image

A process cannot be understood by stopping it. Understanding must move with the flow of the process, must join it and flow with it.

..and yet the above quote from Frank Herbert is exactly what many people ignore when trying to understand who is influential on any given topic. Conversations are not fixed points in time but are dynamic and agile with different participants contributing throughout.

Why This is Important?

If people are trying to influence a conversation to ensure their message resonates throughout their target audience it is essential that they target the right people, at the right time in the right manner. Too often people only focus on who are the right people but haven’t access to the right tools to help with the later areas.

Working in tandem with Ramine Tinati from the the University of Southampton, we analysed multiple conversations via a unique tool called TweetFlow for common trends. The results were astounding and has directly impacted the way I work.

In previous discussions, I have explained how:

influence is defined by how information flows in a conversation

As part of this, much of the focus has been on two of the primary personas within the topology of influence. The idea starter and the amplifier – however, what I have only recently realised in my own Eureka moment is that a forgotten but critical player is the curator needs to be engaged with. This person, often overlooked due to their relatively low popularity has proven to be a significant driver of influence.

When analysing the three types below, it is clear to see that as marketers we must adopt both technology tools and sociological profiling to help us interact with people. Idea starters start early in great detail but often do not engage when the conversation reaches maturity and amplifiers publish and move on. If we were to engage with these two types when a conversation has been established in the market for some time because we rightly understood that these two people were instrumental in making this happen, then we would be wasting our effort. Instead it is the local expert who maintains the conversation and enables it to grow.

Maturity of Conversation Flow via Influence

Taking the Gartner hype cycle concept, I have adapted this to the growing maturity of a conversation topic. As marketers, we need to identify at what stage of a conversation we are engaging in, so that we in turn can ensure that our limited time and focus is spent concentrating on the right people who have the greatest chance of influencing others.

Stage 1: Conversation Trigger

Regression analysis of conversations often point to a few individuals who initiate the concept. These ‘idea starters’ often collaborate with curators to refine the concept and amplifiers to help publicize their thoughts. Engagement with the idea starter via collaborative discussion holds the greatest opportunity to influence the conversation.

Key influencer: Idea Starter

Preferred Engagement Behaviour: Collaborative discussion

Stage 2: Peak of Concurrent Conversations

When an ‘amplifier’ becomes interested in a conversation, it has the opportunity to reverberate around communities. With a large audience, an amplifier’s voice is disproportionately loud and for this reason has often been the target of many influence campaigns. Engagement with group has the greatest chance of success provided a relationship exists. However, this opportunity is often extremely hard to achieve and hence marketers have instead opted for influencing the influencers of this group (i.e. idea starters) or using paid methods (e.g. advertorials). Nevertheless, what cannot be doubted is that when an amplifier publicises content, it generates a huge volume of conversation.

Key influencer: Amplifier

Preferred Engagement Behaviour: Pre-packaged content that is easy to reproduce

 

Stage 3: Trough of Early Adoption

As any blogger will tell you, after the initial excitement of a meme, there comes a quick and sudden lull in conversation volume. What is most apparent is that the early catalysts for discussions no longer actively participate in the conversation. This is a crucial stage as it is here where the traditional key influencers of idea starters and amplifiers make way for the curator. Curators are the niche experts who are known within their circle as the go-to-person about a niche area. They may not have a huge number of followers but they maintain the conversation when others have left.

Key influencer: Curator

Preferred Engagement Behaviour: Q&A, scenario discussion

 

Stage 4: Slope of Enlightenment

For an idea to manifest, it takes time and evidence-based discussion to prove that it is an idea worth following. It is at this stage that once again we see the curator as being a focal point in idea adoption.

 

Stage 5: Plateau of Mainstream Adoption

You may never get as high a degree of volume of discussion as with the Peak of Concurrent Conversations but it is at this final stage where key commentators are dominating the conversation. Adoption of the idea is widespread with the initial idea starter and amplifier having progressed to other areas some time ago.

 

Proof of Theory – TweetFlow

In this video created with TweetFlow, you can see how idea starters start early in the conversation, amplifiers give it mass growth but it is the curators who make it last.

