Should You Use Influencer Lists?

You’ve seen them before, influencer lists promising to deliver the names of the 100 Top Influencers for <insert trending new tech term here>. As a marketer, what are the best ways to use influencer lists? As an influencer, what does it really mean to be included on these lists?

Before I start, let me clarify that this post will focus on a B2B marketing perspective, and in particular B2B marketing for enterprise tech. Other marketing forms may not apply here.

This post got pretty long, but it’s important. TL;DR: What’s the history of influencer lists, who is making these lists, how are they compiled, a warning for influencers on these lists, and strategies for marketers when using these lists.

Why Do Influencer Lists Exist?

About thirteen years ago, social media really started to take off. People who really understood different technologies started blogging, creating videos online, and tweeting. Eventually, this labor finally started to be acknowledged as valuable by PR and traditional marketing (around 2010 or so).

The question for these traditonal keepers of the corporate message and reputation became: with all of these people creating content, who should we pay attention to? Should we brief these people? Can we ignore the annoying ones? Who is worthy of our time and attention? This last part is important because time and attention always come at a price.

In the very beginning people shared their RSS feeds on their blogs. If you really liked someone’s blog, you checked out their RSS feed. If that person was awesome, obviously who they liked to read was awesome as well. Sometimes it worked, sometimes you just ended up reading what the awesome person’s friends wrote.

By the time PR and traditional marketing decided to trust social media as a real information souce, no one was using RSS feeds anymore. So you had the perfect storm of internal organizations needing help to understand who was an influencer that they should trust, and having budget and initiatives to use social media to amplify their brands.

Who Publishes These Lists?

In the beginning, lists were driven by the influencers. This made the lists have an obvious credibility issue.

To get the answer on who publishes influencer lists these days, let’s go back to the history of social media in big companies. As PR and traditional marketing organizations started to get their arms around protecting their brands on social media, it quickly became apparent that they were going to need a platform to keep up with their brands across all types of social media. There was just too much data being created for one or two people to keep up with! An industry was born, and social media monitoring platforms were created to help firms keep an eye on what people were saying about their brands.

Since all the tweets, facebook posts, reddit tirades, and blog posts were being collected by these platforms, it was pretty easy to create methodologies to determine who was talking the most about any given subject. These tools assign different weights to things like affinity and sentiment, and when combined with frequency and a search term, lists of influencers can be created. This isn’t AI, it is pattern matching and sorting with human created weights. It’s math.

These days, the tools have evolved beyond monitoring tools. There are influencer marketing platforms to help PR and marketing organizations with their influencer marketing initiatives. If you see a “top 100 influencers in ….” list, there is a good chance that the company sharing the list is trying to sell a marketing team their influencer marketing program.

How Are These Lists Compiled?

Let’s take an Onalytica, a company that sells an influencer marketing platform (and training). I’m using them as an example because they are the most recent company with a big campaign to announce a Top 100 Cloud Influencers list. Those who made the 2020 list were more than happy to share Onalytica’s announcement tweet, which had a tracking code to the announcement page. To see the entire list you had to give up your information to Onalytica . Fair disclosure: folks who made this list are definitly cloud influencers.

There were obvious problems with the list. Many well-known influencers were missing. There were 9 women, and very few people of color. How was the list compiled?

According to the Onalytica announcement, their priority influence metric is what they call Topical Authority (reference). They come up with this by taking the amount and quality via influencer’s social engagement on Twitter. The quality portion of this weight is subjective and I didn’t see a definition for it. Next, they add in if the person has been referenced with the cloud terms used in the search other social platforms: Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Forums, Blogs, News and Tumblr content. More commentary on this below.

Search for Definitions

Here is Onalytica’s formula for determining the top influencers (as stated in the announcement blog post). Notice that critical definitions for qualitative parameters were not given.

  1. Resonance: Topical engagement
    It is not stated explicitly, but I believe this is related to reference. If so, this is how much an influencer posts and engages about “cloud” on Twitter.
  2. Relevance: Number of posts on topic, and % relevance – the proportion of their social content on the topic.
    The number of posts on the topic is quantitative. I have to wonder – does this include paid posts? The % relevance is problematic as well. If an influencers talks 75% about security, or devops, or programimng, and 25% cloud, then they would rank lower than other influencers, even if they are core to the community discussion.
  3. Reach: Number of followers
    This is a quantitative weight. This is problematic as well, it narrows the field and eliminates many real influencers.

