We all know about the tools people can choose from to help measure their social status online and identify others that are influential in areas of interest.  Social media has encouraged the democratization of influence, enabling nobodies to actually be somebodies. But does social influence really matter to businesses?  If it does, how can they harness and use it to their advantage?

Why social influence ranking matters

We all spend time researching products and services online before making an important purchase; and there is no doubt that we are being influenced by the online opinion of others. But ‘influence’ can extend beyond mere purchasing decisions to actual opinion shaping. Everyone knows of bloggers such as Chris Brogan and Jason Falls – these are people who have developed positions of authority and influence due to their experience and knowledge of their field, and as a result, they are considered to be ‘thought leaders’. What they say shapes or informs the opinions of others. If they talk about a brand, what they say about it is likely to be believed by their thousands of readers.

This goes for any influencer online, in any field. If brands can identify who the relevant key influencers are in their field, they are unearthing a means of potentially shaping their target consumers’ opinions. The renowned Brian Solis confirms that “by a better understanding of how digital influence works and with the help of emerging social media influence services, businesses can proactively shape and steer positive conversations by connecting with influencers and engaging with online communities”.

Companies are now able to turn online chatter into actionable insights that improve decision making across their organisation. By recognizing negative feedback from influential sources, brands can acquire a better understanding of what they did wrong, take corrective actions and revise their strategies to better match the needs of their customers. Critics can lead to positive outcomes. By acknowledging this, businesses can take appropriate actions to build an effective digital influence strategy and shine amongst their competitors. Thus, there is a clearly a case to make for social influence ranking for business.

But are the tools out there relevant?

Despite the benefits of social influence, much has been made of the criticisms of leading social influence ranking tools like Klout and Kred. With algorithms that seem shaky due to erroneous results, and highly gamified, ‘fun’ approaches, it’s difficult to see how these can be used for business purposes; i.e. for identifying key influencers that are truly relevant for a brand, finding the sites that share the most pertinent content, or even identifying when an individual tweet or post carries influential weight.

So what tools out there exist for this purpose? One example is presented by social media monitoring and engagement specialists Synthesio (where I work). They have built their own automated, business-oriented influence ranking system called SynthesioRank, which they have implemented with a number of their clients globally. The tool features different calculations for every media type and source to ensure that only relevant influence is calculated. This was detailed recently in a provocative article entitled ‘Klout For Grownups’ which implies that Synthesio are taking influence ranking to a more specifically business focused audience.

Another tool was detailed recently on Jason Falls' blog Social Media Explorer - from social marketing company Awareness Networks. The scoring mechanism sits within its social management suite, and allows users to set points values for different actions, such as retweeting, sharing, liking, and so on, with a view to scoring how each individual interacts with the brand's content. This puts the power in the user's hands, rather than relying on an algorithm, and means the software acts as both a CRM tool and an influencer identifying program.

If presented and calculated in this context, social influence can certainly provide valuable insights for businesses; showing them the key individuals to build relationships with in order to try and promote positive conversations about their brand.

What other business-oriented influence ranking tools are out there that you’ve used or know of? Share your thoughts in the comments below.