For the sake of discussion, let’s say you are with a major technology company.
Would your company benefit more from a recommendation by a blogger who has a lot of blog traffic and 100,000 followers or more limited traffic and 100 followers? Think about that for a moment.
What if I told you the 100,000 followers were all teen age kids, while the 100 were each responsible for their own $50 million annual technology budget? Would your answer change?
After a recent tech conference, I shared a cab to the airport with a fellow blogger. Let’s call my blogging friend Chris, since I didn’t actually get permission to tell this story. In between interruptions by the driver, who was peppering us with questions about the best place to host his website, we talked about traffic as a measure of a successful blog. The head of influencer engagement for a large enterprise tech company recently asked Chris to share page views and unique visitor data for his blog. Chris was concerned that his blog traffic numbers were too low to be interesting to the company asking.
I told Chris any tech company asking for traffic stats was asking the wrong question. The company should be asking how much influence he has.
What does blog traffic actually measure?
Traffic is quite possibly the least useful measure of influence available, but people love it because it’s easy to measure. The general assumption is that more traffic translates directly to more influence. This is an unfortunate trickle down from online advertising, where you can typically predict that for every 1,000 ad impressions a certain number of people will click on the ad and some smaller number of people will take the desired action that comes after the click.
Ad buyers know this model is flawed and are constantly looking for ways to improve it. Even with demographic targeting, you don’t really know you are reaching the right people. Ad campaigns end up with a bunch of impressions and clicks that don’t result in the desired behavior. If ad buyers could eliminate all those worthless impressions and the subsequent unqualified clicks that follow, they would reduce the ad budget to only spending ad dollars on the people who are actually interested.
This volume based model is even more problematic when you attempt to apply it to content publishing. Only a few of the page views to a post are ever coming from the ideal reader. If you are a company looking for influencers to engage with, the ideal reader is the one that reads an article on a blog and then ends up in your sales funnel because the blogger convinced the reader your product solves a problem. You can’t identify those ideal readers by counting raw traffic numbers or page views.
For some types of products, like specialized enterprise computing solutions, the pool of ideal readers might only be 1,000 people on the entire planet. I know it’s exciting to hear a blogger tell you that their article about your niche product gets thousands of views, but the chances are pretty good that none of those thousands of readers actually have a need for your product. They might think your product is interesting. I regularly read about interesting products that I will never be in the market for.
Think about this for a moment – If I’m never going to buy your product or contact your company to find out more about it, why would you care that I read about your product? You want to connect your company with the people the blogger influenced to enter the sales funnel, the rest of them are wasted impressions.
Influence Extends Beyond the Blog
Instead of counting the number of readers a blogger has, find out who she is influencing.
When I talk about influence in a marketing context, I’m talking about the ability to change another person’s purchasing behavior. When I talk about bloggers as influencers, I’m referring to more than just writing blog posts and the tweets and Facebook posts that support those blogs. I’m I’m also talking about all the other engagements the blogger can’t measure with Google Analytics.
True influencers are passionate about helping their audience find answers to their questions. They are interested in learning from others. Influencers invest their own time and effort into helping your potential customers both by acting as an informed expert and by working with people inside your company to help make your products better.
Examples of Influence
One example I frequently cite from my own world is the email I receive asking for product recommendations for all kinds of technology problems. Many of the emails are from people who work inside Fortune 500 companies. The emails come because I wrote an article related to a problem someone has and they want some additional details. Sometimes I’ll end up spending an hour or two doing some additional research and responding to follow up questions. In rare cases, I’ve even been know to hop on the phone and talk someone through the benefits and risks of the decision they are trying to make. The exchanges always result in the requester making an informed purchase decision influenced by my input.
I offer my assistance for free because it gives me the opportunity to understand how companies are using the various technologies I talk about. The knowledge helps me connect the dots so I can understand how other pieces may fit together in the future. I think of these interactions as a means of making my internal recommendation engine smarter.
Back at the airport, Chris and I successfully navigated airport security and joined another blogger in the airport food court. Part way through dinner, Chris excused himself from our conversation so that he could accept a phone call from a senior marketing person at another large tech company. The call was about how difficult it is to find information on the company website, relative to some of their major competitors.
Just like my email exchanges, Chris wasn’t getting paid for his time. Chris was using his own personal time to bring an issue within the community to the company’s attention. He was spending his free time to help influence the company to serve its customers more effectively.
The lazy bloggers, even those with massive audiences, simply write blog posts outlining how much the company sucks at customer support – we’ve all seen those posts. A true influencer offers constructive feedback in private, helping the company create a better relationship with customers without embarrassing them. I’ve seen the support site in question – it does suck! Chris made the bold choice to allow the company to address the problem without public shaming. If the company listens, they will likely get more business because Chris helped make the overall experience better.
If traffic isn’t the right measure, how do you know someone is influential?
Blogger influence can be gauged on any number of factors, but distilling it down to a few simple questions can start you off in the right direction. It will take more work than looking at stats from Compete or Alexa or Klout. Here are a few questions I would ask if I wanted to identify someone influential in my company’s niche.
Does the blogger engage with people from your company?
This goes back to my example with Chris. If the people making product decisions inside your company interact with a blogger, that blogger has an important level of influence. If the blogger is also engaging with your company’s employees on social channels like Twitter, Google Plus, and Facebook, you can more easily identify how they are interacting with your company. An important measure here is to ask some of those employees what they think of the blogger.
Does the blogger engage with people from your competitors?
A blogger who interacts with people from your competitors, as well as people from your company is even more valuable. These are the bloggers who have a finger on the pulse of the entire industry. When helping people make a purchase decision, these bloggers will be better equipped to recommend your product relative to the competition.
Does the blogger respond to people who ask questions?
You can see the public examples of this on Twitter and Facebook, but a better way to judge would be to send the blogger an email with a question that follows up on an article they wrote. This can help you assess the depth of their knowledge, their willingness to help, as well as their ability to point people to resources outside their own blog (like deep links in your company website). It can also quickly identify someone who might be a jerk so you avoid a potential headache of interacting with them as part of your influencer program.
Does the blogger engage with other influential members of the community?
A blogger who is plugged into the wider community around your product is far more valuable than one who operates largely in their own island. Someone who has a network of people is going to tell those people when your company does something great. Influencers sharing with other influencers can create a network effect that extends far beyond the influence of a single individual.
Does the blogger share content from industry sources and thought leaders?
Bloggers who share content from other people realize publishing is not a zero sum game. They are valuable to the community because they help amplify other bloggers and because they recognize there’s more going on in the space than the content they publish on their own blog.
Does the blogger teach his or her expertise?
This might be harder to identify without asking directly, but teaching is a good measure of influence. If a blogger is leading sessions at conferences or offering their expertise in webinars, they are directly impacting a smaller group of people who opted in to learning more about the subject being taught. If the blogger is teaching about your company’s products, you’ve got an outstanding advocate who isn’t preaching the company party line.
The bottom line on Influence
You don’t need to answer yes to 100% of these questions to describe someone as influential. One or two strong yeses are a good indicator that the blogger is someone worth engaging with. What additional questions would you ask?