Feb 8, 2016
Part 4 of our Social Network Analysis Series. In this episiode, Marc details how seeking out specific influential people, or mayors, in your topic areas can lead to better engagement with new networks of people. We discuss how to find, connect, and engage with these mayors to have conversations that they amplify to their connections.
Previous shows in the Social Network Analysis
Ep 1 - Social Networks 101 - Introduction to the imporance of thinking about social media in terms of networks.
Ep 4 - Influence is a Graph - Marc defines influence and how our influence is different depending on the context we are in. Three kinds of centrality are described and what they mean in our networks.
Ep 17 - What does your hashtag look like? Lee Rainie from Pew Internet Research - We discusse a report from Pew Internet Research describing 6 types of social network shapes and how each behaves. Learning these 6 will help you better understand how people are interacting and passing information when you see a social network map
Additional Introduction to Social Network Analysis
Next in Nonprofits 23 – NodeXL with Marc Smith - The first 15 minutes of this interview will also be helpful if you are new to social network analysis thinking and terminology.
Tools for finding influencers based on centrality
Gephi - The Open Graph Viz Platform
NodeXL with Smart Tweets
Request a graph for your hashtag or topic
Start finding the mayors you should connect with by requesting a custom network map. You can search Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, various Wikis and more using a keyword, hashtag, URL, username, fan page, or group name. Be sure to let us know you are part of the Social Media Clarity audience!
Request a sample network map
Episode icon photo CC BY-SA 2.0 taylar @ Flickr
Randy: Welcome to the Social Media Clarity podcast, 15 minutes of concentrated analysis and advice about social media, in platform and product design.
Scott: Thanks for listening everyone. This episode is about finding new influencers, connecting with these influencers and getting your message amplified by them. It will be the fourth episode in our new Social Network Analysis Series. What are the other episodes, Marc?
Marc: Right, we have three episodes already out. Episode 1, the Social Networks 101 podcast. Episode 4, Influence is a Graph, and episode 17, What does your hashtag look like? with our guest Lee Rainie from Pew Internet Research. You might want to listen to any of those if this theme of using network analysis of social media is of interest to you.
Scott:Additionally, Marc was interviewed in episode 23 of the Next in Nonprofits podcast. The first 15 minutes of that interview may also be helpful if you're new to social network analysis thinking and terminology.
Today we're talking about influencers and what kind of influencers are we looking for, Marc?
Marc: Well, many people are interested in finding the people in a conversation stream who seem to have a lot more power to get their messages heard than others. Indeed, it's often the case that there are only a few of the mayors, if you will, of a topic or a hashtag. In many cases, we are interested in finding not the most prominent of these people, what you might think of as the A listers. In many cases we're finding that it's more useful to engage with the B-list. The B-list are the not quite as prominent but still quite influential people who might be a little less jaded, might be a little less busy, might be a little bit more interested in the fact that you notice them. They still play an out-sized role in most of the conversations in which they participate.
If you calculate a few network metrics about how all of the connections among a group of people in a discussion come together, some of these people really jump out. They're very visible as being very in the center of the conversation, so we rank those people and then we try to focus our users on engaging these very, very central people.
Scott: How do we find these B-list influencers?
Marc: Right, it is a multi-step process. We'd start with a few topics, we will build a snowball sample if you will. We start with a few words that we know are of interest to the people we want to communicate with and we might discover words or hashtags related to those key words. Then we're going to collect messages from each of those topic streams in order to build an analysis of the connections within them. We're going to go from each topic to it's near neighbors. You might start with a brand and then move towards a sporting event and then it might be an athlete, then it might be a big game or another team. We're looking for the very few people who are very much at the center of these conversations. We sometimes talk about these people as the mayors of the hashtag.
We know that there are people who are more influential than others. The question is what are the indicators, the numbers or the measurements that tell us that somebody is influential. Many systems focus on the follower count or the reply count. Those are interesting numbers but for any particular topic they may not be very predictive. We focus instead on a network metric, the measurement known as centrality. We argue that people who have this attribute known as betweenness centrality who are ranked highly on this metric are the people that other people react to the most. They sit in a position within the larger web of connections that put them in a strategic position.
We consider those people to be the mayors. If we could only identify the mayors for every topic we would have a list of influential voices, influential people who we might want to try to engage. These are the people who already have an audience, they're already demonstrating a certain amount of communications power and they're demonstrating that power on a particular topic. They are the mayor of the topic you care about, the hashtag that you are interested in.
Scott: What would be a good example of, say, I'm a brand and, say, I'm a clothing brand and I'm looking into a new network and I'm looking for a mayor of a particular network. Can you give me an example of, are they talking about my brand, are they talking about my topic or are they talking about related or a totally different topic?
Marc: All of those are very good seed terms for these network map efforts. You certainly would like to know who is actually using the name of your company or your brand or your product or your clothing line. If somebody is actually saying that, if they are the mayor of talking about you by name, that would be interesting but there may not be that person. Even if there is there may be other people talking about other topics that are relevant to your brand.
