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The Social Media Interviews

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The Dangerous World of Social Media INFLUENCE Metrics - Misleading As Heck

Q: We are seeing more mention of the importance of "influence" on social media as social media metric, as compared with just looking at the number of friends or followers. What's your opinion on influence as a metric?

Robert: Theoretically, if you COULD measure real influence, you'd have something. But you can't. The people talking about social media influence should really know better, because the concepts are simple. Influence, the ability to affect user behavior has TWO distinct components.

The first is whether behavior ON social media can be affected by the influencer. That is what all the metrics measure. For example, if someone receives a lot of retweets on twitter, that means the person is more of an influencer than someone who receives less. That can be measured, as can how many times someone is mentioned. This has absolutely zero to do with the really important "influence" businesses want to create. None of us make money from how people behave on social media, not directly except for the people who run the social media platforms.

This is whether behavior in "real life" is being influenced. So, if I can influence you to visit my store, or buy something from me, or buy a book I recommend, or somehow act differently in the non-virtual world, then and only then do I have something useful for business. That is real influence, and you can't measure it directly in the general case. You can only measure "it", given enough resources, using survey/self report data which is almost always of poor quality for reasons I've set out elsewhere. Conversion data is an indicator companies can look at but simply doesn't get at the larger issue of influence.

This is SO basic, I can't figure out why even the most enamoured, in terms of social media, can't or won't talk about this.

Q: So, why do you think this is "dangerous"? Isnt that extreme?

A: No, because anything that provides false information also misleads, whether it's about one's own business or the businesses of others. That's because business people should be keying their decisions based on valid information, not on ideas that are illogical or false. For example, if you are well retweeted on twitter, that may encourage you to continue to spend inordinate amounts of time tweeting, when in fact you have zero influence on behavior that affects the health of your business. These days, nobody can afford to squander time. I've long said that time is a resource far more valuable than money, particularly for small businesses, and false notions about the positive values of social media can result in huge losses due to lost opportunity.


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Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992. Since then Robert has trained thousands of employees to deal with angry, hostile, abusive and potentially violent customers. He has authored over 20 books on various subjects, many published by McGraw-Hill.


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