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Marketing

Published August 24th 2011

Influence Isn't Just Online: The Perils of Ignoring The Less Followed

Did you ever hear someone make the claim (very wittily), that “the more friends you have on MySpace the fewer friends you have in real life”?

Whilst this may have been grossly and unfairly oversimplifying things, it carried a sentiment that sort of seemed to make sense at the time: if you spend all your time on the internet, you probably aren’t the most sociable person in the world offline.

From Anti-Social to Influential

That kind of attitude was more prevalent a few years back – now of course, things are a bit different. In fact in a sense we have gone the other way; people with thousands of followers on Twitter are hailed as the influential elite and, as they tweet several hundred times a week, continue to develop their social status.

They are even making necklaces...

Certainly, there is typically much less distinction between sociability online and offline nowadays. To be anecdotal for a moment, some of the people in my Facebook friends who have the highest number of friends I would indeed describe as being particularly sociable offline.

However, there are also plenty of people in my Facebook friends list who I would say are particularly sociable offline but have a perfectly average number of Facebook friends.

And, equally, I know of plenty of very sociable and vocal people who have signed up to Twitter and, whilst tweeting occasionally, are only followed by a handful of people.

So, the question arises, are these people less important to a brand monitoring social media?

Offline Influence

Well, consider an unhappy customer berating a brand on Twitter. He’s still testing the water with Twitter and only has a few followers, so that particular message will only be seen by those people at the most, and many of them will likely miss it. So, seeing as the brand management team gets hundreds of mentions on Twitter a day, it makes sense to focus on the ones that will be seen by the most people? Or, better still, the ones who are most influential, according to the various complex metrics out there.

This seems intuitive, and in many ways it does make sense. But let’s remember something crucial here: this person is expressing his negative experience online, so the chances are he is expressing it offline too.

And, unfortunately, it just so happens that this particular person is, shall we say, a bit of a man about town. He’s captain of his golf club, a member of his daughter’s school’s PTA, a Sales Director managing a total of 400 people, a keen host of dinner parties (one of which being where he was told he should “get on Twitter”), a season ticket holder at his local football club and generally an outgoing individual who constantly interacts with lots of people from various different circles.

What happens if his tweet is left unanswered when a simple reply would have eased his frustration? He is going to continue telling people about his experience and negatively influencing people’s opinions about that brand – at the bar in the clubhouse, at PTA meetings, in the kitchen of the office, at dinner parties, during half time at the football…who knows where else?

Word of mouth may now have a digital counterpart, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still alive and well in the traditional sense. And, whilst social media monitoring might not help us directly with listening to offline word of mouth, examples like this illustrate where it might help us manage elements of it.

Different Ways to Prioritise

So let’s not get too carried away with online influence metrics. The counterargument here might be – “well we can’t measure offline influence like we can with online, so we can only use what we’ve got”. Well, while influence metrics are useful and certainly have their place, it is sometimes worth considering other ways of prioritising and categorising brand mentions to see if these make more sense.

They may well depend on the nature of the company and the objectives of the monitoring activity, but here are some examples of measurements you could use to priortise mentions for action. Here we are assuming the monitoring process is a customer service operation:

  • Ease of resolution (is it a complaint or request that can be easily sorted?): If it’s easily solved, it makes sense to address this rather than leave it drifting.
  • Severity (is it particularly negative?):The more severe the more urgent it’s likely to be that you deal with it.
  • Specificity (is it a general complaint or targeting a specific experience?): If it’s clear who needs to deal with it, it should be passed on to them ASAP.

In addition to these there may be many other ways of determining who should be responded to most urgently and who should be left alone.

Whatever they might be, we should be careful of focusing solely on those most “influential” because, the reality is, not everybody interacting on social media has the interest, disposition or time in their daily routine to build online influence, but this doesn’t mean they don’t carry influence offline.

John Lewis, a UK brand with a particularly positive customer service reputation, seems to be executing this very philosophy particularly well. In our Customer Service Index, we observed that they constantly responded to tweets about them regardless of how many followers the tweeter had.

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