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.
Granted, 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.
Deep 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.
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.
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.
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.
- How Do You Evaluate Influence? (journalistics.com)
- Traackr, social media influence and value for brands (freshnetworks.com)