We had a fascinating discussion on the nature of influence – how influence differs from popularity, how it looks at who is talking rather than what they’re talking about, and how it changes over time.
At the outset I had in the back of my mind that the information-gathering and evaluation process must of necessity include manual intervention, much in the same way some spam-filtering techniques work. Not at all. Algorithms really can identify sentiment in articles to a high degree of accuracy and – of crucial importance – impartially and universally. Automatic sentimenting is not as good as having humans doing it, but much, much faster – and still easily adequate for mass analysis. I did not know that.
It was very interesting to see how sources can be highly influential and yet not immediately obvious as influencers. Through analysis, as patterns of influence emerge, particularly through the network of indirect references, it becomes apparent that for any given subject there are both major and minor influencers. This tends to follow a long tail, in that, for example, while the BBC and The Times might have great political influence in the UK, accounting for a large part of the total influence for that subject, many others would have lesser influence and yet still be worthy of consideration.
These sources could be particularly attractive for PR, offering as they do the ‘low fruit’ who might provide a highly cost-effective and ready supply of resource. Clearly an effective PR campaign could use combinations of these, looking at, say, celebrity endorsement for the ‘quick hit’ and more weighty sources for the ‘slow burn’.
True influence was also shown to be much more effective over time. For example the superb Sony Bravia ‘exploding colour’ advert showed an increase in influence of major proportions that resonated for months after the campaign. Truly, massive and sustained – and quantifiable and objective – ROI.
The killer proposition, however, lay in the ability not only to say to clients “These are the influential online sources”, but also to say “And these are very good reasons why…” No feeble protestations that “it has a Technorati authority of 534” or that its page rank is good (or even, for that matter, because Friendly Ghost says so!). This is hugely important, to be able to give solid reasoning behind your results, and convince clients that, well, you know what you’re talking about. (In fact you could almost say that makes a nice change in PR!) It would also work well in pitches as an extra offering.
It also struck me how such techniques could be used for financial analysis. While number-crunching is effective as a tool for monitoring simple financial flows, behind any transaction there is sentiment and influence. A share price is only a value based on the opinion of people who judge it to be so. While nimble and web-savvy number-crunching enterprises such as KTS (my one-time employer) provide one method of analysis, influence analysis can play a complementary part in highly sophisticated financial systems.
And, just to blow my own trumpet a bit, Flemming has been watching this blog. And he likes it. Wow.
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