What Makes Someone An Online Influencer?

Hint: It’s Much More Than A Number!

Guest bloggers Gaelen O’Connell and Melinda Venable are Principals at Social Scouters, a new consulting firm that creates influence marketing and social media programs for startups, non-profits, and corporations.

Melinda Venable
Melinda Venable

Tools for measuring a person’s level of digital media influence are more abundant than ever, but are they comprehensive? We don’t think so, and many industry leaders seem to agree. While these tools can slice and dice quantitatively to give you a general sense of one’s reach and engagement abilities, most don’t cover qualitative aspects of influence.

We believe influence largely depends on mutually beneficial relationships, credibility and trust. Qualities like these motivate people to listen to what someone is saying, internalize their advice and take actions that benefit a company’s bottom line. Influencers make these things happen. There’s nothing wrong with people who inspire fans or followers to take more superficial actions (likes, retweets and comments, they’re all great for generating awareness), but influencers go beyond the surface to help a company develop new leads, sales and stronger user adoption. To say we can truly call someone influencer without knowing how they contribute to a company in these respects isn’t painting the whole picture.

Gaelen O'Connell
Gaelen O’Connell

One can use analytics systems (via trackable codes and links), etc. to track how individuals directly motivate people in their online networks to try, buy or adopt products – but first you have to narrow down who’d make the best candidates for this further analysis.

Based on our experiences creating influence marketing programs (and teaching others how to do the same), here are some qualitative things to look at when you’re prospecting for influencers. Take them into consideration in addition to any quantitative data you gather elsewhere:

Find out who your trusts your prospective influencer. Look at who engages with them on a regular basis and the quality of those interactions. Is there evidence the prospect’s fans or followers agree with opinions he or she has shared? Have the fans and followers confirmed they’ll take specific actions recommended by your prospect to learn more, try or buy products/services?

Find out who your prospective influencer trusts. Look at who the prospect links to in his or her blog roll, reference in tweets, recommends in Twitter Lists, tags in Facebook statuses and pages liked.

Relationship strength
Observe your prospective influencer’s interactions. Do your prospect’s relationships appear mutually beneficial? Can you find evidence that your prospect engages with his or her online community offline/in the real word?

Look for 3rd party validation. Does your prospect participate in industry-related speaking events? Twitter chats? Webinars? Has your prospect won any industry-specific awards? What do your prospect’s clients or customers say about them?

Social Scouters

Try incorporating some of the qualitative information discussed above into your influencer research. You’ll have a much richer picture of who is most likely to motivate his or her online communities to take the actions that contribute most to company’s bottom line. We, at Social Scouters, pay attention to qualitative factors when identifying the best influencers for our clients. We also weave them into our approach when developing relationships with influencers who we’ll later cultivate into brand advocates. It’s a very personal type of approach that we believe delivers the best results – consider using it in your digital media strategy.