeekYou’s beta of PeekAnalytics Social Audience Report comes closer than any of the more than 50 social media monitoring platforms and tools I’ve tested to providing, and explaining, meaningful audience analysis of Twitter followers that brands can confidently use to create their budgets,” she writes.
BL piqued my curiosity as she started to delve into her review. I was intrigued when she wrote that PeekYou “measures the digital footprint of Twitter followers across 60 social sites and millions of blogs to provide accurate, actionable, data-driven Twitter insights, including, age, social membership, interests and much more about their audience.” PeekYou could have something worth exploring, I thought.
But then I read what the PeekYou analysis found for BL, in her own words: “despite having 10x fewer followers, I have almost as much pull as [Mitt Romney and Herman Cain]. (No, thanks, I’m not going to run for office.)”
Let’s set aside Herman Cain for now since he is the nitwit of the moment in the Republican primary field. I suspect most of us can agree that Mitt Romney is a legitimate, credible candidate for President of the United States.
Let me be clear: any measurement system that says BL Ochman is as influential as Mitt Romney (or any other credible presidential candidate) is flat-out broken. If the finding had been that BL was more influential among social media professionals, I would have at least been willing to contemplate the possibility. But to read that a tool says that straight-up BL has almost as much “pull” as Mitt Romney can’t generate any response from me but laughter.
Upon further review, it turns out that PeekYou doesn’t really say BL Ochman has almost as much pull as Mitt Romney. In fact, the numbers in the screen shot provided by BL show that Mitt Romney has a “Social Pull” score of 351, compared to 125 for BL. Perhaps I’m misreading the data, but that seems to say that Romney has more than 2X the pull of BL.
That doesn’t make the Social Pull number that much more useful, however. The fundamental problem is that scores that measure online influence fail to account for the vital impact of offline influence. What Mitt Romney says on his Twitter account has a much better chance of being covered in traditional news media outlets — which, in turn, can boomerang back to influence online conversations. Similarly, Mitt Romney can say something on TV that will likely generate much more Twitter discussion than if BL Ochman says something in the real world.
The point of this post is not to knock BL Ochman or PeekYou. They both seem to be making honest attempts to address the desire for social influence metrics. Boiling it all down to one number simply doesn’t work, however.
I do like much of what I saw in the PeekYou screen grab. To the extent that PeekYou provides data about how many verified people follow a person and demographic information about those individuals, that’s useful intelligence for marketers and communicators. I applaud services that seek to take Twitter follower counts and apply context to them. I like it when services seek to determine who people interact with online. This is all good and helpful.
But that should be good enough. Let’s stop the madness of trying to assign a number to everyone’s online influence. As much as we may like our computer screens and keyboards, the “real world” still matters a lot more.