How to: Identify online opinion leaders

The following is cross-posted on a new blog called PNeo. Watch out for more cross-posts as well as insights, observations and analysis from the digital team at Porter Novelli, my employer. 

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Right now, people are talking about you, your brand, your products, your services and your competitors online. The problem is that you don’t know what they’re saying or maybe even how to listen.

And it is a problem. Everyone wants to know what’s being said about them, not least clients. In the immediate term you need to fulfil their expectation.

But when you’ve done this you can really start adding value. You can provide both qualitative and quantitative analyses, by monitoring conversations and recognising patterns of ‘online buzz’.

Go further: you can start to engage in the community of influencers, realise opportunities for working with them. Meanwhile, internally you build up a great body of knowledge across accounts. Just think about all the benefits you get from your media relations. Same applies with bloggers.

But, let’s be clear: online is different. Given the vast number of online conversations happening throughout the blogosphere and the wider web every day, it’s impossible to, say, compile clipping books and analyse them in any traditional, ‘offline’ way.

This is why large organisations are dedicated to measuring influence, authority, buzz – whatever you want to call it. They employ sophisticated and expensive tools to do this. Using them requires a huge commitment of resource.

So, this is the Practical DIY approach. This is what you can do, quickly and easily and now, to get an idea of who you should be listening to.

Before you continue you need to find out what people are talking about by identifying your keywords. I’ve already covered this, so take a look at that post first.

When you’ve identified your keywords, look for them online to find out who is talking about them and by definition, you.

Here’s how:

  • Google – can be your first port of call. Google’s good in that it already ranks pages for you – the higher a page in a Google Search, the more relevant it is. You can be confident that if you search for your keywords on Google, it’ll give you a good set of results from ‘the web’.
  • Wikipedia – is good for identifying influential figures and brands with good links to other sources. It’s not the absolute truth but a better edited version than random sources.
  • Boardreader – specifically searches forums and community boards and provides a nice threaded layout so you can quickly see the extent of conversations about a specific topic.
  • Facebook – can contain groups and pages about your keywords. If someone has taken the time to set up such a group or page about topics you’re looking for, it means they care about it.
  • Digg – is a news site where people vote for news items. The more votes an item gets, the higher it is ranked. It’s a great source for finding out what humans think. So, put your keywords in Digg, find news items that people think are worth reading, then find out who those people are. They are people who are interested enough in you to have voted for you.
  • Del.icio.us – also uses human beings to rank its content. Del.icio.us is where people can share their bookmarks. It’s like when you bookmark something on a browser, except that it’s stored on the website where other people can see it, and you identify it tags so other people know what it’s about. As with Digg, it’s a way of tapping into what people are reading.
  • Blog searches – are great for finding – guess what – bloggers. They are good sources because, whereas Digg and del.icio.us show a perhaps passing interest through voting or tagging, a blogger might be spending more time thinking about you, offering analysis and comment. So, go through your keywords, and pick from the search results. We’ve already covered Google, and it does something similar with its Google Blog Search. Technorati is similar.
  • Another handy tip: when you find a blog, it might have a list of other bloggers that it links to, on its home page, called a blogroll. This is really useful because it points you directly to other people in this blogger’s ‘community’.
  • Google Groups – are another good source of searchable online conversation, often between highly knowledgeable members.

When you’ve been through all your keywords on all the searches, you will have a list. If someone appears as a result of these searches, chances are they’re fairly influential. If they don’t, they’re not.

This is a good start, but you might have dozens of them, or even hundreds. You have no idea who, among this set, is worth listening to.

So, rank them.

Just go to Yahoo Site Explorer, type in the web address, and make a note of the number of Inlinks. An inlink shows how many links come into a site, and gives an idea of how many people considered it to be important enough to link to. This works for pretty much any site you will ever find.

You can go one step further for blogs. Technorati provides a figure showing how many blogs uniquely link to another blog. That is, if one blog has 20 links to another, it’s just counted once. This gives a good indication of the number of blogs, not links, that regard a blog as important or interesting enough to endorse. It’s called Technorati Authority.

When you’ve done this you can rank them in, say, Excel.

So, you now have a list that is much more manageable. From ‘the web’, you went to a flat list, and now you have a ranked list to focus on. These are your online opinion leaders.

Don’t forget, this is just your DIY approach. If you want to dig deep then you’ll need to talk to one of the dedicated companies that provide such a service – for a fee.

