Who really cares, and can it be measured?

“People don’t want more information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want FAITH. Faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story YOU tell.”
– Annette Simmons, ‘Whoever tells the best story wins’: http://amzn.to/19Dzwb

Courtesy of Geoff-Livingston

These days we hear a lot about influence, especially its measurement. But what does it really mean? From Klout scores to Empire Avenue, even the language of ‘followers and fans’, the very concepts of reach, digital influence and voice seem to be baked into the DNA of our social media and online business.

But what constitutes being influential? Can it be accurately measured?

There are currently numerous attempts to determine influence ‘ratings’ through algorithmic methods such as daily retweets rate, ratio of followers to those being followed, and many, many more, but the primary aspect they miss is that they are only measuring one thing – your presence within social media. I argue that online influence goes well beyond your social media presence, and the measurement of it should ultimately be what happens offline.

Influence can be defined as the extent to which you can get someone else to do something. There are varying degrees of it based on what the person being influenced does, and your efforts to achieve that. I believe it is earned, topic specific, and most importantly context specific. Let’s explore a typical example of what we mean by this on Twitter.

Let’s take an agent who is being very aggressive with their digital marketing efforts on Twitter. They get retweeted often throughout the day, post between 30-40 different things daily, and get engaged in numerous conversations with both their peers and actual leads. They have a growing follower count, and share information both on the neighborhood they specialize in, as well as personal information about things in their life. How influential are they? The answer is not ’62’.

If you break down the value of each interaction they have, you can begin to develop a sense of what kinds of relationships are most valuable to them, assess their worth, and determine influence. Think of it as a pyramid of interactions with increasing value and real-world action the higher up you go – the greater the number of actions at the top of the pyramid, the greater the influence. For example, simple retweets would be at the bottom of the hierarchy. Appearing frequently, they have some small value, and obviously have been of value to those retweeting them – that’s a great thing.

But what’s better than a retweet? Someone adding their own perspective to the original tweet perhaps. Maybe it’s thanking you for finding that post to share and sparking a discussion. Something where they have begun to interact with what you posted. Their own follower count is something to consider here – being retweeted by Robert Scoble is obviously going to be bigger for you than by someone who has an egg as their avatar. I’d suggest that entering into an actual conversation is yet further up the hierarchy, and especially higher up if you can share some valuable insight with those you’re talking to. Having this conversation during a time that is most helpful is also important.

And so the hierarchy goes up. What would potentially be at the top of the pyramid? I think it looks like this; someone who made disparaging remarks about you, your services or your brokerage, that you reached out to directly, and not only resolved their issue but turned it into offline, actionable business. Twitter can be very powerful from a customer service perspective, and extending your influence through thinking about the nature of your offline interactions with those you follow or chat with, can be an insightful and differentiating way to approach the platform. How would this apply to other platforms, or between platforms? My advice here is to make all your tweets count.

Influence, and taking those digital relationships and conversations offline as fast as possible is the key to translating them into business.

This is where the problems with Klout and Empire Avenue come into play. Influence, insight and sharing value with others online cannot be ‘gamed’, and it cannot be assigned to an integer. Agents attempting to be competitive here are being distracted away from the meaningful work of helping their clients. That’s not to say these platforms are without value, it’s that their value isn’t influence driven. Influence is a measure of your follower count’s value to YOU. Can you get those that follow you to do things for you? If so, you have true influence. If not, you simply have distribution.

Todd Carpenter, Director of Digital Engagement for NAR recently took Klout to task in this post, where he rightfully criticizes Klout for describing their services as “the measurement of your overall online influence.” The description, as measured by Klout, only extends to Facebook, Twitter and the other social channels able to be linked to their measurement service. ‘Overall online’ extends far beyond social media. At the very least it’s also the syndication of your listings, blogs, reviews and press coverage in addition to many more outlets. I think online influence is also impacted by offline influence. Todd interestingly explores the idea that they characterize influence as “people who talk to each other a lot online”. I agree with Todd that noise doesn’t equal influence. The loudest person in the room, while often heard, is usually not the most influential.

This is also the difference between audience and community. Putting your community to work is a key advantage over simply broadcasting marketing messages, and it’s unfortunately something not many in the real estate business are actively doing. Community means people who connect with you, and are talking to each other ABOUT you. It’s earned, and built over time. It’s that your message resonates with them. Once achieved, it can be one of the most cost effective and powerful tools in your digital marketing arsenal. Are your open house Facebook posts resonating with anyone? What about your ‘Good morning!’ tweets?

