Valuing the Lurkers, Champions and Experts

We’re all of a sudden oh so busy trying to identify, quantify and qualify our online influencers. Amy Lee’s recent post, entitled The Value of Lurkers. In our efforts to measure the noise of the online conversations the lurkers (people who read, but don’t actively contribute content) often get ignored in the measurement – perhaps because they are harder to find and measure.

The Lurkers are important – these probably form the larger proportion of the community and are the one’s probably being influenced. Amy picks out three metrics that will allow measurement of Lurkers:

  1. The number and turnover of lurkers
  2. Segment users into groups and start tracking email open rates more carefully
  3. How long a person remains a quiet part of your community

A thoughtful response by Scott Moore discussed benchmarking of participation metrics and balancing a set of metrics that contribute to the overall health of the community.

But again it all tracks back to the role and objectives of your online community – and this is equally important whether your community is independent or sponsored by a business.

Which takes me onto a post from the Web Social Architecture blog entitled Getting It Right: Designing Community to Support Your Core Offering. This post is a fantastic antidote to the current trend of every site should be a community – “People aren’t on your web-site to make friends and using community to get something done is a huge value, because it promises responsiveness, detail, honesty and affinity”. Don’t just throw up discussion boards, but think about your offering and help your customers increase that value. Ryan Turner‘s post is worth a read.

As we at Overtone are designing our Influencer metrics and engagement tools, we are thinking deeply about why you’d want to  identify, qualify and quantify your online influencers. The top three usecases are:

Turning Customer Issues into Product Innovation – online communities are where customers get to make their feelings known to the organization, to other customers or to both – to get their issue resolved. You want to identify those customers who are your expert users, those who will provide the most useful feedback that will help you improve your products. You’ll want to get into a deeper level of engagement with those customers – the Lego Mindstorm case study provides a great example of how Lego recruited “citizen developers”. Sony Online Entertainment actively engage with their Community Influencers to list, publish and incorporate the most desired features of their influencer group.

Customer Self-Support – The recent Business Week article on Intuit discusses how their Online Community has spawned a number of expert customers advising other customers and taking the load off Intuit’s in-house support team. To be able to identify those customers who are performing such activities and then providing them with improved service levels when they need support provides a leveraged model.

Managing Customer Champions – Finding champions for you products who have some influence and engaging with them to ensure that they stay that way. These champions can be found on your own and on third party community sites.

We’ve got a few more, but we’re also mad keen to hear why you want to identify and engage with your online influencers.

Other articles worth checking out too if you’re keen on identifying the Influencers in your community:

How to Measure Online Influencer by Micah Baldwin, March 2009

Online Influencers: How The New Opinion Leaders Drive Buzz On The Web by Alice LaPlante, May 2007

How do you find influencers? by Sam Decker (CMO at Bazaarvoice)

Online Reviews Second Only to Word of Mouth as Purchase Influencer in US, Survey Finds in Business Week, October 2009

A Poor Man’s Guide to Finding Influencers by Mike Nelson, March 2009

SIM Scoring: Social Media Influence Metrics are an Art, July 2009


Social Media Reading – Influencers

How social media influences trust in advertising

There has been an explosion of user generated content, and as a result, consumers have a new way of assessing brands, products and services.

Nielsen’s 2009 Global Online Consumer Survey of over 25,000 Internet consumers from 50 countries and covers degrees of trust consumers have for advertisers/brands.

90% of consumers surveyed trusted recommendations from people they knew personally
70% trusted opinions from other consumers posted online
70% trusted brand websites

Key takeaway: “Strangers” opinions posted online offer as much trust to the consumer as the company website.

For companies not engaging in the social media marketing conversation with their customers, they miss out on a literal world of opinion, market research, feedback and customer service opportunities.

Those companies who value the opinions and expressions of their customers by displaying them on the company website have the most to gain.

Influentials, Networks, and Public Opinion Formation

A central idea in marketing and diffusion research is that influentials—a minority of individuals who influence an exceptional number of their peers—are important to the formation of public opinion. Here we examine this idea, which we call the “influentials hypothesis,” using a series of computer simulations of interpersonal influence processes. Under most conditions that we consider, we find that large cascades of influence are driven not by influentials but by a critical mass of easily influenced individuals. Although our results do not exclude the possibility that influentials can be important, they suggest that the influentials hypothesis requires more careful specification and testing than it has received.