So you have your list of opinion formers. What happens now? Well, you should start monitoring them, both qualitatively (what are they talking about?) and quantitatively (how many of them are talking about it?).

But, as I keep saying, that’s for another post!

Can you help Tricia?

Todd Andrlik’s contribution to the PR blogosphere is much more valuable than mine and has been going for quite a lot longer, so by now you’ve probably already read on his blog the shocking news about his sister’s illness.

This is such a tough story. It’s intensely personal and yet needs as much publicity as possible.

If you’ve ever come across Todd before, either virtually (like me) or in actuality, then you might want to help. I’ve contributed, but a blog post and a link are free. (I’ve checked with Todd and he’s fine with me posting this.)

So, get across there and help.

Not so much a Twitterer as a Twit

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Twitterfeed is quite cool. You can use it to take any RSS feed and push it into your Twitter account. So, I’ve set it up to cross-post when I add something to my blog, plus randomly pick something out of my PR feed every six hours. In this way, I’m using Twitter to maintain awareness but not actually have to ‘waste time’ typing up to 140 characters of banal nonsense every few minutes.

Great idea, right?

Wrong.

Increasingly I’m starting to understand what a ‘good’ Twitterer looks like. Check out Dave Fleet or Valeria Maltoni for example. Do you see what I see? Yep – lots of Tweets that are ‘@’ people. In other words, no random broadcasts, no pushed-out adverts from RSS feeds. Good Twitterers use Twitter actually to communicate and engage with people.

Furthermore, good Twitterers already seem to have a community of contemporaries out there. It seems that they use Twitter to keep in touch with them, rather than build up a community.

So I’m starting to think I may be more a twit than a Twitterer. I’ve been assured by some very knowledgeable people that I could be giving up a lot of good relationships and connections by using it simply as an RSS broadcast channel.

And this makes me realise that even though Twitter might be more effective with an already established community, it’s no different from other social media in that it is used most effectively when you engage with that community.

Which leads me to the real issue: finding the time. I need to find a way in which to maintain this blog as well as PNeo, engage properly through all the great social media resources at my disposal, as well as start cultivating more ‘real life’ relationships that can be sustained through Twitter. I need to engage with people as well as hold down a full time job!

I keep trying to make it to the Coach and Horses for the Friday social media cafe each week but find I need to stick around at Porter Novelli and get work done. But heck, if busy people like Neville Hobson can do this, then so should I.

So perhaps the real deal here is that I just need to get myself organised. I need to divide my time between these activities and let it be known that this is what I’m doing. So that next time I’m pulled into a meeting or a brainstorm or a conference call, I need to tell people that I’m, erm, going to the pub instead or, aah, writing on my blog. It’s a tough assignment but one I’m prepared to accept.

How to: identify keywords

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It seems everyone is looking to identify online opinion formers. It’s important – you need to know what is being said about you, your clients, products, services, brands and people, and those of your competitors.

However, before doing this you need to know exactly what you’re looking for. You need to understand what your keywords are before you can identify who is talking about them – and, by definition, you.

What is a keyword? Quite simply, it’s just a single word or combination of words that describe you. Single words can be broad descriptions that are less specific to you but which might be used by more people in their online conversations. Phrases are more specific but will be used by fewer people.

For example, one of my keywords will be ‘Brendan Cooper’. That is, if you’re looking for me, you won’t be interested in Brendan Foster or the art of making barrels. You will want to know about ‘Brendan Cooper’, the blogger, the phrase.

By identifying your keywords, you can find the people who are talking about them. You can listen to them and, over time, spot trends in the general ‘buzz’ about you by feeding them into resources such as Google Trends or Blogpulse.

But wait – there’s more. You can incorporate them into your content planning, so that your messages are more closely aligned with your keywords and therefore with what people are talking about. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) pretty much depends on keywords, so you can make your online content more attractive to search engines and, again, people. To take but one example, your online press releases will pack more bang for the buck, and your clients will love you for it. And that’s just the start.

Building great messaging into search-engine-friendly online media? Sounds like some sort of nirvana. If so, it’s one you can achieve, now. Here’s the quick, simple way to identify your keywords.

1. List the keywords you know

Draw a grid, list your company and competitors across the top, and the following resources down the side, like this:

You Comp 1 Comp 2…
Name
Web address
Public figures
Brand names
Brand URLs
Key issues

Then fill it in. It will give you a great list of keywords from readily accessible information. It’s a no-brainer.

