December 11, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

The Online-Only Influence Fallacy (or BL Ochman Can’t Seriously Believe She’s Got Almost as Much Pull as Mitt Romney, Can She?)

The Online-Only Influence Fallacy (or BL Ochman Can’t Seriously Believe She’s Got Almost as Much Pull as Mitt Romney, Can She?)

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.

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About The Author

Chip Griffin is the Founder of CustomScoop. He writes and speaks frequently about data-driven public relations. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.

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9 Comments

  1. Michael Hussey

    Chip,

    Good post. One thing to note – PeekAnalytics is measuring audiences across social media – mapping data from 60 social sites and all the major blog platforms. While we think measuring your Pull (or Klout, or whatever) is interesting, we’re mostly focused on measuring and validating your social audience, be it your Twitter followers or the people mentioning your brand, etc.

    All the data and insights that allow us to show you the consumer ratio, demographics, interests, industries, incomes etc also allows us to create an influence score we call Pull. Herman Cain and Mitt Romney obviously have access to many other still more powerful forms of media than most people – but online, they are competing for an audience against every other content creator. In that sense, the social web is a much more level playing field, where an article or an idea written by Chip Griffin or BL Ochman has the potential to be read and amplified by a very powerful audience….and while Mitt and Herman have a large number of Twitter followers on their side, part of what I think BL was explaining
    is that her average follower is much more plugged in…much better able to amplify her content.

    We’ve spent a number of years working out how to aggregate people’s digital footprints. We’re excited about PeekAnalytics because it is a wonderful application of the technology. At the end of the day, we believe that any influence you have on social media is there because of the people who are listening. We’re just providing the statistics – in the same way Nielsen does for TV and Comscore/Quantcast do for web traffic. Marketers need to know the audience they are reaching.

    BTW – here is your own Twitter social audience report: http://www.scribd.com/doc/71968152/chipgriffin-110711

    Best,

    Michael Hussey
    CEO, PeekYou

    1. chip@chipgriffin.com'
      Chip Griffin

      Thanks, Michael. There’s a lot to like in the data you’re putting together. My main objection is to the single numerical score (though I understand you almost need to do it to respond to the market itch), plus the notion that online and offline are truly separate. More people are amplifying Mitt Romney’s message online than BL Ochman’s message. To look simply at who is amplifying a single tweet from a single account and judge that BL’s audience is more engaged than Mitt’s seems to tell only a teen-tiny bit of the story.

      And thanks for the report on my audience. I’ll take a look at it…

      c#

      1. Michael Hussey

        “To look simply at who is amplifying a single tweet from a single account and judge that BL’s audience is more engaged…”

        Correct — you’ve identified the problem with engagement metrics (which is the basis for all these influence scores such as Klout). 

        PeekAnalytics is simply focused on identifying and measuring your audience…More details here:  http://analytics.peekyou.com

    1. chip@chipgriffin.com'
      Chip Griffin

      Thanks for your comment, BL. Michael and I had some good dialogue about this post. As I said, I do like a lot of what they’re doing and the underlying data is very interesting. However, in your post you quote him as saying “A pull of 700x vs. 350x would have twice as much influence or Pull on the social web because of the quality of the respective audiences.” My point is that Mitt Romney has more “influence … on the social web” than you or I do because audience quality is not the best way to measure that. Moreover, I think that measuring online influence in isolation doesn’t make much sense because most of the time communicators are seeking to influence people online for an action that takes place in or at least impacts the offline world.

  2. bl@whatsnextonline.com'
    BL

    Also, I would like to thank you for the post. Social media metrics is a complex subject and there is no one tool that will answer all of the questions. There will be something to object to with each new tool that is introduced. But I think PeekAnalytics comes closer than any of the 50+ I have tested.

    1. chip@chipgriffin.com'
      Chip Griffin

      Thanks. And I agree that the data Peek is providing has the potential to be very valuable and is certainly more relevant than any of the others I have seen so far, as well.

  3. genna.weiss@gmail.com'
    Genna Weiss

    I just wanted to add to the conversation that Appinions’ Influencer Exchange actually aims to solve some of the issues discussed in this post. For one, the Influencer Exchange lets the user create his/her own topics to find relevant influencers; an influencer’s score then reflects how he/she is influential in any given area. Since we also look at influence across social and traditional media, this solves what we like to call the Warren Buffett problem — someone who does not have a social presence but commands significant influence across offline/traditional media. This way, Warren Buffett still registers as a significant influencer if searching for his areas of influence using the Influencer Exchange.

    Regards,

    Genna Weiss
    Marketing Manager, Appinions
    Appinions.com  

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