Just a few short years (almost months) ago, you could count on one hand the number of companies with tools specifically built to determine influencers.  While a few exist now, the not-yet-crowded marketplace just got a welcome kick in the pants with a tool that has planted a flag and said, “We’re better.”

mPact, a new influencer identification and data product from marketing software service company mBlast, launched today. The company has puffed out its chest on its website for a month now saying, “January 10, 2011 Will Forever Impact Your Marketing.” The company’s press release even says mBlast has, “revolutionized influencer discover, mapping and management.”

I’ve been playing with a beta since Thursday and while the tool is far more impressive than any consumer-facing effort to date and mPact is a solution you will want to see and test for your company, “revolutionized” might be a bit much. Regardless, based on functionality, ease of use and price point, mPact certainly just made everyone sit up and take notice.

Dashboard from mBlast's mPact influencer identification toolGranted, I’m no data engineer. I’ve not gone pilfering through their algorithm to see if they got this influencer thing perfect. In fact, I’m sure they would agree they don’t. But compared to the influencer identification and research tools out there, including those built into many social media monitoring platforms, mPact just vaulted itself to the front of the pack.

Imagine you’re a marketing manager or public relations professional gearing up for a new product or feature launch. You need to know who the top influencers are around your brand or product and you want to prioritize them. In the past, you looked up Klout scores, RSS subscribers, checked their Postrank numbers, grabbed audience counts from Quantcast or even ComScore for the bigger sites and you put them in an order that was, at best, guessing.

When you log into mPact, the top 10 influencers for your brand and any of your competitors is the first thing you see. And the data changes dynamically each day as new articles are published, new tweets and retweets are posted, new bookmarks and traffic data is accounted for. Log in, look, done.

But there’s a lot more to the tool than that.

My Test Drive

mPact’s base dashboard is clean and clear, displaying everything from 30-day trends on the topics you are following. The demo data I saw showed comparisons of the iPhone, Android and Windows Phone, based on their mPact scores — an algorithmic representation of a brand’s impact on the conversation. Android chatter was in the lead and had been for the previous 30 days. Beneath this was a list of the top 10 influencers writing about mobile phones with trend charts to show the recency of their impact on the conversation and their rankings as influencers for each of the three phones. Apparently Android Plaza’s Twitter account, the No. 4 influencer for conversations on the iPhone and Androids, wasn’t even rated for the Windows device. Guess they don’t Tweet about Windows.

The social media chatter is then separated out from the articles and blogs chatter and there’s a convenient dashboard listing of the upcoming opportunities for iPhone conversations in the lower corner. This easy-to-access listing of upcoming editorial opportunities, directories, calls for speakers and buyers guides can really help you stay ahead of the game in terms of outreach and is a feature I’ve not seen in any other tool.

mBlast mPact Profile Page - Influencer identification toolDeep dives into other areas of the tool impressed me. Article volume, influencer mapping (presented in a quadrant grid so they are plotted visually for you), etc., — all great information to have. Perhaps the most impressive feature of the tool, however, was the individual profiles of the influencers. Click on an influencer’s name and you get a pop-up bio sheet, complete with social network connectivity links, bios, contact information and a reverse chronological list of their latest articles. The same type of information comes up when clicking a media outlet’s name — you get a company profile with latest posts listing.

The combination of influencer mining, media database and profiling and even fledgling CRM or Contact Management functionality makes mPact one of the most powerful outreach and online media research tools on the market.

Setting up the searches was easy. I built a search for social media monitoring solutions with my top four in mind (Radian6, Sysomos, Lithium/Scout Labs and Alterian SM2). It even let me add publications to specifically monitor, regardless of their impact. I was pleased to find that I was the No. 1 influencer for one of the four, but wasn’t on the list for the other three. (Guess I should write more about them. Heh.)

The influencers and sites looked strong. Mark Evans, the man behind the Sysomos blog , was even multiple entry points on the Sysomos influencer tab since he has his own blog and also contributes to the Toronto Globe and Mail.

The Difference Is The Approach

I spoke with mBlast CEO Gary Lee last week who told me his company’s view of influence corrects what the other influence measurement tools in his words, “have wrong. Justin Bieber isn’t the most influential person for many of us across the web. They’re looking at it around popularity.”

Lee explained that influence is not based on popularity, but rather on impact within a given market.

“We don’t believe the topic of influencers is anything new,” Lee told me. “Good marketing professionals have been looking at influence for a long, long time. Where are the voices in the marketplace that help get my message out there to my market? Good marketers have forever been making their decision based on who is writing and saying things that are topically relevant to my marketplace.”