TweetFlow–created in partnership between Jonny Bentwood (Edelman) and Ramine Tinati (University of Southampton)

 

The Topology of Influence in Detail – idea starter, amplifier, curator, commentator and viewer

Idea Starters – this small collective of people are the creative brains behind many of the thoughts and ideas that other people talk about. Even though they may not necessarily have a large audience themselves, their insightful opinions often flow and are repeated throughout conversations long after they have left. They are typically well connected to other idea starters (where they collaborate on thoughts) and amplifiers (who they often rely upon to spread their views). Idea starters tend to be well connected to curators and amplifiers.

Amplifiers – these people frequently have a large audience and following. Their expertise may be deep but often they rely upon other contacts to provide opinion to which they then let their readership know about. They often have professional or commercial motivations such as journalists or analysts but are also more often than not self-created experts and avid sharers of information. Their advantage and their burden is their huge number of followers they need to keep satisfied. This behaviour ensures that they need to receive pre-packaged content that they can easily repost, retweet or repurpose so that their audience does not diminish. Amplifiers are frequently well connected to idea starters as the source of their content.

Curators – this group though having a far smaller audience are perhaps one of the most influential groups. Long after the idea starter and amplifier have left a conversation, it is the curator that maintains discussion. This niche expert collates information about a specific topic and is frequently sought after for advice about this specific area. They often take part in discussions with idea starters and are avid readers of topic-specific amplifiers.

Commentators – these people individually have little influence. Their behaviour often resembles little more than adding a comment without contributing greatly to the conversation. Their influence should not be ignored but should instead be viewed as a collective to measure the trend of opinion around a subject. An interesting factor is that this group are often self-moderating – when negative comments are posted often these contributors will often intervene to correct inaccuracies or a unfounded negative views.

Viewers – In the conversation this invisible group who we call viewers don’t leave a foot print except through Google. Indeed it is through Google, and the impact of viewers on search results, that these other groups become influential and evolve their role within a conversation. Authority rests with the search patterns of those who simply observe in a democratic world.

Conclusion

In order to stand the greatest for marketers to influence a conversation, they must appreciate what maturity stage the conversation currently is at. Upon doing that they will need to target the most appropriate person from within the topology and engage with them according to their behavioural characteristics.

image

End note: We are currently beta-testing the next iteration of TweetLevel which will allow anyone to identify what type of influencer a tweeter is via its algorithm. If you would like a beta-access password, please contact @jonnybentwood

HomelessOne of the most talked about pieces of news to come out of this year’s SXSW was not shiny new tech but the “Homeless Hotspot” campaign by BBH Labs, the innovation unit of the international marketing agency BBH. According to Jenna Wortham writing for The New York Times, BBH outfitted 13 ‘volunteers’ from a homeless shelter with Wi-Fi hotspot devices and T-shirts bearing their names: “I’m Clarence, a 4G Hotspot.” They were reportedly paid $20/ day (£13) to go to the most densely packed areas of the conference and were allowed to keep whatever customers donated in exchange for the wireless service. What BBH dubbed a “charitable experiment” has undeniably backfired with industry pundits and media calling the campaign “exploitive” and “tasteless.” Wired magazine even described “Homeless Hotspots” as something which sounds like it is out of a “darkly satirical science-fiction dystopia.” But is it really all that bad?

BBH has defended its thinking framing the initiative as an attempt to “modernise the Street Newspaper (similar to the UK’s Big Issue) model employed to support the homeless populations”. This has only triggered further criticism. In the past 24 hours, an official response from BBH has been released: “Obviously, there’s an insane amount of chatter about this, which although certainly villainizes us, in many ways is very good for the homeless people we’re trying to help: homelessness is actually a subject being discussed at SXSW and these people are no longer invisible… we wanted to share a few key facts: We are not selling anything. There is no brand involved. There is no commercial benefit whatsoever.” You can read the full comment on BBH’s Homeless Hotspots website.

The campaign for SXSW has failed so spectacularly and so publically. Using Edelman’s TweetLevel tool to evaluate Twitter buzz over the past couple of days, the campaign’s hashtag "#HomelessHotspot" was itself virtually invisible until hybrid media picked up on story on Monday (12/02/2012). The most shared links for the topic, again from TweetLevel, reflect the fierce criticism and debate this campaign has triggered in social and hybrid media since the close of SXSW (interesting to note here that articles by traditional media (BBC, Telegraph, The New York Times) are not fuelling the debate but are only reporting on it.

