Strength of Community Supersedes Influence

Chasing Windmills
Image by Annie Siegal

With the current overfocus on influence metrics, companies and nonprofits are left to wonder at the digeratti’s navel gazing via participation scores. While influencers play a role in social media, for a company or nonprofit that role is ultimately very small. After the influencer “graces” everyone with their presence, the organization’s community remains. After a sales or advocacy campaign winds up, the community remains. When those initiatives are needed again, they require a strong community in place, openly receptive of such overtures. That’s why the most important metric should always be Strength of Community.

Direct ROI — i.e. sales, donations, tonality and other key performance indicators (KPIs) — also represents a critical measurement set. It can be easily measured using KPIs and a corresponding strategy (though often overlooked). Businesses want loyal customers who buy their stuff, and refer new clients. Nonprofits want donors. However, to get hard ROI organizations need a vibrant accepting community. The juxtaposition between strength of community and direct ROI cannot be underestimated.

Strength of community measures the health of an organization’s core social network. Core aspects of community strength cannot be measured in a quantifiable manner by an algorithm, for example members’ interest in taking responsibility for aspects of the community such as moderating a group. But there are plenty of activity metrics that can be quantified with a well integrated social graph; return visits, pull through visits to the main web site, repeated comments, performance and volume by demographic, recency and frequency of posts (hat tip: Paul Fabretti), repeated actions, advocacy outside of the community (Facebook, Twitter and individual blog posts), etc., etc.

Yet, there’s no real focus on developing social media based strength of community metrics. There’s a series of tools that can help like Facebook Insights, Google Analytics loyalty measures, AddThis Analytics, and a small group of emerging hybrid solutions like Badgeville. But without a robust enterprise tracking solution like Eloquoa, one is lost.

Instead the market is left with an increasing dearth of influencer metric solutions, catering to the PR 2.0 community and its need to qualify influencers. To be fair, some of the influencer metrics have community details to them such as total number of community members who like or retweet a post. At the same time they are woefully inadequate in providing a composite community picture.

Influence is being touted as the measurement set to understand social media, but of all the metrics, it’s the one that is least needed. In fact, the influencer conversation (read Shonali Burke’s discussion) is like watching Don Quixote chase windmills. That’s why Twitalyzer CEO Eric Peterson’s post discounting the use of influence metrics in personnel decisions was so refreshing.

facebook-insights-new.jpg
(Image from AllFacebook)

Instead of getting distracted by influence, focus on strength of community metrics. They mean more to an organization than any other social measurement solution out there. Strength of community is the fly wheel that drives desired business outcomes as defined by KPIs. An organization would much rather have a vibrant community of 150,000 members than a sexy influencer program that garners 50 unique blog mentions. This is the next frontier of social metrics.

The opportunity has not escaped some minds. Badgeville, a community rewards and analytics company, is building a new set of analytics to provide organizations a deeper view of how their community’s engagement behaviors. Communities can usually integrate Badgeville’s solution via an API within a week. In a conversation with Badgeville’s Adena DeMonte, she discussed how critical it was for an organization to measure individual community member actions, including a visit(s) a store, and whether or not purchases were made.

As organizations become more savvy about social properties and their corresponding role within the larger mission and strategy, it is only natural that they will want to focus on strength of community. Measurement solutions that provide diverse analyses of community actions across networks have their role in determining the health of an organization’s effort.

  • Thanks for linking to us. Excellent points. But I feel that you need influencers and a strong community in order for your social media activation to work. As someone who manages large communities and who works daily with bloggers/influencers, I see where both are necessary, beneficial, and needed for brands who really want to make an impact. I work in the luxury, fashion, and lifestyle marketing industry and influencers are an important part of their marketing mix and aligning the right product, with the right person can be powerful.

    • Influencers are great for drawing attention to intiatives and bring new people to a community. That’s the role of an influencer in a strategic initiative, because rarely are they willing to actually participate withingthe community for a sustained period of time. But like press hits, influencer attention is fleeting. It gives you an opportunity to do something, but doesn’t equate to a sale, donation or other outcome.

      Also, influence is relative. Someone who leads inside the community may be much more influential even though they are not “popular” or well known in the outside community. People who become familiar with the insider may trust him/her much more than someone who has a high Klout score, for example.

      Further, if the community doesn’t pre-exist before influencers are brought in, you may have nothing after they leave. Jumo and Old Spice both made this mistake. Old Spice will not likely retain the equity of its efforts from last year beyond 2011, and it is often cited as a very successful campaign. And it was from an influencer earned impression standpoint. It won’t be from a long term community standpoint. In 2012 Old Spice will have to do something completely different.

      Conversely, using influencers to feed an existing healthy community is just smart. There’s a place for interested people to come in an play. LIVESTRONG does this well with its social media properties. And that’s the ultimate example of influence and community working well together as media specific strategies.

      Great comment, Mike and thanks for coming by!

  • Glad someone said it. The overfocus on influence metrics comes from people knowing they need to measure something, but don’t want to actually measure something meaningful.

    • Or worse, people who do know the difference but have settled for less, and haven’t served the industry by promoting and demanding the right stats. Good to see you, Steve.

  • Geoff – Kudos to you again for leading the pack on this important, but overlooked issue.

    Last week, Kurt Steiner (runs charityhowto) and I were talking on the phone when the topic of website platforms came up. We wondered how much nonprofits use WordPress for their website’s platform (not just a blog). I said “Why not ask your Facebook fans?”. Within an hour, he had 32 responses. Obviously, this will appear as a huge spike in his Insights data.

