How to Measure Social Media Influenceby: Dustin Hawley | Thursday November 14, 2019
**Originally published January 15th, 2019, updated November 14th, 2019**
So let's ask ourselves the question 'What is social media influence?' Back in the stone age of the world wide web, influence was typically evaluated based on the number of page views displayed on the good 'ol counter widget. Fast forward to the arrival of social sites like Myspace and Facebook, and we were given more data points to measure: metrics like the size of your social media audience, AKA your follower count. Then along came Twitter, where users’ social media influence was beginning to be judged based on the reach and resonance of their tweets.
The criteria that make up someone’s social media influence haven't changed that much over the years. What has changed is the value of having power in an online community, and the available metrics and data that effectively measure that power. Business owners and employers eventually recognized social media as an essential business tool, and social media influence became a way organizations evaluated potential employees. Gaining that influence became a top priority for social media pros—in turn, creating a whole new industry with enormous growth potential and career opportunities.
In today's world, everyone on social media is seemingly obsessed with influence. But how do you really know for sure how influential you are? What does influence in the social media realm even mean – and how do you know who has it? It's a question of growing importance in this digital age.
Many people simply consider the number of followers, likes, shares, etc. as a good way to measure influence. But as social media continues to evolve, numbers don’t mean nearly as much on social media as they once did in the infancy of the industry. Unless they are supported by other factors. Everyone in 2019 has the ability to gather thousands of followers on their social accounts. However, many of them can be fake, purchased, or utterly uninterested in your social updates or your opinions. They may have just participated in the archaic 'follow for follow' trend that was popular years ago, and it resulted in network expansion with no tangible relationship building or authentic interest. Social media can be very vain and fickle.
The truth is that the term 'influence' is thrown around a lot, and even somewhat recklessly many would argue. But even the most influential social media stars have a difficult time coming to a consensus on a universal meaning for “social media influencer”. In the industry's current state, influence is beginning to become all about engagement, and how people are responding to your social media content.
Here are few simple yet powerful social media metrics you should be measuring right now to determine who has real influence in today's social media landscape.
As has been the case since the inception of social media, the first – and easiest – social media metric to measure is volume. How many followers does an influencer have? How many posts do they have? Volume is a great initial indicator of public interest. The fact is, people tend to talk about things they either love or hate. What they don't talk about much, are things they simply don’t care about at all. Volume can seem like a simple metric, but there’s much more to it than just counting tweets and social posts.
It’s crucial to measure both the number of followers, the number of posts, and the number of interactions and influencer produces, and track how both of those numbers change over time. Facebook Insights, for example, has an effective metric called “People Talking About This”, and it measures how many unique users have posted something to their walls about a public figure on social media.
Simply put, an influencer’s reach is the number of people who potentially see their content. It’s the size of the influencer’s audience (followers), plus the number of people who see the content through search results or recommendations. A larger reach means there are more opportunities for people to see influencer's content. Three elements factor into an influencers' reach.
- Audience size
To get a good idea of how many people may see an influencer's content, start by looking at the size of their audience. Influencers have loyal audiences that they have grown and developed over time. Some followers 'subscribe' to their favorite influencers, receiving automatic notifications every time an influencer posts. So influencers with a large proportion of subscribers are likely to see any content posted by the influencer.
Essentially, an impression is an instance of content appearing to an audience. If you know how many impressions a post gets, then you know how many people have potentially seen it. However, an impression isn’t necessarily action-based and doesn’t mean that someone has engaged with an influencer's content in any way. There are several tracking and analytics programs to monitor the number of impressions an influencer's content receives, such as Domo and Hootsuite.
You can measure an influencer's traffic through the use of tracking pixels on associated content.
When it comes to measuring true influence on social media, engagement is arguably the most important metric. How are people participating in the conversation with the influencer? What are they doing to spread the content and engage with the topic? On the majority of social media platforms, content can be both shared and replied to. Twitter retweets (RTs), Facebook shares, etc., are useful in determining who is spreading the content online. Actions like comments, replies, and likes are helpful to see who is replying to the content.
A real effort needs to be made for influencers to truly engage their audience. Lazy or lackluster attempts at engagement are easily spotted in today's day and age. Do not underestimate the abilities in perception that today's social media users possess. They are very savvy in their own right, and they typically see the difference between a truly engaged influencer and one that simply fires out the “Thanks For The Follow!” style replies and is attempting to build their audience generically.
Having a large following looks good, sure. And a large following typically means an influencer's content is likely receiving a lot of impressions. But the harsh reality is, that the size of your audience means nothing if the interaction between the influencer and followers is menial or non-existent. In fact, low engagement is often a warning sign of sorts to potential new followers, because it indicates a lack of trust and authority. Higher engagement rates often build trust and peace of mind with an influencer's audience, and that, in turn, attracts more followers, impressions, and maybe most importantly; authentic relationships with their audience.
Share of Voice
The share of voice metric can be a complicated one, as there are many facets to it. But it's incredibly valuable in determining true influence. How does the social conversation about an influencer compare that of conversations about their competitors? Comparing these data points can be crucial in determining which influencers (in their particular vertical) hold the highest level of influence over their shared target demographics. Determine what percentage of the conversation about a particular vertical or topic is, focused on influencer A compared to influencer B. That alone can begin to paint a picture of which influencers are moving the needle, and which influencers are not.
There’s an astronomical amount of content being published every day on social media. Far more content than any one person could ever consume individually. So it matters how an influencer's audience is responding to their content compared to how they respond to their competitors’ content.
Merely tracking clicks is not enough to determine influence. You need to hone in on more specific metrics related to the influencer and their content, as we have been discussing at length. So if you have an interest in learning more about an influencer's, well, influence, you should also track the conversion ratio for clickthroughs on their content which requires sign-ups or downloads. Acquire data on previous social campaigns that an influencer was contracted to do. They can be very informative for several reasons. One of those reasons is the ability to analyze click-through rates.
Final Thoughts on Measuring Social Media Influence
Throughout this article, one reoccurring theme has been that audience size alone does not necessarily relate to influence. Just because someone has a lot of friends or followers does not mean they can encourage or influence those followers to actually do something.
We can predict how influential someone might be in the future based on their social interactions in the past and present. Social influence as a whole is something more and more brands are emphasizing in their marketing efforts. There are social tools like Skorr and Meltwater that assign people an influence score. Tools like these measure social capital online, and the ability to influence others.
Certainly, some intangibles that relate to social influence can't be measured. But we live in a data-driven era, and finding ways to measure value and influence is only increasing in importance. Keeping the above points in mind and continue spending time on your social media analyses to pull out the important elements will greatly assist you in determining who has real social influence. And who is just along for the ride.
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