So why has this initiative failed so spectacularly and so publically? It’s mostly a matter of perception. Countless social programmes promote jobs for the homeless and encourage (and/ or require) the benefactors to participate rather than give hand-outs; the Street Newspaper/ The Big Issue and Habitat for Humanity, for example. But this wasn’t a social programme, let’s be frank here, this was a PR campaign by a marketing agency and the agency failed on one of the most critical principles of any digital marketing campaign; context. As a result, the campaign left users and pundits feeling uncomfortable and with a negative perception of the BBH brand.

The objectives of this campaign were mostly sound and pretty good – connect the visiting SXSW technology community with the local Austin community by highlighting the social problem of an ‘invisible’ homeless population – but the context, and some of the content, was all wrong. BBH lacked a fundamental link connecting the plight of Austin’s homeless with the core audience and objective for the marketing agency.  Instead if feeling like they’ve done something for good, users said they felt awkward about the whole thing. That’s not good at all. 

You may argue that this was a CSR or even a local community support initiative (BBH does) however contextually BBH – a UK-based agency – did not have a building block of sustained social credibility local market/ community to support such a campaign. We all know that context is king. BBH failed to question; what kind of marketing message are conference goers receptive to in this context? And, is the platform (in this case the homeless participants) contextually relevant to our business and our customers. If this campaign initiative was run by a local charitable organization or local city of Austin chamber of commerce type organization, it’s quite possible we’d be talking about an ingenious campaign designed to promote the local community with the technology elite who descend on Austin once a year. But why an agency? What is the connection?

Surly, as a marketing agency BBH should have known better? Question what you will about the motivations for the campaign, the truth of the matter is that contextually, the language of the campaign was all wrong as well. The mechanics of the campaign gave observers an impression that the initiative lacked purpose and therefore the language used fell flat and communicated exploitation of the homeless participants instead of municipal support. Speaking about the criticism detailed in media reports, journalist and freelance writer Mic Wright said, “It was all in the language. [The homeless participants] WERE the hotspots.”

Behind the scenes and once you visit the BBH website, you might feel otherwise, but as digital marketers we know that the first 5 seconds is what counts. Saneel Radia, the director of innovation at BBH Labs who oversaw the project, told one reporter that the company was not taking advantage of the homeless volunteers. He said, “We saw it as a means to raise awareness by giving homeless people a way to engage with mainstream society and talk to people,” he said. “The hot spot is a way for them to tell their story.” But giving a homeless man a t-shirt that effectively says “I am a homeless hotspot” – where is the tact in that?

If BBH had employed events staff to wander around the show broadcasting wireless hotspots, we would have had no problem with this. It is that fact that they felt the need to make a point with employing the homeless and made it so visible that impacted reception of the campaign. Within the context of SXSW, this simply didn’t gel and the experience left users and pundits feeling uncomfortable. Better, BBH should have employed local community members and activists/ influencers with a message to SXSW attendees to get to know local Austin, the good and the bad. In fact, we’ve used TweetLevel to find a simple list of influencers in the Austin, TX area talking about the homeless. In terms of delivery, a cleanly designed app would have neatly connected SXSW conference goers with stories about their adopted home for the long-weekend. In the right context, with some killer content, this could have been a powerful campaign.

@jacqui_fleming

bearFishing where the fish are is something that bears have known for years but many folk who use Twitter seem to have forgotten. We cannot simply think our message will be heard by tweeting ourselves which is why we try and target influential people via tools like TweetLevel and BlogLevel.

However, this isn’t the only way of doing it. What I have been doing successfully over the past year is taking part in twitter chats. These are regular conversations that take place about a specific subject on twitter normally for an hour and owned by a specific hashtag.