Lee says mPact looks at the marketplace first, not the influencers or the number of social connections they have.

“(mPact) digs through articles, posts and social media data and defines the articles by conversations that match a group of themes our customers give us,” Lee explained. “We find all the articles that are relevant to those themes, then we go through and look at each for the voices or people and determine who the most influential person is. We look at how widespread their audinece is, but also authority on a given topic, the sustainability of their work on the topic … a lot of different factors are used to come up with the influencer ranking. But we rank those people with that methodology so marketers can make an intelligent decision.”

But I pressed him, the same way I pressed Klout CEO Joe Fernandez recently when discussing his tool for a piece I wrote for Communication World, by explaining that tools shouldn’t just consider an influencer’s blog but the various places that person could potentially impact other audiences. For instance, Mack Collier has a well read blog on social media marketing, but often guests posts at MarketingProfs. My argument is that his influencer score should account for both audiences and others he may have access to. Lee quickly pointed out that it’s not the voice, it’s the audience. So using mPact and looking at influencers in the social media marketing space, Mack Collier of MackCollier.com might rank at, say, No. 5, but Mack Collier of MarketingProfs could also rank, say at No. 9.

Smart.

He acknowledged that while yes, you can theoretically map the disparate outposts to one person, the lack of a universal, single-ID or login makes that significantly more challenging. Not only is the email you signed up for Facebook with perhaps different than the one associated with your blog (separating those outposts in many influencer models), but there’s not a simple algorithmic way to connect the dots between Mack Collier of MackCollier.com and a guest post on, say, Social Media Explorer, if the guest post doesn’t offer links back, etc.

I’ll just go ahead and predict that while it’s possible in theory, it’ll never be perfect. Then again, we can’t get server-side web analytics software to agree on how many unique visitors came to your website even though they’re right there counting them, so what do you expect?

To their credit, though, Klout really focuses on the same thing. While they are limited in their focus, concentrating currently on Twitter and Facebook connections with more content mapping being added over time (blogs, etc.), Klout’s tool really focuses on not the fact a person has reach, but that when that person links to content or promotes some sort of action, his or her audience responds. A Klout score isn’t how popular you are. It’s a score of how much impact your word has compared to others.

The Market Will Eat This Up; Competitors Will Respond

Whether you agree with mPact’s approach, there is nothing like this tool on the market right now. Media databases (think Cision and Vocus) have the profile data and some cursory influence tools pumped in from social media monitoring partners, but don’t tie the two together neatly. Monitoring solutions typically rank sites, not people, and don’t provide as robust data about that individual to go along with it.

Traackur, probably the only service that also custom delivers a top-25 influencers list to you, has a high price point and is very limited. It’s entry point is around $500 per month after a steep setup charge for one topic. But it gives you a dynamic list (updated weekly) of the top 25 influencers in that vertical based on reach, relevancy and resonance – their alliterative way of saying they score people on size of audience, ability to move their networks to action and how much they talk about your specific topic of choice. But it doesn’t give you anything beyond the 25, limiting your ability to manage large influencer programs.

Postrank is focused on engagement data and provides a nice tool to build and rate influencers in side-by-side comparisons through its Topics platform. But the lists in Topics are generally community manicured and imperfect. Postrank Connect allows you to identify an influencer’s content and reach out to them even, but you have to know who you’re looking for. They have a new influencer project coming to market in, “about four weeks,” according to CEO Carol Lehman. It will add a layer to the marketplace as well. But at least for now, mPact has beaten them to the punch.

BlogDash, a soon-to-be released blogger outreach and media database platform will give you lots of influence metrics, but leave a lot of the organizing up to you. Co-founder David Spinks explained that many brands, “May not want the A-Listers, don’t care about the D-Listers, but want to focus on the magic middle. We’ll help them do that in addition to the A-List.”

And then there’s Klout, which is grossly misunderstood by consumers. The Klout website is consumer-focused and, Fernandez admits, “It’s an ego toy.” But the company makes its money behind the scenes, producing mPact-like data and insights for companies wishing to leverage influencer materials in their outreach, customer rewards and loyalty programs and such. I’ve had the rare privilege to see some of the behind the scenes data Fernandez and his team use and it’s pretty solid. (I come up prominently on a list of influencers around the topic of bourbon. I don’t write about bourbon at all. But I Tweet about it and when I do, people respond. Using Klout’s methodology, I’m a bourbon influencer.)

But where mPact beats Klout and everyone else is that they’re now offering an easy to see, use and actualize influencer tool and database that is available to consumers, agencies and brands at a price point that borders on giving it away. The cost of one account is $495 per year (that’s $41.25 per month)! Monitoring competitors and more robust searches adds on some price along the way, but the most expensive package is a shade under $3,000 for a year (less than $250 per month).