Crucially, influence is topic specific. Being influential has nothing to do with follower count or the size of your fan base. It’s about getting the right information at the right time from the right person. Do I think Ashton Kutcher is influential about New York real estate? Can he give me a great tip for dinner on the Lower East Side? His follower count tells me I should perceive him as influential, but specifically to me he’s not. His Klout score is 20 points higher than mine. He has audience, but most don’t even see the things he tweets as they fly past in the stream. In this case he has distribution, but not influence.

A more effective way of measuring influence is to quantify the volume of people that did unsolicited things for you, that actually grow your brand and your business, EVERY day. It’s a moving target, and alas, what happens today doesn’t mean you’re going to be influential tomorrow. If people are proactively doing things for you (what marketers call ‘earned media’), and talking positively to their friends about you and your services, that goes beyond any ad you could ever place, or any Facebook page or blog you could ever build. It’s also not an online thing. The real estate industry has always done this offline. We call it referrals.

“Pay very close attention to the things you gradually commit your life to without realizing it.”
– LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy

So what can real estate professionals do to work with these ideas and grow their influence online? There’s a few great places to start, not least of which is to pick a topic to focus on, and absolutely own that space. There’s some great folks in real estate who already do this, especially when paired with geographic locations and markets. Want to know anything about what it’s like in Phoenix? I’d ask Jay Thompson. Jay, to me, is INFLUENTIAL about that beautiful part of the world. Similarly, if I was visiting Austin, I’d call Krisstina Wise. I trust her expertise and insight, and have seen her demonstrate this hundreds of times on AND offline. These are people who own the markets they work in, and this can be a great strategy to associate your market with your services in the minds of the public. It’s how you’re found in search.

So here we’re taking about influence being fueled by associations. If someone wanted to know what it ‘feels’ like to live in your market, would they not only know your name, but would they also know how to reach out to you? That’s a great goal to have, and a great marketing problem to solve. A ‘Things to do in Anytown’ approach is a productive place to start a marketing plan, but take Maura Neill’s advice on the pitfalls of the 365 blogging idea before jumping too far in, too soon.

The goal is to be the go-to person for anyone thinking about moving to your market. How you achieve this is to be the most influential person on that particular topic online, through consistently posting insightful things in exciting ways. As I’ve explored previously, expertise and unique insight fuel this, but owning the digital conversation about life in your town will help you to grow your influence, particularly if you’re super helpful in going about it.

Everything you do, on and offline, impacts the perception of your influence, and it directly impacts how people will find you online. Once they find you, what are you doing to influence them to work with you over others? Are you simply suggesting that they also follow you on Google+? Or are you providing helpful information with an open door?

Maintaining a consistent, helpful, local, insightful stream of information is the key to growing your influence on AND offline. This goes well beyond social media. It’s phone calls, face to face, Skype, PR, conferences, events, dinners, print, advertising, anything and everything where you or your message comes into contact with other people. Many will preach consistency and brand as part of this, and while I agree with that in principle, that’s a topic to explore in a future post.

I argue that too many real estate professionals are not trying hard enough to be influential about the markets in which they work, and no amount of jumping on shiny objects or evangelizing of Google+ (or whatever it is this week) will do that for you. Influence is about separating signal from noise, and producing ONLY signal. Because signal is the most effective way to be visible online.

Signal not only creates influence around you and your market, solidifying those 2 things in the mind of those seeing your messages, it also builds equity in your services, and directly speaks to the idea that helping people is the new way of selling to them.

Here’s something to think about. The best brands always become verbs. We Google instead of performing an online search. We Photoshop instead of digitally retouching photos, and we Skype instead of video chatting. Wouldn’t it be one of the most powerful things you could ever do to create this idea for yourself in your market? Associating your brand with your market is essential.

Becoming an integral part of an area’s brand is what the most successful real estate agents have always done, and what we do online now is no different. Somehow we lose sight of this as we jump from platform to platform, getting caught up in the great new things we can do, and not focusing on the things we ARE doing right now.

Influence is an exciting thing to have, but remember that it can be destroyed in an instant. Building a solid digital foundation of helpful, insightful knowledge, over time, and truly baking it into the core of your work ethic’s DNA is a powerful way to own your market.

It will help those who find you online be able to instantly understand why they shouldn’t work with anyone else.

Further Reading:
Geoff Livingston: ‘The State Of Influencer Theory’
Malcolm Gladwell: ‘The Tipping Point’
Malcolm Gladwell ‘What we can learn from spaghetti sauce’
Duncan Watts: ‘Six Degrees / Weak Ties’

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