Discovering Real Influencers

There’s a burning question on the minds of many marketing, sales and support execs these days and it is: “How do I reach the influencers that really matter to my business?” A common question that comes up often in marketing planning meetings, these execs are realizing that the influencers most visible today, while important, aren’t necessarily the ones with the most weight.

Keeping sales stocked with fresh leads, the pipeline flowing with new opportunities and ultimately deals getting closed — all hinge on the influencers creating credibility for a company.

A Step Above CRM

Let’s get right to the point here: CRM systems cannot tell you which influencers will matter in six months or a year from now. They are perfect at telling you which influencers mattered over a year ago, and if you have high usage of the system, which influencers mattered six months ago. But they can’t predict which influencers will matter in the future.

Mix in how ingrained companies get in their public relations and analyst relations strategies, year after year visiting the same publications on media tours and talking to the same analysts, and it’s easy to see how stale messaging can happen — and the result — a lack of generating new influencers.

Many companies mistake anyone writing about their company as a new key influencer — yet the vast quality differences in many blogs being produced shows this belief to be a fallacy. Companies are looking to quantify strategies in marketing that have, up to this point, been held up as the cost of doing business and immune from hard-numbered ROI analysis — things like massive spend in public relations.

Thankfully there are PR professionals out there working to quantify their contributions — thereby saving their budgets and the great work they do in the process. You can read an excellent paper on this subject from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, based in London. The Institute recently released the document, “Measurement and Evaluation: Moving the Debate Forward,” which you can download free here. The Institute’s focus on ROI research is definitely a step in the right direction.

Looking For Cause-Effect

Even with the public relations industry going through a measuring of its own value, there’s still a remaining gap — and that is a cause-effect model of how influencers emerge, impact your company and mature. There are a few companies going after this and it’s fascinating to explore their different techniques.

The article posted on June 3rd, Blog Mining Gets Real, generated e-mails and discussions from several analytics vendors. To benchmark these vendors, I asked if their existing customers use their analytics applications for analyzing unstructured web content to scan all available electronic media. In addition, I was interested in seeing if their application could scout out both early warning of product liability and service failures — two critical areas the auto industry is focused on today for example. I also asked them to point to either a scenario where a client had been able to successfully launch a product by communicating with key influencers, or on the flip side, handle a PR crisis a client had that could have escalated into the company losing much value due to being publicly traded.

Only a few could point to that level of expertise, and one that had data and an actual case study to share was Cymfony. Their InfoXtract Engine combines natural language processing (NLP) with statistical routines to provide greater predictability. InfoXtract is graphically explained here. Running exclusively on a hosted model, their Cymfony Dashboard and Digital Consumer Insight products can be configured to see emerging influencers and their opinions and eventual impact on your company. What differentiated this company from a few others was the data however; they showed data sets of how cause-effect in managing communication to influencers would work.

After having done much research to accomplish the goal of analyzing a blog’s content on my laptop over the Memorial Day weekend, I came to several conclusions:

    1. Hosted is the way to go for analytical tools for en masse blog mining. The toolkit from MIT was great and you can really see the passion those people have for this area, yet time being such a critical resource I am constantly running out of, hosted was much faster.

    2. Research in attaining ROI for PR spending yields influencer insights. Not intuitively obvious, but the tools for measuring PR’s ROI can tell you about the emerging influencers monitoring your company or making recommendations about your products to other consumers.

    3. The more traditional the influencer the easier they are to track. I can hear some CEOs yelling “Finally!” as one lamented this week that marketing spend is a necessary evil and wanted to get back to the good old days where products sold themselves on innovation alone. This means the most traditional of influencers — analysts — can now be tracked using technologies including InfoXtract from Cymfony.

ROI and Analyst Relations

Any discussion of influencers is not complete without mentioning industry analysts. As Vinnie Mirchandani, founder of Deal Architect and a former Gartner analyst writes in his blog entry Analyze This!, analysts in general are a small percentage of total spend compared to software purchases, and the closer an analyst is to users the more valuable they are; the closer to vendors, the less valuable. You may also want to read a great analysis of analyst’s pricing, Analyzing Analyst Economics. These two posts are among the best in the last month on the subject of managing analyst relations to results.

This week Azul Partners also released a report sponsored by Aberdeen that has as its goal the measuring of analyst effectiveness. The irony of an analyst firm sponsoring research about how analyst firms are perceived makes the report worth reading on that point alone. Their report, titled “The Real Deal: Vendor and End User Perceptions of Industry Analyst Firms,” is downloadable from their site here. The report is based on primary research sponsored by Azul Partners from February to April of this year, when 40 end users and 40 vendors were contacted and asked to rate Aberdeen, AMR, ARC, Butler Group, Forrester, Gartner, and Yankee. [*Editor’s Note]

Finding Blogs Worth Reading

What’s most frustrating about all the blogging going on is that some are reading like high tech Tourette’s Syndrome where instead of someone shouting out “ERP!” they are feverishly type a blog about it. What’s best about blog mining tools is that they can spot blogs created with a knee-jerk reaction versus those that have thought — and therefore valuable content — associated with them.

Finding blogs that matter is critical to any company’s strategy to listen to and respond to influencers. Using blog mining tools makes these better blogs percolate up, but there are other tools as well — like RSS Readers and aggregators. A list to choose from can be found here.

Bottom Line: It’s a healthy sign that marketing, sales, and the management of many companies is questioning the validity of traditional influencers. Using technologies that make blog mining a realistic goal can just as easily be used to find influencers — who would never have been discovered otherwise.

A Retraction: In earlier columns, I have talked about creating a “blind blog” to capture what prospects and customers really think of your company. The intent was to give the responder a chance to give the toughest feedback they wanted and not be fearful of having their maintenance contracts jacked up into the stratosphere, in the case of CRM software for example. But I have to retract that and say the best blog of all is from a VP-level exec or higher that says “OK, we are far from perfect — tell me and the world how to improve…” Far more effective and far more courageous. Too few leaders in companies do this. Thank you Julie Woods of Cymfony for that feedback.

Inspiring Read of the Week: Steve Job’s commencement address at Stanford University is a must-read. You can get to it here. If you don’t read anything else this week read this.

To read a response from Azul Partners click here.

*Editor’s Note: Shortly after this article was originally published, the author made a change that was intended for the initial article. The following paragraph is the original text that was published inadvertently. We apologize for the error.

This week Azul Partners also released a fascinating look at the analyst industry. Their report, titled “The Real Deal: Vendor and End User Perceptions of Industry Analyst Firms,” is downloadable from their site here. The report is based on primary research sponsored by Azul Partners from February to April of this year, when 40 end users and 40 vendors were contacted and asked to rate Aberdeen, AMR, ARC, Butler Group, Forrester, Gartner, and Yankee. It makes for some great reading and highlights the role of analyst as influencer nicely.

Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He recently completed the book Getting Results from Your Analyst Relations Strategies, which is available on

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