Influencer Lists Are Made From Statistics

Y’all, this is plain ole math. These weights are determined by what the company has deemed influential and important to the definition of an influencer. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s a place to start. But you need to figure out the math behind the process.

In the case of the Onalytica top 100 cloud influencers list, if someone isn’t active on Twitter they won’t make the top 100. Likewise if they aren’t being referenced from other social platforms, although it is not clear how this referencing is defined. Is it mentions? Is it links to their content out from others’ posts? Is it likes on their posts on these platforms? If you’re a marketer relying on tools like this, these are good questions to ask.

There is more info this report, which is behind another Onalytica lead gen form, and there are two calls to action (stuff they want you to do to be convinced to buy their tool) in the report itself. Here is how they describe the strategy they used for the top 100 cloud influencers (emphasis mine):

Onalytica sourced and analyzed over 200 Billion Posts from Twitter, Blogs, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn in order to identify key influencers such as journalists, subject matter experts, thought leaders, authors, academics and politicians that are influential on specific topics.
Influencers were then ranked by REACH, RESONANCE, RELEVANCE, REFERENCE to analyze which influencers are most relevant for brands to engage with. Using this methodology we identified 1,000 influencers relevant to the global market and segmented influencers into categories relevant to the cloud sector.
A network map was created identifying the top 100 engaged influencers across the topic of cloud. Through the network map we were able to analyze the scale of a brand’s reach into the influencer community through the number of interactions it had with influencers over the past year.

If you’re an influencer, you should understand this report is a marketing tool. If you’re a marketing professional, you should understand that these influencer lists are marketing tools that may or may not have relevance for your mission.

Strategies for Using Influencer Lists

So are these lists bad? No, they’re not, as long as you recognize them for what they are, and try to understand the math behind the results. Should you use an influencer list created by one of these influencer marketing platforms? It depends. If you are a small team, and you need to get your arms around a market for the first time, or you are prepping for a big launch into a new market, these lists can give you a head start. They aren’t bad, but they require evaluation.

You should know your market enough to ask some hard questions, especially what search terms are being used, and the math used to come up with results. Once you know that, it is also important pay particular attention to influencers that land on the list.

Seperate the Influencers into Different Categories

Are there employees on the list? They can help you vet the rest of the list. When I was doing this circa 2011, the lists always contained our biggest competitors, or influencers of those competitors. That wasn’t obvious to marketers who weren’t active in our community, but we knew immediately.

You also should be giving your internal influencers as much love as you give your external influencers. Community building starts in-house, you cannot build a strong external community if you don’t have a strong internal community.

Are competitors on the list? Don’t cater to them, obviously. But be sure to keep tabs on what they are saying, and to whom they are connected. Remember, competitors’ influencers are your influencers too.

Are partners on the list? Show them love! That is a sure way to stregnthen your ties, promote the work that is important to them.

Who is missing from the list? It is unacceptable to use one of these tools and accept a list that is not diverse. There are so many documented reasons that people will not be picked up on the basis of an algorithyms definiton of rach, resonance, relevance, or reference. These tools reinforce stereotypical echo chambers.

Question who is missing if everyone on the list looks the same. We all have an obligation to build a future that represents everyone.

This is Ultimately About Community

Finding your influencers is a community building excercise. These lists are a great way to take a temperature of who is talking about the topics your organization is working on, but you still need to be protective of how you choose to engage in these conversations.

You will miss your best influencers if you rely on these algorythms. A solid feedback loop from your biggest influencers really will make a better product, but you have to put in the work to find the right list for your product.

Finaly, you must to tend that list, sometimes water it, sometimes weed it, sometimes cut it back. Don’t just accept an influencer list, do the work to build real community.

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Can Small World Theory Explain Polarization? #blogredux

small world

This week in Blog Redux: can small world theory explain polarization? This week I’m reviving an old post from blog.ginaminks.com from July 10, 2010. The post was titled How information needs and small world signatures are related to affinity and relevance. Ahh the good ole days when we didn’t have to worry about SEO and we could just write to communicate!

This blog post was based on my undergrad degree, in particular the work of Elfreda Chatman. Unfortunately she passed away very unexpectedly soon after I graduated. I wish she were around to know how much she impacted my work, and so I could work with her now.

As always, I’ll re-post the blog in its entirety here, and add my comments as a quote that start with Thoughts from 2020.

How information needs and small world signatures are related to affinity and relevance

Last week I wrote a post asking if anyone knew a technical term for truthiness.

No takers on that so that request. So now this is my reflective post to work my way through the idea that unscrupulous information impostors will be able to figure out how to use social media to control information networks. How can that happen? Think about information.

