7 Steps to Measuring Earned Influence

Until recently, measuring influence meant measuring potential impressions. It was called different things in different fields, but essentially the “value” of an influencer was in the number of people he or she had the potential to reach. For media reporters, it was circulation figures. On YouTube it was views. On Instagram and Twitter it was followers.

But then brands began to wonder whether all the millions they were spending on influence marketing was paying off. In the words of one major brand marketing exec: “Brands are going to start realizing the amount of followers you have doesn’t mean shit.” (see our story on measuring paid influence) What he really means is: Followers, reach, and impressions don’t tell you whether the resources you are devoting to cultivating those influencers actually deliver any business benefit.

The problem starts, as it does with so many communications efforts, with the lack of agreed upon business goals for influencer outreach.  No CEO or CFO authorizes an investment in influencer marketing just to “reach people.” They invest to make more money, sell more stuff, or get more people to do whatever it is you want them to do. So the very first thing to do when measuring your earned influence program is to define its business goals.

Here is a seven-step process which which you can show the real value of your influencer outreach program:

Step #1: Define the desired business outcome

Influence implies a capacity or power to be a compelling force to produce an effect on an action or opinion. The operational words are “produce an effect.” In other words, Justin Bieber may have millions of fans on Twitter, but it’s a pretty good bet that he is never going to influence anyone to subscribe to The Measurement Advisor, or purchase more products from Paine Publishing. (Which is not to say that I wouldn’t give that a shot if we ever had a chance to influence JB’s tweets. Would make an interesting test, no?)

On the other hand, one respected PR professional speaking to a crowd of 100 of her peers will more than likely impact my future revenue. The point is that influence is not counted by the number of people within earshot. It’s measured by its power to produce an effect or an outcome. So, your first step is to get agreement on the actions or outcomes that are expected from your influencer outreach.

Typical business outcomes might be:

  • Number of qualified inquiries that come in from the influencers blog or mention;
  • The increase in conversions after an influencer event; and
  • The percentage increase in share of desirable reviews compared to the competition after your influencer event.

In other words, identify specific business-outcome-related actions you want people to take as a result of your influencer outreach.

Step #2: Ascertain what influences your target audience

Without some grounding in data about your target audience, chances are slim that your influence program will succeed. In many organizations, sales or marketing has research that will define exactly what motivates people to buy your products. Take whoever has that data out to lunch and get the details. If your organization has a paid advertising program, chances are the data can be found with whoever is making the media buys.

If you don’t have that data, you’ll need to do your own research. Start with your sales people or whoever is in touch with the target audience on a regular basis. If you can, conduct a survey of your customers and prospects to find out where they get information. Most importantly, ascertain who or what sources they trust.

Step #3: Agree on the path from influence to purchase

It may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how few people have mapped out how their day-to-day outreach activity connects to the business outcomes that it is designed to achieve.

Let’s be very clear here: Devoting time, effort, and energy to building a list of influencers who are willing to say nice things about you is a waste of time if their words fall on deaf ears. There must be a connection between the work you do, the influencer, and the ultimate impact on the target audience.

So map out those connections: from you to the influencer, from the influencer to your audience, and from your audience to your business goals. Then get everyone involved in the program (or anyone who will be scrutinizing the budgets) to agree to that map, before you proceed.

Step #4: Rank order your list of influencers

If you have more than 25 influencers on your list, you may want to set priorities. Establishing different tiers of influence can help you better understand if your efforts are paying off.

For example, a major broadcasting network had a list of 100 authors that covered a particular segment, but their strategy was to focus on the 20 that were the most influential. By comparing how the top 20 write about the network to everyone else, they could evaluate whether the special attention paid off. It turns out that the highly influential group was twice as likely to communicate the network’s key messages. They also could identify the three or four in that group that weren’t picking up their key messages. By quantifying the results, they could identify better strategies and tactics going forward.

Step #5: Define your measures of success

What metrics you use will vary depending on the purpose of your program, but typical influencer metrics include:

  • Increase in percentage of influencers that mention you—What percentage of all the influencers on your list are writing about you? If you’re doing a good job, that percentage should rise every month.
  • Share of influencer voice—Compared to your competition, how often do the influencers talk about you? How much space do they devote to you vs. your competition? You want to see this increase, month to month.
  • Percentage of influencer articles that contain one or more key messages—If one of the goals of your influencer campaign is to get more of your messages across, tally up all the all the posts/articles/writings of all your key influencers and measure what percentage contains a key message. Again, you want to see this increase each month.
  • Percentage increase in quality score—If you’ve developed a “quality index” for your coverage (see the articles on this page for how to do that), keep track of the average quality score for all your influencers. If they’re “getting your message” then their writings/postings about you should steadily grow more positive.

Step #6: Select tools and methodology

Selecting influence measurement tools very much depends on the goals for your program. You will probably need some content analysis to understand the quality and message content of what the influencers are saying or writing about you. In addition:

  • If your goal is to drive more traffic to your website, you’ll also need a web analytics tool and a way to tag activities generated by the blog or websites of the influencers.
  • If you want to change their minds, you’ll need to survey the influencers on a regular basis to see what changes are occurring. See our recent overview of measurement tools for some ideas and advice on just which ones will suit you.

Step #7: Analyze results, report, repeat

Once you’ve got your data in place, analyze it to figure out what is working or not working in the program. Analyze the data over time to track the impact of specific events and outreach. Analyze by influencer as well as by what they are writing or speaking about. ∞

About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.