Defining a social influencer is an interesting concept and one ripe for continued evaluation and exploration as we, the marketers, try to connect with those who will embrace the stories and move the brands we represent. The measurement of influence keeps shifting as social media matures but it is the detangling of the meaning of influence that warrants attention.

There are benchmark measurements - the number of comments, followers, tweets, linked-in connections, pins or circles.  Companies like Klout provide an influence score based on the social activity across multiple networks. And our conversations and attributions are calculated with Dachis Group’s Social Business Index (see The Challenge of Measuring Social Influence with Big Data by Rohn Jay Miller). These quantitative measurements calculate only one world: the social realm and help marketers examine the online conversation – an important and valuable endeavor. But it fails to include or reflect the true world of influence – our private networks.

Influence is the ability to cause action and action is clearly the ability to act within and across social and private networks.  The people we influence the most are our friends and acquaintances in our private networks: family, friends, neighbors, classmates, congregations and club members. These connections are not currently reflected in our social media profile or score and, without this information, we are calculating an incomplete equation.

In the highly acclaimed book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg provides insight on social habits and how finding the right influencer can create change. In one case study, he walks through the civil rights movement and, in particular, how Rosa Parks sparked a movement. Duhigg states, “In general, sociologist say, most of us have friends who are like us. We might have a few close acquaintances who are richer, a few who are poorer and a few of different races – but on the whole, our deepest relationships tend to be with people who look like us, earn about the same amount of money, and come from similar backgrounds…Rosa Parks transcended the social stratifications…she was friends with field hands and college professors. And the power of those friendships became apparent as soon as Parks landed in jail.”

The combination of our private and social networks allows us to do what Rosa Parks did – transcend social stratification.  When we look at both social and private networks, we begin to see a holistic representation of our social selves. For influence to be more accurately measured, it must honor those with deep, highly personal social relationships and include a calculation of the potential reach, participation and actions in private networks.  By broadening the social influencer score to include and reward those who act as bridges between the social and private networks, we get closer to finding the true influencers and away from measuring glorified popularity. 

There are two key questions.  First: “What if there was a way to rate how well a person is connected to social and private networks?”  Second: “Can we apply a score to those most likely to access the right combination of networks (private, social or combination) to initiate real action?” 

At first glance, there seems to be three primary categories that define an influencer with related variations within each category: networks, content, relationships.  Brian Solis provided a solid framework that supports this in his article, Exploring and Defining Influence. The survey he did had a majority of respondents from corporations and marketer/agencies, 42% of which were operating at revenue less than $1M. One of the compelling outcomes was the following:

  • 60% of respondents said the “quality or focus of the network was most important”
  • 55% forced a tie between “quality of content” AND the “capacity to cause measurable outcomes”
  • 40% ranked “depth of relationship” as their top choice.

In network, content and relationships, the focus, depth and measurable result were alone and in combination, the best indicator of an influencer. In particular, it was the emphasis on quality of the network, content and relationships that was the most important finding.

The framework for the quality of the network, content and relationships could include two sets of data: one for social networks and one for private reach. We each have disparate collections of connections. Our business selves use Twitter, our personal selves use Facebook, our parent selves communicate via class and PTO distribution lists, our athletic selves are connected to club Google groups or mobile sports communities. Our sphere of influence within these micro-collections is significantly higher for the simple reason that they are our friends and support the strong social ties between acquaintances.

What deserves re-thinking is the habit of

  1. Scan
  2. Click
  3. Read
  4. Comment
  5. Retweet
  6. Follow

The social media habit of sharing quality content is restricted to the people currently engaged in our social networks. We need to expand the idea of followers to include our private networks – the place where we can truly add value and trigger action.

 To change social influence, three things need to happen:

  • Bring social media content to the private networks
  • Use access and connections to private networks as another factor in social influence rating
  • Adopt social media as our mainstream social fabric

Bring social media content to your private networks

It stands to reason that those who know you in context of shared, common interests are most likely to pay attention. By re-publishing social content into the private networks we:

  • draw personal connections into our social media worlds
  • share relevant content with a highly impressionable group
  • expand our followers with relevant, deep relationships        

Private Networks as Another Factor of Social Influence Rating

Think of membership in private networks as being a node connecting two networks. Nodes can be powerful connecters that can be activated to inspire action. Adding and rewarding the number of nodes and the willingness to activate them should be part of a person’s social influence rating.

Just as we currently add our activities and specialties to our social profiles, providing a list of private networks gives a more accurate picture of the number of followers and potential followers within our social and private networks.

Together, we could adopt a system by which our collection of networks is indicated on our public profile and our transactions between the social network and private network are tracked. For example, a person reads a great article on teamwork and posts a RT on Twitter to their following and also posts the link to the article on their Boston Running email distribution list of 400+ members. From a marketing and social media perspective, that behavior makes that person slightly more influential especially if he makes it a habit. We need to explore the possibility of a RP (for re-post) indication that rewards the interconnection of the social network to a highly targeted, impressionable group.

Increasing the social influencer rating will require building a new habit for including the private networks of our social media sharing.

The New Social Influencer Habit:

  1. Scan
  2. Click
  3. Read
  4. Comment
  5. RePost to Private Network
  6. Retweet
  7. Follow 

Adopt Social Media as Part of our Mainstream Social Fabric

Like it or not, personal branding and the responsibility and power of social media is played out in middle school. For those growing up on social networks, the line between public and private is a blurred one. The concept of communicating one to many is not a learned skill. It is who these students are and how their brains are wired. The seamlessness with which a conversation begins at school, jumps onto a social network, transitions to a ‘shared hub’ that is then augmented by text-based comments is simply how it is done.

In a world where awareness of connections and degrees of separation are openly discussed, where networks are consciously cultivated and nurtured, we have a chance to re-define the social influencer as the people taking the responsibility to connect us to the networks, content and relationships. Those who change their social habits to include the private networks will be and should be seen for what they are – those who have the true power to listen, to act and to change us.