Every PR practitioner who sees blogs and Twitter this week and catches wind of mPact, will probably go sign up for an account. I’m guessing better than 80 percent of them keep subscribing. (NOTE: They are offering a 14-day free trial. You’ve got little to lose. Check them out.)

Even if mPact becomes the shiny new object of influencer marketing, it deserves it. For consumer-facing tools, it’s better, encompasses more data, provides that in an easy-to-use and understand interface for marketers, includes planning features to help marketers stay ahead of the game and is priced so an independent PR practitioner can even afford it.

While Postrank’s upcoming feature addition and BlogDash will add interesting components to the landscape, I have no reason to believe either will make a huge dent in mPact’s head start. Klout may, but isn’t on a current road map to have a public-facing tool in the near future.

My Recommendation

Take the free trial and test this tool. Look beyond the top 10 list and discover niche and sub-niche influencers you could be targeting. Investigate their profile information and compare it to what you already have. But also look at the information it provides on editorial calendars, calls for speakers and even industry award nominations. The forward-thinking information added to the review and measure is more data to help you market better.

But also know that like any data set being sliced and diced in multiple ways by multiple vendors, your mileage will vary. You may find Postrank gives you what you want. Or that Klout’s approach is really what you’re looking for since you’re worried about Facebook and Twitter and not blogs. mPact has a solid offering, but its data will only prove better than its competitors over time.

Your Take

How important is identifying influencers to your brand or clients? Do the current tools make that process easier or more confusing for you? After trying mPact for a few days, come back and tell us if your job just got easier or more confusing. The comments, as always, are yours.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Tomgeorge

    Hi Jason,
    My name is Tom George I started Internet Billboards, nice articel. I am looking for some great minds in Social Media for an occasional guest post. Would you possibly be interested?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Probably not. Just busy on my end. Best of luck.

  • Andrea

    Jason, you can't have possibly spent that much time using mPACT or maybe you have been playing with one of their pre-canned list! By using realworld use case scenario, you find that their lists contain duplicate influencer entries, most influencer's detailed profile (the popup you find so useful) are very scarce, most with little or no information.
    The dashboard certainly looks pretty with a lot of graphs, but most seem to show numbers with no meaning.
    What made you wake up this morning and think mPACT was the best thing since slicebread?

    It certainly good to see the market around “Influencers” get more players, more tools, more options … but a kick in the pants …. please!

    • http://www.mblast.com Gary Lee

      Andrea:

      In defense of Jason, he built his own searches and received results in the system without our guidance or help – he did not use a pre-canned list, and he evaluated the tool over many days last week ahead of our launch.

      As for your results, or anyone's results with any keyword-driven tool like mPACT, the results that mPACT provides to users can vary wildly based on the keywords entered. And yes, out of the almost 1.4M media contacts we have in the system, some will not have the contact details 100% completed.

      I would be happy to have someone from our customer service team contact you to discuss your setup and findings if you would like, and see how we can improve your experience.

      I am not sure what you mean by “numbers that have no meaning” or duplicate influencers. On the latter, please understand that mPACT returns an individual with their publication — we do that on purpose. It's important for marketing professionals to look at the individual against the outlet they are writing before – their influence based on the outlet can vary. Think of “John Smith” writing for the Wall Street Journal, and “John Smith” tweeting. Same John Smith, but it is only by studying his work at each “outlet” that we can determine his influence from both – the Wall Street Journal has one set of metrics and John's personal Twitter another. And as a marketer, that changes how I want to work with John. Is this the same person — yes. But for measuring influence, one has to look at person+publication to gain a fair evaluation of their influence.

      Please contact me or our customer service team using any of the numbers found here: http://www.mblast.com/mk/conta…/

      Gary Lee
      CEO
      mBLAST

      • Pierreloic

        Congrats on your launch, Gary.

        I agree with your assessment that the scores associated to an influencer shouldn't be the same across all the sites where they publish, but I don't think that entering them in your system as different entities is the solution, especially because prevents you from looking at someone's influence across all the channels where they contribute, which is one of the most valuable pieces of information you can offer your users.

        Here's an example of the way we do it with Jason's own profile on one of our search results: http://lists.traackr.com/influ

        Best of luck with mPact. Healthy competition makes for great markets!

        Pierre-Loïc Assayag
        (tw) @pierreloic
        http://www.traackr.com

        PS: Jason, I know we didn't make your (our) life very easy spelling Traackr the way we did but your spelling was a hybrid between traackr and trackur (the monitoring tool).

