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January 3rd, 2012

Finding Influencers and Collecting Data? Tools Help, But It’s Nothing Without Hard Work

Recently, I had a discussion with a local (Boston) technology professional about finding influencers via social media. Additionally, I constantly have discussions with clients, colleagues and peers about measurement. Why mention these two facts together? These two topics have a lot more in common than they might seem to on the surface, at least when it comes to the practical applications in social media programs.

Tractors & Shovel Truck

Photo by Martijn vdS on Flickr

First, both “influence” and measurement come with a variety of tools designed to help us find and analyze. These tools, whether they be KloutPeerIndex or Traackr on the influence side, or Radian6SysomosSpredfast and any number of tools on the monitoring/metrics/analytics side, all have their plusses. They all have their minuses too. Are they too unsophisticated or broad, too complicated to use, missing pieces, too expensive, lacking tech support? There’s always something.

Which tool a given program uses isn’t all that important, it turns out. However, let’s assume that having some tools to help you harvest information is necessary. The reality is that most social media professionals have to have at least some familiarity with a variety of the tools, as different clients, or even departments within a company (probably a separate discussion there), use different tools.

OK- we have established that we need tools, but we are limited. That sounds like a nightmare, no?

Well, yes and no. I believe it’s healthy to believe that the “magic bullet” tool that finds the best influencers for any specific program, or covers all your metrics needs, will never exist. It’s also healthy to believe that just about any tool, despite any public criticism, will help you in some way.

Great; so what?  

Even as these tools become simultaneously more sophisticated and easier to use (good luck with that) the need for what I like to call spade work does not go away. The spade work is divided into two categories:

  • Figuring out what to ignore: Good tools mine everything. That’s almost as bad as having nothing, as a large chunk of the work in analyzing info is figuring out what not to include. How do you sort for the things that only affect your goals? How do you find people who are not merely “influential,” but are specifically relevant to your program? How do you filter monitoring data only for the things you need to see- and how do you determine which metrics are the one you need to see? Great tools filter further. Klout does offer some categories of influence, for example, and most monitoring tools allow you to tweak and adjust search terms. However no matter how good or great the tool manual sorting is necessary; not just due to a lack of complete trust in tools (Klout categories, to keep using that example, can yield some head-scratching results, such as the marketing expert who was, hilariously, deemed to be influential about “sheep”), but because every program, every campaign- and every data source- is unique
  • Goals: Actually that should be first, but I’m being counter-intuitive. I was also tempted to write “Program goals” to distinguish from campaign oriented goals, but it is important to find influencers for and measure campaigns as well as the ongoing program. As hinted at in the previous paragraph, your goals determine which of the endless metrics and influencer types you need to focus on, to the exclusion of all else that lacks relevance, beyond the limited extent of any tools.
  • Analysis: The value any social media professional brings to a program is in the analysis- I don’t mean sifting and sorting data, as anyone can learn to do with the tools, but in figuring out what it all means. At the beginning, it’s applying thought to the types of influencers that matter and what criteria count most. In the end, it’s applying meaning to the program data. For example, what does that decline in Facebook Page comments mean? Why were there fewer clicks to the Website from Twitter vs Facebook? How did a surge in blog publishing frequency this month affect subscriber numbers- or even product sales?

Tools are necessary. But making them worthwhile is hard work. Anyone who thinks differently is not using them (or their social media team’s brainpower) to their full capabilities.

About the Author
Doug Haslam is a Supervisor on the Voce Connect Client Services team, managing client programs and developing strategy. In addition to Voce Nation, Doug writes his own personal blog and you can find him on Twitter as @dough.

Filed in Measurement

Add Your Comment2 Responses to “Finding Influencers and Collecting Data? Tools Help, But It’s Nothing Without Hard Work”

40deuce on January 4th, 2012 at 12:32 pm

I fully agree with you, Doug. Tools can be super helpful, but without someone to look at the data they provide and analyze it themselves all that data can be meaningless. Yes, I work for one of the tools you mentioned above and I think that our tool is great at collecting the data, but after we’ve collected data for our clients it’s up to them to interpret it. Tools can only take you so far. The brain then has to come in to play to look at that data, look at your goals, and then draw conclusions and figure out the next steps.

Cheers, Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

Trish on January 5th, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Excellent points, Doug! You have to know what to include and what to filter out. Platforms can only take you so far, the rest (analysis, etc) needs to be handled by your team (even if your team is just one person). Setting goals early & having a set standard you compare your progress, or lack thereof, to is important. Strategy first, then tools/platforms.

Also, when it comes to influencers specifically, context is just as important as content.

All the best, Trish | Community Manager Radian6