The structure and function of complex networks

Inspired by empirical studies of networked systems such as the Internet, social networks, and biological networks, researchers have in recent years developed a variety of techniques and models to help us understand or predict the behavior of these systems. Here we review developments in this field, including such concepts as the small-world effect, degree distributions, clustering, network correlations, random graph models, models of network growth and preferential attachment, and dynamical processes taking place on networks.

Superusers, Step by Step

Sharing some simple tips for companies launching online customer communities about how to cultivate “superusers” — that group of active users from which influencers and advocates can emerge.


Identify superuser candidates among known advocates, online or off
Identify existing online communities (if any) to reach out to
Create “superuser-friendly” user guidelines and moderation policies.


Invite known advocates to preview community, create seed content, and provide feedback.
Add elements to community structure that allow superusers to identify you (welcome forum) and to identify themselves (feedback forum).
Develop a rank and reputation structure to reward and incent superusers.


Identify emerging superusers as they move up the ranks and provide positive feedback.
Acknowledge their suggestions and ideas, without making commitments.
Tune reputation system based in real user data.


Review participation history and refine superuser group down to supporters.
Create a private forum accessible only to superusers.
Create a specification for the superuser program — criteria for selection, term of membership, etc.
Reward and empower superusers with additional permissions and privileges on the community.
Explore other opportunities for rewarding and growing the superuser group (invitation to focus groups, participation in beta tests, previews of products, recognition at conferences, in-person meetings, etc.)

The Dynamics of Social Influence: A New Perspective and Agenda

In this blog post, Don Bulmer asks a number of fairly broad questions regarding how social media influences communication:

  1. How are other governments and politicians successfully using or abusing social media for policy and political advancement?
  2. What are the implications of social media on politics in the future (2020 and 2030)?
  3. How has social media challenged governments and politicians through new rules of open/public scrutiny toward trust, transparency and accountability?
  4. What are the social media tools and techniques that successful non-profit organizations/institutions use to advance awareness and motivate people, governments and businesses to take action and affect positive change (giving of time and money), creation of policy, etc.?
  5. How has social media impacted the nature of philanthropic design and social responsibility (local and global)?
  6. How do people use social media and social networks to address personal concerns and support better decision making?
  7. How has social media affected trust and relationships between people and organizations?
  8. What are the implications to future generations of individuals (who today share everything about themselves) on politics and business?
  9. What are the most effective tools used by people to influence change in business and government?
  10. What new syndication and business models have emerged for mainstream media today – to adapt to the phenomena of the social web?
  11. How has the influence of mainstream media changed as a result of social media?
  12. How has social media and social networks affected professional/business decision-making?
  13. What approaches and tools are business using to ‘listen,’ ‘interact’ and ‘engage’ more with their core audiences to improve the way they do business?
  14. How as social media affected and transformed traditional marketing and communication beliefs and strategies?

Community Influencer Programs

The article discussed the following (in the context of Online Communities):

  • How organizations are attempting to identify influencers and elites
  • The various tactics for engaging influential members
  • How to spot these influencers and elites (a more manual process)
  • How to build relationships with the individuals
  • What available algorithms and metrics there are around influencer identificiation
  • How to tabulate those metrics manually
  • What to do with Community Volunteers

Online Community Tribe Round Up

Asking the initial question, What are the top three things you do or wish you could do for your community “influencers”?, Gail Williams collects a number of posts concerning Online Community Influencers

How to Manage Multiple Personalities and Relationships Online

An individual may maintain multiple personas online – for privacy, security or just plain forgetfulness. Organizations have an interest in resolving those personas, but when is it safe or advisable to do so and do the individuals have a say in the matter?

Social Media Listening – But Where?

Ken Burbary‘s article The Dirty Little Secret of Social Media Monitoring discusses how different monitoring tools arrive at diferent results depending on the sites they visit and how different online tools spider a different range of sites.

Got me thinking about Social Media strategies and how your Social Media engagement objectives will drive what you are trying measure. Here are a couple of examples:

For example, if you are a product manager and you are listening to your community of users discussing their use of your products, then seeing comments on review sites such as Amazon, BazaarVoice and ePinions is very useful and then being able to understand what aspects they are discussing across those sites and to have sentiment pulled out too to further enrich the information.

