Cowabunga dudes

What makes someone – or something – influential?

For example, a PR with a client in telecoms is bound to say that the editor of a telecoms trade journal  is influential. They’d probably say the same about Stephen Fry. But ask them to prove that influence and I guarantee you’ll get either a blank stare or a conversation about circulation figures, web traffic and – if you’re lucky – followers on Twitter.

If we accept a definition of ‘having influence’ as being: “someone or something whose opinions and actions lead to a change of opinion and/or behaviour in the audiences they engage with or who engage with them,” then surely both the editor and Stephen pass the test?

Not quite. The problem I have is that most of the time we’re not getting an objective measure of influence but a subjective measure of significance, and that’s not good enough.

While the counsel given by PRs on the merit of interacting with different audiences is undoubtedly valued by clients, the massive fragmentation of the communications’ landscape coupled with the after-effects of a global recession have given them a reason to question the relevance of every penny of PR spend.

Clients are forcing the issue of proving influence because they are no longer certain that accepted campaign strategies and tactics will deliver to overall business goals. Telling them a person, or group of people, is influential and that they should be reached by a certain method is no longer enough, it has to be proven.

I’m already having daily conversations with clients who are keen to rip up the rule book of what constitutes a PR programme because they don’t accept that the old ways are working. The sacred cows such as press releases and press tours are being met with the question: “What value is this activity to me?” and I’m finding it massively liberating.

Of course, it’s an evolution rather than a revolution and there are still plenty of companies who require the activities that go to make up a typical PR programme. But the pace of evolution will only quicken as the global trend of influencer engagement starts to replace the one-to-many communication models prevalent in marketing today.

With that in mind, Edelman is on a mission to find and rank the 2,010 (see what we did there?)  most influential people in technology using our very own TweetLevel – a sophisticated influencer measurement tool that gives an accurate assessment of a person’s level of influence in the Twittersphere.

True, it’s currently limited to measuring influence within Twitter, but the fact that Twitter is being used by a large percentage of people involved in the technology sector makes it a perfect place to start. Look out for a call to action on how you can put yourself or someone else forward.

In the meantime I’d love to hear your views on influence and its importance in PR. Have I got this right? Is it the single most important factor for us PROs to understand and measure? Will it lead to a rethink around how we do PR or will the old ways always remain?