2. Find the keywords you don’t

This may seem like a contradiction, but by looking through more sources you will most definitely find new keywords. Here are some good places to look:

  • Your own resources such as marketing literature, websites and so on
  • Your competitors’ resources
  • Any SEO work you have done, which will have already identified keywords for your websites
  • Media agency partners who will be buying, placing and maintaining keyword lists for you
  • Clippings agencies, who will also be using keywords to find your coverage

3. Find more keywords

The web is a big place. It’s highly likely some more of your keywords are floating around out there. You just need to find them.

Google’s AdWords keyword tool takes your search terms and lists what people are searching for. It could well be that what you thought was a good keyword isn’t so great after all. For example, ‘worldwide’ could be a great keyword until you realise that ‘global’ is used more often. If you think Google works well, so does Google Adsense.

4. Organise your keywords

By now you have a great set of keywords but you still need to organise them so they’ll work harder for you. Do this:

  • Rank them in importance to you
  • Consider exclusions, that is, keywords you definitely want to omit. A good example is Hewlett-Packard. It’s often referred to as HP, but a simple search for this can yield results for Harry Potter! In this case you would want to list results that specifically don’t mention Harry Potter.
  • Consider forced inclusions. For example, if you definitely want to search within Europe then specify this as part of every keyword.
  • Group them so you find them easily to handle. Groups could be by competitor, by brand, and so on.

You now have a list of ranked, effective, grouped keywords that represent you, your company, its brands, products, and services, and your competitors.

Hold onto this keyword list. It’s going to be useful. It can help you identify online opinion formers, and monitor online buzz. But that’s for another post!

Home 2.0 – the results are in

I wrote a while ago about about a personal project of mine: to integrate pretty much every audio and video source in my home that I could. My take on it was that if Web 2.0 represents integration, then so should my home. I called it Home 2.0.

Fortunately the media companies are satisfying this need. I wonder if comms companies are?

In theory

The system is based on an idea I had many years ago: that if, given broadcast was using digital in its production, I should be able to receive it digitally and therefore manipulate it, within parameters, to my own personal preferences.

At the time, it was virtually impossible. Broadcast was analogue and even if I could convert it, Bluetooth was conceptual and wireless was most definititely not mainstream so I couldn’t hook things up readily anyway. Digital TV, and the flexibility it offered, didn’t exist. But I knew it could be done.

Now, I have wireless. Broadcast is digital. Content can be shared, easily. The hardware is cheap.

In practice

So, what have I done? Well, my old self-built Win2K machine has Internet access. This is no longer by USB modem: it uses ethernet. Nothing new there. What this is plugged into, however, is a 802.11n Belkin wireless router. I have acquired another machine, an HP Pentium 4 desktop, and plugged stuff into it: namely, a Belkin N1 adaptor; a Creative Soundblaster audio card; a GeForce graphics card; a 750GB USB hard drive; and a wireless keyboard. It works. I can stream video without a hitch, with plenty of bandwidth left over potentially for HD video.

So, why am I telling you this?

Firstly because I’m slightly geeky (see right). Secondly because some people expressed interest in the outcome when I first posted about this. But also because I think my personal example illustrates two trends. 

Given that I’ve finally managed to do something I thought about years ago, I make two more predictions for the coming years:

1. One day, I will have a small black box. This will fit on my keyfob. It will detect every input/output device on any room I walk into, and detect them. In turn, they will detect it. I will immediately be able to listen to or watch any content I want to – including web – instantly and easily. I just have to see what’s available.

2.  Eventually, music and film companies will put up prices online for buying audio and video, very much like bidders do on financial markets today (exactly like it, in fact). You will be able to choose the best price for what you want, and buy. Simple. But it could go even deeper than that: instead of buying the entire track or film, it could be supplied in chunks – like BitTorrent, say – each of a certain time, each chunk of which is also bid on. So, your software could, while you’re watching the film or listening to the music, surf in the background continually looking for the best bidder for what you want to watch or listen to, and if it finds something cheaper, it buys it in, and seamlessly connects it to your stream. It’s exactly like a market, in which you buy at the best price.