For example,

· if you are targeting the SME market then look no further than #smallbizchat

· If you are focussing on innovation then #Innochat on Thursdays is the one for you

· Are you a small business that uses LinkedIn (client) – why not use the chat that shares best ways for businesses to use this service on #linkedinchat

My personal favourites are #influencechat and #measurepr – but suggest you look at this larger list to see which ones can help you

Any questions, just chat with me @jonnybentwood

End note: My thanks to Judy Gombita for pointing this list out to me who also wants me to plug Windmill Networking #PR column Wed, Social Capital Byte: Institutionalizing Parity in B2B Relationships

@jonnybentwood

Some of you may well have seen this research from the Guardian earlier this week, which aimed to highlight the top journalist tweeters in the UK – headed by Neil Mann, aka @fieldproducer, digital news editor at Sky News.

There just seemed to be one problem – the list was, perhaps unsurprisingly, absolutely dominated by Grauniad hacks, with half the top ten being employed by the paper running the research. The highest placed non-Guardian ‘paper scribe on the list was the FT’s Tim Bradshaw who came in a lowly eighteenth, while the Times could only muster one journalist in the top 50 – Michael Savage, in at #35.

Shurely shome mishtake?

We’ve run the findings through the tweetlevel  algorithm instead to give it some more context, and the same list appear in a very different order, with Charles Arthur the highest placed hack on the list, and afore-mentioned Tim Bradshaw rocketing up to eighth.

Check out the revised list here.

top tweeters grab

Picking a couple of other tech journos at random, there were notable exceptions in the original list: from The Times, Murad Ahmed would have been in the top fifty; the Telegraph’s digital media editor Emma Barnett would have triumphed in at #20; while arguably one of the UK’s most influential tech industry bods, Mike Butcher, would have come in joint with Tim Bradshaw.

To be clear, we’re not saying ‘our list is better than yours’, nor are we saying our methodology is better – we’re just saying that if you’re producing a list of the influential people in your industry, it might be a good idea to widen the scope to people who don’t work for you.

Let us know what you make of our version of the list originally produced by the Guardian. For more info on the algorithm used, make your brain hurt reading this.

TweetLevel and BlogLevel are two purpose built tools for the PR industry that aim to be a GPS for navigating influence. At its heart is an open and transparent algorithm that seeks to measure who is important within each social media channel.

image

Resting behind the methodology are several key insights:

Influence without context is irrelevant

Understanding measurement is more than simply putting a name into an algorithm. It’s a process. If you are looking at influence, then go for Justin Bieber – however, if you are looking to get the right people to speak about you and engage on your behalf then understanding context is critical. This is what the first step in TweetLevel that we always recommend anyone follows is context. Using Boolean logic, anyone can enter a search term to identify who are currently the most influential people about a certain subject. Only when you have identified who these people can you source relevant measurement metrics. The process that it follows is:

  1. Which people have the largest share of voice about a specific search topic
  2. Ranking the top 100 people by their SOV, we then import these names into TweetLevel to identify their influence score
  3. We recommend that brands should focus on people with a score between 65 and 85. Above that score people are significant but are in the realms of the “Today Show” and PR pros must question how likely is it that their message will want to to be heard by this target.

Much as we would like to engage with every relevant person, the sad truth is that most people do not have the time or resources to do so. We therefore need to prioritise which people to focus on. This process explains how to find them.

Popularity does not equal influence

The above statement is bold and almost 100% true. I am not naive if you are popular then by default you are more likely to be influential. However, this is just one factor that can measure how important someone is. The numbers of followers someone has is interesting to me but not as key as how somebody engages in relevant conversations or create ideas that then resonate through the social web.

Engagement is not the same as activity

People have long understood the difference between broadcasting and engaging. As communication channels become more dynamic and interactive, true influence is derived by having two-way dialogues, asking questions and by posting interesting and informative content.

This is the time of the new influential – idea starters and amplifiers are both influential in their own way

If you compare the lists of top tweeters from TweetLevel with other tools on the market, there will be a marked difference in that in our lists you will see some people with comparatively few followers and yet with a higher influence score than their peers who may be extremely popular. The reason for this is that TweetLevel identifies which people create ideas which are then amplified. This isn’t to say that both types of people aren’t important but more that they are both key targets and should be engaged with.

We are at a tipping point where sociology and technology can assist us in engagement

imageContinuing the argument above, we are at a wonderful position whereby sociology and technology are merging to assist us in understanding how to engage with different audiences in the most appropriate manner. TweetLevel can identify what type of person an individual is by their online behaviour. We call this the ‘Topology of Influence

We believe that influence is derived by how information flows between different people. Backed-up by the Web Science team at the University of Southampton, influential people can be: idea starters, amplifiers, curators, commentators or viewers.

