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How to find those who have the most friends, and influence them

Here Azeem Azhar, founder of PeerIndex, talks about the difficulties of keeping track of the huge number of people who influence others on social networks.

Azhar points out that in the past, it was easy to locate those who had the most clout. He says: “For a company in a given sector only a few people mattered – top journalists and analysts. These were the guys who drove awareness and perception of your company. Your boffins created products, your marketers got the word out via advertising and PR, and the media carried your messages.”

The graph below shows how just a few people had the most authority when it came to discussing brands.

The locus of authority which we all knew and loved

Graph supplied by Peer Index

Today the shift is “epic“, says Azhar, “We know from plenty of data that peer influence counts. And we see that individuals (whether friends or people we don't know, but whose digital content we consume) really matter. Insight around companies doesn't break via newspapers as much as it did.” The problem is finding out who the new influencers are. Azhar says that these people have always been around, but they now have global audiences, rather than being restricted to the pub.

The graph below shows that with so many people influencing online, there are far more people promoting, or criticising, brands to others. Away from a stagnant small handful of journalists and analysts, towards a much larger and shifting community of individuals who are passionate or expert on a subject.

The secular shft in authority



Graph supplied by Peer Index

Today, PROs can’t just target journalists, but have far more people to communicate with, and these people change all the time. As Azhar explains: “You are used to having small numbers of deep relationships. And the economics of that mattered because you could afford to serenade a journalists with high-media value, as you would access them again and again for client after client.”

Azhar believes that it is a challenge to find the new people who are brand influences, but there are means to do so. The secret is locating individuals who actively build social profiles (by having professional discussions via social networks such as Twitter) and who are most relevant. He gives this example: “When the head of engineering at an airline sends around a URL on metal fatigue, he implicitly endorses that knowledge as valuable. And everyone can benefit from the knowledge.” Such people can be found because they are leaving digital trails, and it is important to follow these to help you understand who they are, what they care about and what impact they have.

As Azhar explains, people have eminence in different topics: “John Smith may have eminence around natural remedies and have no profile within mobile telephony. And Jane Smith might be the reverse.”

The starting point for communicating to the right people in the right way, is to build a model of the world and its authorities based around topics which reflect things that people care about. Azhar says: “By observing digital footprints and applying several layers of maths (one of which is very similar to Google's PageRank algorithm), we build up a nuanced model of who is trustworthy or dependable on a given subject.”

PeerIndex ranks people and gives each individual a score, but this is just a starting point: “This score is an average – it's nice to show people, but it loses lots of its nuance. My individual score is 64. But that hides more than 875 individual scores on different topics. For example, I have high authority on social marketing topics and virtually no authority on football-related topics.

So when it comes to finding the people who are relevant to a particular brand, the right place to start is to look at metrics that identify reliable people with strong affinities to this brand. Azhar concludes: “This means defining a topic that reflects your client – for example natural products. Out of that topic will fall a list of names/people and quite granular information about what they like and talk about. From that you can drill into individuals and figure out what communication would most benefit them.”

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