However, if you are investing in an online community to help your customers self-support (like Intuit in this case study) you would want to assess the quality of comments and participants in the community itself. If you are interested in encouraging and providing additional information to your most valuable participants, you may want to triangulate comments by observing the authors’ blogs and Twitter feeds.

Every Social Media enagagement project is unique and will demand a different form of analysis. Many of these shrink-wrapped Social Media services begin to breakdown as the reporting needs become more sophisticated, so a more flexible solution and sophisticated solution will be needed.

The upcoming Social Media release of OpenMic from Customer Feedback vendor Overtone may have some thing to offer. This product is able to access a custom range of sources and perform accurate topic and sentiment analysis and reporting and for a fraction of the cost of a major text analytics project from Attensity or Clarabridge.

Whichever solution you evaluate, before you begin, think carefully about your Social Media engagement strategy and how you want to monitor it.

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Brand Identity & Social Media

A couple of articles worth reading:

A Brand’s Largest Social Media Obstacle by Sami Balwani

The key phrase for me was: “Many brands know they should be in the social space but their culture prohibits them from taking risks. An aura of fear permeates every decision, and the tried and true wins out over innovation.” The post goes on to discuss how traditional organizations need a shift in their cultural paradigms to fully engage with their customers using Social Media.

Brand Identity Is More Than Image – The Case for Product Informed by Brand Truth by Liz Gebhardt

Another good article discussing strategies for Challenger brands – The brand identity model presented provides a good way to fully understand the brand promise before preparing to launch any social media programs – particularly the words on Community and Participation.

A lesson in customer feedback… from a customer

Jon Mountjoy’s MacBook Pro died last week. They replaced it and sent him a feedback form.

With Apple like simplicity.

Imagine sending your customers a feedback form so simple that not only do they complete it, but they blog about it.

Genius. Of course.

“Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight”

I was watching tonight’s Letterman interview with Joaquin Phoenix, bizarre at the very least – check it out. Three or four minutes into the interview, we’re trying to work out if this is just weird or if it was W-I-E-R-D. First place we go was Search Twitter, where pretty much up to the minute postings confirmed it…Yep, this is indeed W-I-E-R-D (check out yesterday’s Twitter postings on this subject here). Once we saw all of this, we went of to check out Juaquin’s interview history on IMDB and it seems that he’s done that type of thing before.

A couple of lessons for you SocialMediaMarketerati here, this is how things work today,  consumer wants up to date information, goes to Twitter and gets it on the button, then can run over to YouTube to confirm, because after all, seeing it on YouTube is believing (lonelygirl15 excepted).

When I went off to Advanced Search Twitter, I did notice that there was a Sentiment Check-Box where you could filter all positive or negative messages or those that asked a question. I first checked the positive filter (for Feb 12th) and got one response. Then the negative and got a couple more. I finally checked the question filter and there were the pages. I suspect that Twitter are now using some simple text processing in a further effort to try and add some value to the analysis, afterall they are about to change their business model to try and add value for paying business users. Facebook are also sitting on a goldmine of text that demands some pretty sophisticated text analytics – I wonder how accurate their Engagement Model actually is.

There are also a number of other Text Analytics products on the market, however, I know that Overtone’s OpenMic product has a dashboard that includes a very accurate Feedback Sentiment Index (FSI) that is worth checking out.

Just getting back to Joaquin and Letterman, it didn’t take long for the Gawker’s blog post on the interview make it to #2 position with Google search terms <joaquin>, <phoenix>, <letterman>.

Time for bed (because the interview only finished 30 minutes ago).

10 of the Smartest Big Brands in Social Media

Samir Balwani’s Mashable article 10 of the Smartest Big Brands in Social Media describes  how the big guys are getting creative with Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other Social Media. As you read the post, recognize that not only are these brands using Social Media creatively, but they are also very genuine in how they speak and listen.

As you plan out your own forays into Social Media if you are genuine, first think about what you want to achieve, get an understanding of what the medium is, how people use it, what you as a brand can do to add value to that experience in relation to your products and services and remember, it’s a medium that you cannot control – the users will do what they want with it, so you must be genuine in your desire to engage with them. Finally you should put in place mechanisms to listen to everything that is coming back – this is where you can quickly understand where you need to take action – either to engage in discussions or to look inside your own organization to correct and improve on how you are percieved by your customers.