People within these different categories all portray behavioural attributes that when complemented are more likely to promote the spread of a message. For example with Idea Starters I would engage in a deep structured discussion and with amplifiers I would understand their need to satisfy their readership and provide them with pre-packaged information that they can easily repurpose.

TweetLevel measures influence and more…

Understanding which people engage with is just half the story. Nothing irks me more than hearing someone has emailed their boss saying that “so-and-so has just retweeted us and they have 30 thousand followers”. Big Deal.

What is more important is ‘has there been a significant change in the amount of conversation that you have catalysed’ and ‘defining whether people are talking and sharing the points you want them to’. These are key measurement metrics which Tweet and BlogLevel also measures.

image   image image

image

However, I would always counsel having a consistent measurement approach:

  • At the beginning of a campaign: to set a benchmark and ensure your message is relevant
  • During the campaign: are there peaks at the right time? Do we need to course correct, issues hijack or amend our message?
  • At the end of the campaign: how have we done? Have the right people engaged? Has the right message been echoed and spread?

What the tools can and can’t do

TweetLevel and BlogLevel are tools that help PR pros take what would be either an expensive or time consuming process into a free (these sites don’t cost) and quick job (reduces the analysis time from days to minutes). However, they don’t fully automate the identification or measurement role – this is intentionally done as a human mind always needs to validate and sanity check the results.

There are of course other excellent tools in the market. However, TweetLevel and BlogLevel are not trying to compete with them. These are purpose built to mirror the way we work so we do not need to retrofit our work to complement their tools. These are games or perks but simply a way that we can do our job better.

Of course there are some added extras that go beyond measurement – for example identifying what individuals most frequently discuss, who they influence, who influences them and other people who talk about similar subjects.

image

I like to say that these tools are in continuous beta. As new developments arise or demand for specific features are required, we will update the tools accordingly.

What’s next?

To answer this simple question I would like to refer you to a simple quote that Jeremiah Owyang once said to me:

If you want to influence me, be in a conversation with me – wherever that conversation takes place.

I will be discussing both TweetLevel and BlogLevel at the forthcoming #measurePR chat on 30 August at 12-1 pm ET. I hope you can participate and join the debate. @jenzings will be hosting and my thanks to @shonali for organising.

In a scene reminiscent of the 90s cult classic ‘Lawnmower Man’, it is understood that Jonny Bentwood – pioneer of the celebrated Tweetlevel online popularity contest – has been consumed by his own Twitter algorithm; in the process becoming the first human being to become physically socially networked.twitter all

Concerns were first raised when semi-digital manifestations of Bentwood appeared on computer screens thoughout the company, during prolonged physical absence from his desk alongside the Edelman Technology team – concerns that were confirmed when he disappeared altogether and became wholly digital.

The first unexplained phenomenon was the appearance of a series of seemingly motivational – yet slightly unsettling – Twitter related posters (right).  These were followed by ghostly bangings from the server room, alongside muffled, digital screams about ‘influence’, ‘popularity’, ‘engagement’ and ‘trust’. White-noise and repeated yells of the word ‘retweet’ have also been heard in what is being dubbed a ‘polterzeitgeist haunting’ by experts.

It is now feared that Jonny has used his integration into the Twitter portal to access other online territories, with the Edelman server under attack, and traditional media lists being erased from client files to be replaced by an audio file of someone reading out complex and often nonsensical algorithms and laughing maniacally.

"At this stage we’re at a loss as to what to do," commented a spokesperson, "this is entirely without precedent and we’re unsure whether to eradicate the threat; monitor and analyse it; or whether this is in fact an innovative route to influencers not seen before, which we can exploit and use to bypass newly evolving platforms being used by early adopters. Harnessing Jonny’s new digital access and power has the potential to put us so far ahead of the curve we may well rebound back onto ourselves and BECOME the curve."

It is understood several Helpdesk tickets have been raised, and allocated to a member of the IT team to handle; although an unnamed IT member said that they were unsure as to how to tackle this threat other than "turning something off and on again and hoping for the best"