I’ve done my bit. Every input/output device I have now links to every digital device. Wherever I want it, I can listen to or watch pretty much what I want to. Musicovery gives me broadly what I like.  Last FM gives me broadly what other people like me, like. Spotify might well bridge the divide between the two.

Media is doing its bit. The trend for personalisation of content looks set to continue, especially with new services such as BBC iPlayer and Channel 4oD

But are corporate comms companies doing their bit? How do we include messages in content that, as people become more sophisticated in their preferences and attitudes, may prefer to – and have power to – exclude?

The simple answer is: make them relevant. Every succesful comms company has done this. It’s just done it in a broad way for such a long time. It now has to start becoming more granular – more specifically relevant.

And how can it do this? Through feedback. Through exactly the same dynamics that enable people like me to receive the content I want. Each and every company, no matter what its market, whether media, finance, healthcare or tech, is going to have to start breaking its brand down into tiny little chunks that are consumable by that specific audience.

Social media now enables this to happen. If people find something relevant – whether that means useful, interesting, cool – they talk about and share it. All we need to do is make our clients appeal in the right way to the right audience, and off you go.

See? It’s easy. Honestly.

No more delays, let’s Spotify

It’s been quite some time since I posted regularly. This has been for two reasons: I broke my PC; and I’ve been trying to figure out how to differentiate between what I post here, and on the PNeo blog.

I didn’t actually break my PC. I just started to get weird file corruption. I can only guess that it was a hard drive fault because an replacement drive has eventually fixed it. However, I needed to back up a considerable amount of data, especially my music over the years, before I felt safe leaving the PC on for any length of time.

The blog issue was more fundamental. PNeo is our brand new spanking Porter Novelli blog. It’s a bit sparse right now but rest assured I’ll be blogging away on it from tomorrow like there’s no, well, tomorrow. The difficulty came in splitting what I talk about on here, with what I talk about on there. So from now on, I will have my professional social media planner hat on when I post to PNeo. As a PNeo blogger, I will be talking about a provider of corporate communications and social media. Initially this is going to encompass basic ‘How To’ advice and interviews, moving on to daily reactive posting. Everything else goes on here, with me wearing my bejewelled consumer battleshorts. This gives me leave to post about stuff like…

Spotify.

I’ve had a soft spot for online music streaming, especially the free sort, ever since I fell in love with Pandora. Then Pandora disappeared because I’m not American, the proxy workarounds no longer work that I can tell, and I had to make do with Last FM instead.

Some people prefer Last FM: I do not. I don’t like the added complexity of its social network. I tend to find that it will come up with choices of music that are unsuited to my taste whereas Pandora would just churn ‘em out. I’m not sure how well the reference model works for musical taste, given that musical taste can also depend on how you’re feeling at the time.

Enter Musicovery. It’s a good Pandora-like. I’m listening to it now. I’ve got it set to calm, positive World music. Last night I listened to calm, dark jazz. I had no idea Miles Davis did a version of Summertime, nor that a jazz version of Paranoid Android existed. Now I do. Music discovery=Musicovery.

But these two approaches are poles apart. It’s virtually impossible to zero in on a specific artist on Musicovery, while you cannot get going on Last FM without being specific about the artist or genre you want to listen to.

Spotify seems a very exciting midway solution. I have a colleague, who has a friend, who has a private beta account. He’s seen it, and he says it is amazing. Apparently the interface is very iTunes-like, but a kind of monochrome version thereof, and the streaming is high quality and responsive. So you’re pretty much running an online version of iTunes through a thin client.

Martin Varsavsky explains more:

You click on an album and you can listen to it, just like it was on your hard drive. You can also listen to the Artist Radio which will feature music from artists similar to the one you were looking at

In other words it looks as if it could offer something midway between Last FM and Musicovery. As Martin Varsavsky says, “It’s like Pandora without the need to vote and with your ability to listen to music anytime you want. It’s like Last FM without the community.”

I would love to get my hands on a private beta. In fact, I think I will. Watch this space…

links for 2008-03-21

The Friendly Chat: Kami Huyse, Communication Overtones

The following is cross-posted on a new blog called PNeo. Watch out for more cross-postings as well as insights, observations and analysis from the digital team at Porter Novelli, my employer.

Kami Watson Huyse, APR, principal of My PR Pro, writes about public relations and communications. She has a background in crisis communication and reputation management, executing social media campaigns, conducting focus group research, and media relations. She runs the Communication Overtones blog.