Thoughts from 2020: I wrote that post as I was working out my presentation for Bitnorth. That presentation was on the digital divide, and how can normal people compete with media that intend to manipulate videos and stories to get their message across. Spoiler: the bad guy was Andrew Breitbart.

Information Needs

We talk alot about the digital explosion of data at EMC, but how is data different than information? Information has more depth than data because information responds to a need. There may be a need for the information, but if that need is never expressed the information seeking process never begins.

Thoughts from 2020: this point about information is really important. We are overrun with data, even more so 20 years later. The data we pay attention to is the data that responds to a need. That’s what marketers do, look for (or create) an information need, and convince you that only their product can fill your needs. That’s also how propaganda works.

The way that people process information is dependent on the small worlds (or communities, or tribes…) to which they belong. The roles we play in our small worlds also impact if we are able to express a need for information.

Thoughts from 2020: I went along with the social media craze of talking about our “tribes”, mostly because it felt pointless to fight it. But ten years later, we have native twitter, and seriously great posts from citizens of native nations explaining why saying tribes is appropriation and actually has a negative impact on native people today. Follow some native people, learn more, and stop encouraging people to “find their tribe”!

Small world signatures

Once you belong to small world, you have to conform to that group’s signature (or style) to remain a member of the world. The signature defines how a group will handle events, topics that can be discussed (or must be excluded), the form of interaction, and the level of meaning of events.

The style also instructs group members how to deal with outsiders. Usually, if a stranger enters a small world they present enough raw information about their world to allow members of the group to see a worldview beyond their own. If the stranger understands the rules the group has for information exchange, the stranger can continue to share his alternative world view. But if the stranger forgets to stay within the group’s signature, the members of the small group won’t communicate freely anymore.

Think about Windows admins vs UNIX admins. Think about very technical people and marketers. Think about women in technology. Think about teenagers and parents. Think about yankees and southerners.

Thoughts from 2020: Think about our current political climate. All sides have these small world signatures, and it is interesting to see how some of the political groups define the signature (hats, catch phrases, how to interact).

Also think about what happens when an outsider tries to interact. If the outsider says or does certain things, the communication channel is abruptly closed.

How this relates to social media

Relevance and affinity are two goal posts companies are driving toward with their social media programs. Its the place companies want to get after all of their investments in listening and building reach. The idea is to build real relationships with customers, not to just market at them.

Here’s my idea:

Relevance is being able to meet an information need. If a company has done their homework, they know how to be relevant and end up in one of their customer’s searches for information.

Affinity is being able to know a small world’s rules for exchanging information, and being able to copy the pattern so that information exchange is possible. Its understanding your target community, connecting on their terms, talking their language.

Thoughts from 2020: I believe these definitions of relevance and affinity have held up. From a corporate marketing standpoint, this is very hard work. I feel like for the most part this was abandoned when community was ditched for pure digital marketing.

If we think about the current political climate, and how digital and social media marketing tools have been used to sway elections, the implications are more sinister.

Here’s what scares me

Information imposters can have play this game too. They can study small worlds, make themselves relevant to information searches of their target population, and build affinity. If they are able to do all of these things they should be able to infiltrate a small world. Will they be able to change the group’s signature? Will they be able to change the rules so that people no longer have a need to search for information?

And now this post is getting too long — so I have more reflecting to do. What do you think? Am I on to something here?

Thoughts from 2020: Ten years later, and my predictions were correct. And frankly, that terrifies me. The question now is: how do we fight this? How do we take back social tools to unite us, instead of divide us?

All of this came from a paper I wrote in my undergrad days, the material was from class notes in my Information Needs and Preferences course which was taught by Elfreda Chatman.

Thoughts from 2020: Are you interested in finding ways to fight the polarization in our world? Do you want to help link small worlds instead of fighting against each other? We are too. Please subscribe to our RSS feed or follow us on LinkedIn if you’re interested in learning more.

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Is Community Still a Bad Word? #blogredux

community

This week in Blog Redux: is community still a bad word? This week I’m reviving an old post from blog.ginaminks.com from February 2012 (almost 8 years ago!). The post was titled On dev-ops, marketing, the c-word, and pneumonia. Don’t worry, the c-word is community.

As always, I’ll re-post the blog in its entirety here, and add my comments as a quote that start with Thoughts from 2019: .