        • http://www.mblast.com Gary Lee

          Thanks Pierre. We do view the person holistically within our system; in fact some of our other products lines like MediaSync (http://www.mediasynconline.com) presents the journalists / bloggers in just that way. We chose for this first release of mPACT to not present the influencer that way in order to provide absolute clarity for the user – but be assured, inside our database we view the person holistically across the publications / outlets / media they have voices in.

          I agree that healthy competition makes for great markets. And this market is very dynamic, with a lot of healthy debate and ideas — all of which continues to make the world of marketing, journalism, blogging, etc an exciting place to be.

          Best of luck to you.

          grl

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Appreciate the criticism, but I spent several days playing with the tool

      from several different angles. I was given a fully functioning version and

      was able to load verticals of my interest. While no, I didn't dive into

      umpteen dozen, I did three and two of them were of my choosing and deep

      enough for me to have confidence in the tool.

      You are welcome to your opinion, but you make it sound like I have no

      standards or credibility and just whimsically donned this software the

      greatest ever. I don't think that's how the review reads. And the price

      alone gives the competition a kick in the pants.

      Thanks for commenting.

  • Dbriere

    You know, what I like about this is from the mBLAST site….all of the historical data that is in there that goes into this. Someone might write a lot of about bourbon for one month, having not written about it at all before. You need to know that. It looks like mBLAST's databases go back a fairly long time so that you can see who probably has accumulated a lot of industry goodwill and respect over time. Respect is a hard thing to quantify down to a number, but a newbie who just decided to write about it a lot probably does not have a lot yet. I'm looking to launch a product into the education space — a totally new space to me — and so I'm looking forward to see who I should be talking to, because there are a LOT of voices out there on that topic. Very nice blog, I'd like to see more head to head comparisons between the products and I agree, the data makes or breaks these products.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for the thoughts. I would agree that the depth of data seems to be a

      strength here. As I noted, however, only over time will that prove true.

  • http://www.brainwads.net/drewhawkins Drew Hawkins

    Influencers are extremely important but, in our company's case, relative to our industry. Bieber tweeting about us really won't improve our bottom line. However, have an incentives industry power player tweet about us or blog about something our company does, that has a better effect. Being able to identify influencers in regards to market segments makes for valuable info.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Agreed. I think that's another reason I liked mBlast so much. In a niche

      industry like bourbon, it was able to give me relevant voices and not just

      ones with big networks.

  • http://www.scribnia.com/author/show/473/david-spinks/ David Spinks

    Hey Jason,

    Thanks for the insightful article on a space that is blowing up and for including BlogDash in the mix.

    It's good to see others attacking the problem that exists here. I think ultimately, the solution that will be adopted is one that's able to accommodate both sides, the business and the influencer, in an environment that encourages open communication.

    David
    Cofounder, BlogDash

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks, David. I would add that no one influencer identification tool is

      going to be the end-all be-all for everyone. There will always be some

      respect to the notion we spoke about … you could make a case for needing

      to use all of these at once in some instances. Thanks for building what

      you're building to address an angle in the mix.

  • Michael Rurup Andersen

    Hey Jason

    thanks for a good post.

    Do you know anything about if it translates into other languages. I from Denmark, lets say i have a domestic client wanting to find influencers who speak and write danish. Will the result be of less value than if it was a client who wanted to target English speak influencer's?

    Best regards
    Michael

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      I don't, but know that Gary and the others are watching the comments.

      Perhaps they'll chime in.

      • http://www.mblast.com Gary Lee

        At this time, mPACT is optimized around English-based searches. The use of non-English may produce results which are “less than optimal” depending on character sets. We'll be expanding to native support of other languages in the future.

        We also do not do any “automatic” translations if that's what you meant. (Although that would make for some interesting influence maps…….this person is more influential in Russian than in Polish……..)

        If you want to talk more, give us a shout.

        grl

    • http://postrank.com PostRank

      Our services look at content-related activities, so language isn't a barrier. (And, with some of our APIs, we can filter for localization.

  • http://www.serengeticommunications.com/ bethharte

    What's an influencer? ;-)

    Seriously, I think there is still much hype around who's an influencer and what determines influence. I haven't looked at mBlast yet…but will. Thanks for the heads up!

    • Pat Hurley

      Hi Beth… I looked and I think I see the issue that's causing your calculations to take a long time… I emailed you

      • http://www.serengeticommunications.com/ bethharte

        Hi Pat, thanks for the e-mail! Also, I just got an email that my data is ready. I think it just took time to get through tons of data. Looking forward to testing your tool.