    A business or nonprofit can’t pay the rent by having an influencer crash their servers. Only a community that creates a consistency can sustain the organization.

    • A great example, John. Community versus influence is analogous to the tortoise versus the hare, the old fashioned way of doing business versus get rich quick schemes. Influence is largely supported by popular influencers and their blogs. There are obvious reasons for them to support influence like sustaining their weblebrity. Meanwhile the market has been fed a Red Herring.

  • I do not trust a brand that is post-pimped by many influencers, but lacks a genuine community.

  • Sandra Parrotto

    We’re talking building real relationships through genuine commitment – I loved how you delineated other metrics and gave new label for future…we were going to have to create new language to describe non-traditional metrics – you are doing it!

    • Well said, Sam. I think it’s time, though I will say folks like Chistopher Carfi have been working on Community metrics for years, it’s just gotten lost in the shuffle.

  • I actually wrote a post similar to this on one of my personal blogs last week where I said big names are great for attracting some attention, but in the end we as humans are really influenced by the people we know and trust. I called it our social circles, but community works as well.
    By creating these communities the members gain a certain level of trust for one another. True trust comes from interaction and getting to know the person. True trust in someone leads to influence.
    I don’t usually do things like this, but feel free to check my post out at http://bit.ly/g25lF3

    Cheers,
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

    • Thanks, Sheldon. It’s always good to hear from the voice of experience on these things. And thank you for leaving your post. I’ll be sure to check it out. Best wishes, Geoff

  • Thanks for bringing up this important issue, Geoff. I find the dearth of influencer metric solutions a little baffling. I am wondering if the problem in some cases is other types of marketing/change management models are being cookie cutter copied inappropriately for social media/nonprofits (if you have expertise in hammers, everything looks like a nail). Identifying and relying on influencers would be critical if you were trying to get teenagers to say no to drugs. The same would hold true for influencers/early adopters if you were trying to introduce a new technology product. Using people with say Klout to replicate such influencer-based change models in a nonprofit social media campaign seems nonproductive to me. Getting people with Klout to retweet you and forward your videos is only going to get you so far. After all, awareness does not equal action. As you wrote, what you really need is a strong community. You need volunteers who are willing to evangelize the cause, take actions to expand the pool of donors, put on fundraising events, moderate a group, etc. Your “super star” influencer could easily be somebody’s grandmother who is on Facebook, knows how to use e-mail and upload a personal plea YouTube video, but isn’t on Twitter and has 0 Klout. I am wondering how many of the influencer metric solutions would accurately quantify such a contribution.

    • Monica: I think you are spot on, plus the quest for the tipping point in social change has been ongoing for some time. But this quantification and desire for the highest Klout doesn’t actually reflect the dynamics of a community and the way members interact with and trust each other. In that sense by focusing on the singular, we muss the holistic picture necessary. It takes a village concept… Thanks for adding your thoughts here, and we’ll see you soon again.

  • Thanks Geoff for bringing up metrics. I think the concept
    of building a vibrant community should be, (maybe was) the goal of
    social media. People with like interests sharing information, views
    and forming relationships. However, from a marketing perspective,
    it seems to have evolved into a sales channel, with all the lovely
    metrics attached, which may be why Agencies have latched onto
    medium, or maybe they caused the change. I tell my association
    clients that a social media community enables you to engage your
    membership and be a hub for information sharing and relationship
    building, it benefits everyone, not just the host. Once it starts
    to benefit only certain segments, the value of the community
    declines.

    • Community was the goal I remembered. Things seemed to have gotten off the beaten path over the past two years. But, we can always come back to core values. I think you are right on on over benefiting certain demographics over others.

  • Geoff,

    Excellent addition to the conversation about influence, and the various measures. It’s an excellent teaching tool in reminding people that “reach” is not an outcome in and of itself.

    Metrics are often harder to discern than people realize. Case in point, I recently ran a contest to test the engagement of a growing community and almost fooled myself in believing the dismal outcome. (Only one person participated and, of course, won.) But there are many other factors that could have played a role in the outcome, e.g. the value of the prize, the distance between writing about the performer and the offering, the day of the week, events during the day, the content shared that day, and so on and so forth.

    My point is that had I not been looking at multiple indicators, I might have assumed the community was not engaged. Instead, I learned more about the community in realizing how far away the prize offered appealed to them.

    In general, Olivier’s metrics mirror my own methods for measuring effective communication, and I have found them to be the most reliable. Sure, even those studies sometimes lead to erred conclusions, but it certainly leads to a better sense of how things are working than reach on it’s own, or worse, this crazy emphasis on influence.

    All my best,
    Rich

    • Yup, there is no one way to slice and dice this pie. Olivier’s preso is one of the best out there, and good on you for noting the link. I like using multiple indicators, too. It helps you manage in process, too.

      I also think the part that’s never discussed in these social media metrics is that human element. The qualitative analysis — typified by your example — makes a huge difference. You have to be able to read the numbers. Thanks for coming by, Rich!

  • Geoff, I’m late on this (aargh!), but thank you for the reference (though now I want to know which one of us was Don Quixote, LOL).

    Interesting about Badgeville, I will check that out.

    • Let’s see. If you blog about influence or associated tools as a
      dominant form of measurement and top approach to social media, you
      are likely a Don Quixote type.

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