One of the biggest advantages of the new digital media world is the ability to track behavior and generate data that can have profound impact on the success of companies and their products. By measuring actual consumer behavior and being able to track the roots of that behavior — as in discovering WHY someone was led to take an action, or WHO influenced them to buy the product they did — one can craft a much more efficient attack to change or improve image or sales.
While hundreds of new companies are working on data mining techniques that will analyze this newly-available data in real time and help companies discovery what they have to do and who they have to influence to help get their products or services to grow, there are some new developments that significantly raise the bar in the quality of the data that will be available.
Many of the early players in this world, sensing that social media was driving a lot of the new online consumer activity, began to build software that monitored social media influence. By tapping into the social media behavior of people, these firms were able to determine who has power in social media. Which tweeters get retweeted the most, who gets followed or “liked” on Facebook the most, etc. It can measure the level of discussion about a product on social media platforms. Klout is an example of this kind of business, giving everyone who signs up on their site a “score” for how influential they are.
But Social Media is only part of the story. The “Warren Buffett” problem is a good example why it isn’t the answer. Warren Buffett is not on Social Media, but he would rank high on anyone’s list as someone with influence. His influence shows up more, for example, in traditional media like Television, Newspapers and Magazines, on and in which he regularly appears. Yet his Klout score would be zero.
This brings me to a new product being released tomorrow from a company in New York called Appinions (full disclosure, I joined the board of this company earlier this year and watched the development of this product with great anticipation). Using search and analysis software developed at Cornell, Appinions measures the influence of individuals across all forms of media — textual and video — and allows its customers to drill down and see exactly what the influencers are saying. Appinions can tell you how many people are talking about you, how loudly they are speaking (ie how many people are watching, listening, reading their words), and whether or not what they are saying is positive or negative. And it can give the customer the same information about their competition and their industry in general.
Thus is born the “The Influence Gap”, a data product that can produce data on any topic or product or industry and tell a company where they stand in true public discussion. Are they talked about more or less than competitors? How many people are talking about them, and What do people say about them, about their competition and about the industry they are in?
This kind of information is invaluable to companies trying to build a brand, or, for example, politicians trying to win votes. Imagine a politician being able to pinpoint which Influencers, like media pundits or other politicians, are influencing the most people to vote for someone else and to be able to pinpoint exactly what they are saying and where they are saying it. That politician could then target his message to those people and focus on the issue THEY are raising. This would allow for much more efficient campaign spending on advertising or PR. They could, for example, figure our who is influencing opinion on a particular subject, like foreign policy. Then they can target that influence and his or her audience, with just a targeted foreign policy message.
Finally, by following these trends before and after a company has launched it’s marketing campaign, or a politician has responded, Appinions can, for the first time, generate a true ROI on the impact of the campaign on the public perception of a product, brand or candidate. In Appinion’s case, they serve media customers like the Economist, corporate clients and several Advertising and PR agencies like Mediawhiz, Digitas, EuroRSCG and Edelman. And they are in discussions with several political campaigns.
This will be a major step forward toward actually realizing the early promise that digital media platforms would truly monitor consumer and influencer behavior in a much richer way than has ever been available before.