        Beth

        • http://twitter.com/tracibrowne traci browne

          what happened Beth,were you so influential you blew it up?

          • http://www.serengeticommunications.com/ bethharte

            Traci, you are such a smart a$$. Unlike some narcissists in the fishbowl, I wasn't searching on myself… I was searching on client keywords to see if the tool worked. ;-)

  • http://www.kherize5.com Suzanne Vara

    Jason

    Thank you for such a comprehensive review. I have given it a whirl in the free trial.

    There is not one tool that can effectively and accurately measure influence however as we are seeing we are able to have a decent guide to how effective our efforts may or may not be compared to others and were we need to step it up. That is a good gauge for many brands to see and maybe better said learn how to really wrap their arms around social media and how their efforts and presence are being caculated in a numeric fashion. In situations like this, generally the data is the data. If it is there they can count it. If it is not there, they cannot.

    I am sure I will get lost delving into this but good to know that Gary has the customer service team ready and waiting for us lost at sea.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks, Suzanne. You're right, one tool won't do it all. But it sure is neat

      to see the companies try. ;-)

  • http://www.allaboutnortel.com Mark Evans

    Glad to see I was your influencer “guinea pig” :)

    cheers, Mark

  • http://www.infinigraph.com Chase McMichael @infinigraph

    Jason, Nice post can’t get enough on Influence how is this different than Visible Technologies? This is a very good reply “Influencers are extremely important but, in our company’s case, relative to our industry. Bieber tweeting about us really won’t improve our bottom line. However, have an incentives industry power player tweet about us or blog about something our company does, that has a better effect. Being able to identify influencers in regards to market segments makes for valuable info.”

    What’s this product doing for clients to drive customer to a call to action over just monitoring and filtering? Is the goal to just get a list of the possible influencers and isn’t Radian and Brandwatch doing this as well? We did a spot on this Influencer, Content Intelligence and Social Engagement http://bit.ly/bklBvJ

    @chasemcmichael

  • Pingback: Digital marketing helps brands reach holy grail | Insights & Ingenuity

  • charlieosmond

    Hi Jason. thanks for covering this.

    We ran a set of social media monitoring tools side-by-side for a month-long test during December. We were looking for influential Mommy Bloggers. I have to say I think Gary may be overstating the difference in approach somewhat. He's taking the sensible, logical approach that a few others are also on.

    Whilst none of the tools I have tested link up people's social profiles yet, I know of two firms that have (different) neat ideas about how they are going to achieve this in the next 6months.

    Anyway, here's a slideshare with some fidnings from the review of the influencer tools: http://www.slideshare.net/fres

    Charlie (now off to test mblast)
    http://www.freshnetworks.com

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks, Charlie. I'm a fan of your work in the influencer and monitoring

      spaces. Appreciate you sharing.

  • http://www.vocus.com Frank Strong

    @Jason, it's a a great write up, indeed we've been watching similar announcements with great interest. With regard to Vocus' social media monitoring capability, I'd offer this clarification: our social media monitoring is very robust, fully integrated with our existing tools and completely coded by our own developers. We do not white label another company's product. In addition, I'd point out that Vocus has done news monitoring and sentiment analysis for many years already, it's relatively easy for us to monitor social media given our infrastructure. Would be happy to show you anytime!

    Vocus Offers a Comprehensive Brand and Topic Monitoring Platform for PR Professionals

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks, Frank. I probably need to revisit Vocus soon. I'll be in touch.

  • http://www.infinigraph.com Chase McMichael | InfiniGraph

    Jason solid post can't get enough on Influence. Beyond good filter monitoring what does the brand directly do with the data to make it actionable? I agree there is going to be a washout this year on social monitoring and the move of other influence products but why did this product stand out over others or was it they melded the influence list so can get a list simpler from social listening?

    We did a spot on this but more from the actionable side for brand to drive traffic from influence. Influencer, Content Intelligence and Social Engagement http://bit.ly/bklBvJ would like your feedback.

    @chasemcmichael

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Will check it out, Chase. Thanks!

  • http://www.wickedinnovations.com/ Jeorge Peter

    I will definitely take the free trial and be the one to first try how goog this is.

  • http://www.peoplebrowsr.com PeopleBrowsr

    Looks like an innovative spin on influence. Check out how PeopleBrowsr measures influence on the new slideshare, “A Brief Cartoon Study Of Social Influence” http://slidesha.re/CartoonInf

  • http://www.peoplebrowsr.com PeopleBrowsr

    Looks like an innovative spin on influence. Check out how PeopleBrowsr measures influence on the new slideshare, “A Brief Cartoon Study Of Social Influence” http://slidesha.re/CartoonInf

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