Why did you start blogging?
I started in 2005 having just moved from Washington DC. It wasn’t just a change in place – I found that I’d moved from a vibrant communications culture to a much smaller market. This was right after the first Iraq war and at this time I started to read Baghdad Burning, the blog direct from the conflict that told the truth about what was going on. All of a sudden, the world opened up again and it really changed my mind about blogging.

I could see that this wasn’t just a personal journal. I realised that blogs really are powerful communications tools. It was both fascinating and amazing to me that I could read the writings of someone in such a different situation from myself in a way which was simply not possible only a few years before.

As this relates to my profession, I’m very aware that two-way conversation just doesn’t scale. But since Baghdad Burning I’ve come to understand how potent blogging is as a scalable communications force.

What have been the professional benefits for you?
Firstly, it opened up my world again after I’d left Washington. I found the perspective shift very inspiring, personally as well as professionally. This continues through to my work in that, while there are obviously local considerations to PR, essentially we’re doing the same thing across the globe. So I find blogging gives me that global view which I wouldn’t otherwise have.

Blogging also helps me be holistic in my approach. I’m not a social media expert but I can now use social media in my communications mix. It’s true that being in at a fairly early stage did put me ahead of the curve and now I have plenty of people knocking on my door for business, which is always nice.

How do social media values fit alongside PR?
I think social media is much more than just a channel. PR is made up of many channels, but far fewer specialities, and that’s where I think social media fits, alongside, say, crisis communications, analyst relations and so on.

I would say it fits nicely within marketing PR. It’s another form of communications, albeit a very powerful one. This interview is a wonderful example of how it can bring people together!

What do you see as the main trends over the coming year?
I see increased professionalism of social media. Social networking is becoming much more mainstream and all-pervasive. Lots of people are writing about their passions and documenting their lives and that’s great for PR to tap into, but people now want to know what’s in it for them. Everyone is chasing the big advertising dollar, and sooner or later people are going to start wanting recompense for the ‘free’ content they’re providing.

Video will be really hot, especially in the mobile space. Products such as iPhone are blazing the trail with super multimedia models that push towards the ‘third screen’ of mobile communications. They’re currently trying to charge for every last penny but if they make it affordable then it will be big.

Integration will also continue. TVs are becoming computers, computers are becoming VCRs, and people are accessing more content when they want. This means that we, as communicators, need to be more sophisticated.

What has been your most successful post?
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Blogs – although I think this says more about SEO than anything!

Looking at the broader picture, overall my greatest success has been in establishing relationships with people – Shel Israel, for example. When I started blogging I almost didn’t think it was ‘for real’ – that is, that people actually communicated with each other too, not just with me! Since then I’ve become part of a community. All you have to do is reach out.

Ike Pigott is a great example of this. I first came across him when I noticed him commenting a lot on my blog. It turned out that whereas he used to work in TV, he is now working for the Red Cross – and that’s where I realised I shared a lot with him. I was a Red Cross volunteer and helped out at the Pentagon during 9/11.

So that’s the biggest success. I’ve realised that these are real people, and they can be your close colleagues.

What advice would you give someone starting a blog?
Consider these three points:

  1. The ‘Why’ – ‘why should I start a blog?’ You need to have an editorial. Don’t just do it because you can. Set an objective that you can achieve.
  2. The ‘Who’ – ‘who is going to post on this blog?’ If you’re a big company and you want to raise awareness, you need to put someone in place who can afford the time and is credible.
  3. The ‘What’ – ‘what are you going to say?’ You need to contribute to the conversation and community.

What is your favourite social media tool/technology/site?
Livewriter! I didn’t have offline editing for years but now I use it, I love it. It makes blogging much more enjoyable, much less of a chore.

Who is your favourite blogger?
Of the 150 or so bloggers in my RSS reader, I probably read around 50 of them fairly regularly so it is difficult to choose.

However, if I had to choose I think I’d go with Darren Rowse of ProBlogger. His attitude is very much one of ‘this is what I can give.’ He’s very open about making money out of it, and he’s full of insight and information.

More so than bloggers, I would say I have two mentors who have shaped my thinking quite profoundly.

  • Shel Israel – I like his ‘global neighbourhood’ approach.
  • KD Paine – in the way she consistently manages to reduce all this ‘fluffy stuff’ down into numbers

I feel I’m halfway between these two people – I’m a bit Shel and a bit KD!