On dev-ops, marketing, the c-word, and pneumonia

Pneumonia is a funny thing. For those of you who don’t know, I was diagnosed with pneumonia a week and a half ago. While I was at Cloud Connect. I can honestly say I’ve never been this sick in my entire life. It’s worse than the massive kidney infection I had when I was 8 months pregnant. Or the appendectomy that happened when I was six months pregnant. (Yes same kid. She obviously inherited tenacity from the get-go).

I’ve had to just lay in bed for 12 days now. This blog has been written and re-written several times in my head, but today is the first day I’ve had the energy to sit up and write it.

Thoughts from 2019: I was very sick. I didn’t even have the energy to read, which was a first for me. It was the first time I had slowed down in a very long time. The universe absolutely told me to have a seat. Hard IT burn-out lessons learned here.

One of the things I’ve been laying in bed thinking about is how social media tools are being used for marketing. I jumped to marketing from technical education because I wanted to blog and learn and talk about all of the cool new emerging technologies. I wanted to do more than maintain courses on legacy technologies  for a corporate training organization. And isn’t marketing really just educating people about what your company can offer?

Thoughts from 2019: I maintain that this is exactly what a product marketer does, based on research and collaboration.

Social media gives all of us the ability to find experts on all sorts of topics . Hell, you may be the expert – maybe you find a blog or a video or a message board that sparks innovation by giving you a different angle, a different definition. Then you share your innovative idea with others – and you banter and argue and everyone learns a ton.

Thoughts from 2019: I believe this is still true, but it may be harder to find. I mean, kids these days want to grow up to be influencers, not influence others with their unique insights and talents.

For businesses, harnessing the power of the experts inside and outside of your organization can be a very powerful thing. Unfortunately, that’s not what I’m seeing in the world of marketing. Lots of the traditional marketing viewpoints – reach, eyeballs on the pages, crafting and controlling the messages seem to be much more important than telling the company’s story from the viewpoint of external and internal experts.

You may have seen me talking about the “C-word” on Twitter. The c-word is Community. I started using the c-word after talking to some other social media folks who had also noticed in meetings about new social media plans, lots would be said about various social media tools, keywords, even metrics, but nothing was ever said about how this plan would impact and build the community. It’s almost like community is a dirty word!

I think the support groups in an organization – e.g. Education and Marketing – really need to step up and start changing the way they do business. We need to stop applying the old way of doing things to these new social media tools.  We are the teachers, the story tellers. Why aren’t we telling stories, teaching our communities? Why are we just making plans to tweet and blog and chatter? Let’s take advantage of the promise of the tools – and change how we do things!

Thoughts from 2019: Just coming out of a corporate product marketing role, I’m not sure this has gotten much better in the last 8 years. It is much easier to create video and blog content, and social media marketing is really part of digital marketing now. There are even efforts to do influencer marketing, but that too doesn’t try to knit ties between internal and external parties, let alone build internal or external communities. There is so much potential for marketers and educators here, surely we are better than nation states who use social media marketing tools to disrupt the social fabric of their enemies.

One of the few conversations I was able to have at Cloud Connect was with Brent Scotten of DreamHost. We mulled over the idea of what will happen if the whole devops movement really takes root in organizations.  The devops movement is about the operations and software development teams working together to create the best infrastructure possible in order to quickly develop and deploy software. If those teams work as a well-oiled team, and the company’s product is getting better faster because of it, marketing and education can’t be add-ons. These groups can’t continue to business like they did last century when the bread and butter of the business has moved on to doing things a new way.

I love this point the Agile Admin makes in a post about the definition of dev-ops:

The point is that all the participants in creating a product or system should collaborate from the beginning – business folks of various stripes, developers of various stripes, and operations folks of various stripes, and all this includes security, network, and whoever else.  There’s a lot of different kinds of business and developer stakeholders as well; just because everyone doesn’t get a specific call-out….   The original agile development guys were mostly thinking about “biz + dev” collaboration, and DevOps is pointing out “dev + ops” collaboration, but the mature result of all this is “everyone collaborating”. (emphasis mine)

Thoughts from 2019: We are 8 years in, and I believe the dev-ops movement (although the intentions were good) and public cloud providers have actually widened the gap between developers and IT admins.

These days I’ve had to lay in bed have allowed me to really reflect on who I am. I’m a community builder, an educator, a story teller. My forced shut down reminded me how important those things are. Looking forward to getting my strength back and getting back to work to try and to help people see that community isn’t a bad word.

Thoughts from 2019: A strong product community can make a better product. We strayed from that original idea to chase likes and views. I think it’s time to revisit the promise of community.

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