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Lithium loves influencers - but what about social influence scoring?

5th Mar 2014
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With rumours swirling in recent weeks that community builder Lithium could be in talks to acquire social influence scoring firm Klout in a multi-million dollar deal, many have been have left scratching their heads. How would Klout fit into the Lithium picture?

With the mooted deal representing nothing more than industry scuttlebutt at this point, and representatives at both organisations staying tight-lipped, we could be left waiting for some time.

In fact, when asked about the area of influence measurement in social media, Lithium’s chief scientist, Professor Michael Wu, is even slightly dismissive of its traditional applications. 

He explains: “It’s still very appealing to brands – brands are always trying to reach more and more people and it costs a lot to reach a lot of people, and with influence you have an amplification factor. So there are lots of attempts out there to measure influence, such as trying to infer influence on social media. The data they typically measure is influencing people to retweet or share. Basic behaviour economics or social science tells us that influencing one behaviour doesn’t necessarily translate over another - what brands really are interested in is whether these people are able to influence purchase, but people’s ability to influence others to share is a very different kind of influence.

“You can have data on Twitter or Facebook and see how people influence each other to share content. That is good, that drives awareness and drives the top of the funnel type of activity. But what brands really want is can you influence people’s purchase decisions and these data don’t really exist on social media. Nobody is going to declare that I purchased this item because so and so influenced me. It is a model you have to build and the model needs to be validated, and it has to have predictive power, otherwise we’re just playing with math.” 

Nonetheless, there’s little doubt that the topic of influence has always been of great importance to Lithium.

Michael has long studied and discussed influence and influencers, introducing a model a few years ago that outlined the mechanics of influence. This proposed six categories of attributes, including four that characterised the influencee’s likelihood to be influenced:

  1. Domain credibility
  2. Communication bandwidth
  3. Content relevance
  4. Temporal relevance (timing)
  5. Channel/location alignment
  6. Confidence (trust)

“These six factors are the foundation of the model, and you have to have all six of these factors in order for one person’s influence to propagate to the next,” explains Wu. “If you’re missing any one, then basically you don’t have the influence. So for instance, imagine that you have everything up to the last factor – the right credibility, you talk a lot, you have high bandwidth, the content you say is relevant and you arrive at the right time and our channel or geolocation overlaps so that I receive the information. But if I don’t have the last factor, and I don’t trust you, then you don’t influence me. And this is true of any factor – if you’re missing any one of the six, then you don’t influence.”

So when Lithium decided to develop an influencer scoring algorithm for its community platform based on Social Network Analysis, it was Michael’s model that formed the backbone.

“Traditionally, Lithium isn’t really in the business of selling influence scores, but we are in the business of helping brands cultivate their own influencers within their communities,” he explains. “So within the context of that, the community level influence score helps you measure people’s influence as you cultivate these influencers within your community. It is a necessity in order to cultivate influence. So we developed that to measure people’s influence within that community.”

Outside influence

The communities that Lithium builds have specific dynamics that make them successful, ensuring that each actor within the ecosystem receives value - the community provides an audience for the influencer, so the influencer actually gains influence by providing help and expertise in the community; the community members get benefit from his expertise; and the sponsoring brand for the community gets the benefit of effective word of mouth through the influencer. Truly a win-win-win strategy for everyone.

Clearly, influencers and influence scoring therefore have an important role to play within the dynamics of the communities that Lithium builds.

“It is a necessity because we are helping brands to cultivate influencers,” he continues. “We’re not in the business of selling an influence score, but we do need an influence score because we need to measure people’s influence because we help people create these influencers.”

He elaborates: “Nobody joins a community on day one being an influencer, unless you already are an influencer outside of the community. Gamification drives behaviour, figuring out what their motivation is and rewarding those people for those intrinsic motivations. Because we’re doing that, people tend to participate more, and they grow their influence, and we measure that influence. Then we help brands identify who has enough influence that they merit being called an ‘influencer’.”

So, tip-toeing around the topic of Klout, could Michael envisage a scenario where Lithium would want to demonstrate somebody’s social influence outside of the community?

“Definitely. There is a post I have written about the difference between a community and a social network. What is a community? There are many different types of community – community of interest, community of practice and so on. But those minor differences aside, a community is really a group of people who are held together by a common interest. And if you look at that definition, these people who have a common interest in your brand – say they are a brand enthusiast – do not necessarily have to be sat in your brand-sponsored customer community, they could be anywhere.

“There are a lot of people that are out in the social web that are essentially a big fan of your brand but they don’t know the existence of your community. So those are people who are actually part of the community that you should address as well, because they have a common interest, and that common interest is the brand.”

So even though Klout is unable to contribute to the understanding of transactional influence, perhaps it could provide Lithium customers with greater insight into who is important and influential to their communities. The speculation will certainly continue until more concrete details emerge. 

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