It may be the case that you sell something that protects you from sunburn but people don't really talk about sunburn but they might talk about camping or being marathon runners. Connecting with people who are having a conversation in which your product is relevant is a way of finding the mayor of a topic that might actually talk about you in a positive way because you have something meaningful and relevant to talk about with them.
Scott: Okay. Great. Now that we've found, say, a mayor or maybe two mayors in particular topic areas, what's the next step that we should take?
Marc: Right. Identifying a mayor is only the first step. We do want to identify them. We want to know who to follow. After all, it's unlikely that somebody will engage with you if you are not following them. Once you've followed them then the question is how would you start a conversation with them? We are interested in using some analysis of people's content to come up with words that are likely to be, or hashtags that are likely to be, salient, relevant, meaningful to that person. We do this by analyzing their content and finding out what words they use at a rate far higher than the rest of the community might use those words. Those words tend to be the salient or relevant terms for that person.
Scott: Can we have an example of determining saliency for a particular person?
Marc: Everybody in the data set is tweeting or writing some set of messages. You could argue that everybody is using a collection of words with a certain rate. In fact, if we took the words and messages from everybody we could put them all together in one pot and average them and we could come up with a number for every word which is the average rate that this word is used. Then we can compare each person to that average. Of course, no individual is likely to be average. Some people are above and below that average. Maybe you say the word carburetor a lot, maybe I don't say it much at all. In the context of automobiles maybe people talk more about performance rather than the price or in some cases people care about safety. Different words are going to be relevant to different people even though they're still talking about the same brand.
Scott: In this example if I'm, say, Ford, I wouldn't necessarily look for people talking about Ford. I'm looking for people talking about carburetors or mileage or handling and I'll find those particular people who are talking about that particular aspect of cars more than the other people around them.
Marc: Yes and we want to know that when they talk about it other people care. We want them not only to use a word but to use a word and be central.
Scott: Being central, how does that look in terms of behavior?
Marc: A person who's central not only gets retweeted but gets retweeted by a more diverse group of people than anyone else. It's not enough that a lot of people thought your stuff was great but people from groups that would otherwise never connect connected through you. You're essentially the bridge. If you can be the bridge then that's a sign, in network theory, of your power or your influence. We use that as a proxy for being the mayor or the leader of this discussion.
Scott: Great. So we find our mayors and how do we interact with the mayors?
Marc: Very carefully. After all, these are already very powerful people. They are the leaders of their communities. They dominate these discussions. There may be a few of them, there may be a dozen of them but here thousands of people who tweet or produce messages on a particular topic. This half dozen or a dozen people have far more power than anyone else. If you're going to try to engage them I recommend caution and respect.
One thing you might start with is to try to talk to them about what they already want to talk about. Changing the subject with these people is something that you should do very carefully. The first step is to identify what is it that they care about. We do that through this salience analysis of their content. We suggest using some of those key words as the basis for your entre, your opening to these people, in conversation. You should be talking about the hashtags. You should include the hashtags that they care about most.
Scott: If I'm Ford trying to reach out to the mayor of performance then I would want to include the hashtags that they're using or the key words that they're using when I reach out to them. Right?
Marc: You would want to use their hashtags, their words rather than, let's say, the ones that you want to use. You do want to convey your message but you must first include some evidence that you know what they care about and that you're willing to talk to them about what they have already defined as their interests.
I think in many cases there's a difference between marketing which is interrupting people and trying to talk to them about what you care about and social marketing which is talking to influential people and actually opening a conversation to try to connect what they care about with what you care about. It can be done in a more one-on-one way because there are relatively few of these people. With numbers that low you can actually have a conversation with everyone of those people.
Scott: By extension of the network effect, if we manage to engage that mayor well they're going to re-broadcast our conversation or their followers will see our conversation. We're actually reaching out beyond just the 300. Right?
Marc: Exactly. If you win any of those 300 you win a very big prize. They each might have thousands of followers who already have an established audience relationship with that person. Rather than trying to establish new audiences this strategy suggests that you engage people who already have these audiences. You do so by actually engaging them in conversation about topics that really do matter. It's really that shifting away from a marketing model where we make claims about a product and try to bombard people with those claims repeatedly in order to make them submit.
The shift instead is to actually having a conversation with the 30 or 300 people who actually really do care about your product and do want to talk about it and are open to hearing about the nuances of it and what's new about it because they really do care. This is about forming real relationships albeit commercial in nature but with people who really care and talking to them about what they care about.
Scott: In a nut shell that is amplifying your influencers. Right?
Scott: Because we're working with them rather than trying to push them or guide them specifically.
Marc: You can't make them do anything. They already have enough power to really make trouble for anybody who tries to just advertise at them. If you spam these people you're really asking for it. They care deeply about their topic but if you can honestly engage these people you can actually have a conversation. The power of a few dozen conversations is greater than, I would argue, a mass broadcast to hundreds of thousands of followers.
Scott: What tools do we use to go about finding influencers and figuring out what their conversations are so that we can engage with them on their level?
Marc: There are a number of tools. It could be done manually. It's conceivable that with a pencil and paper you could read a tweet stream and draw, or at least write down, a series of observations about who replies to who and who mentions who. Clearly, that doesn't make a lot of sense in the internet age. There's a lot data out there and there are computers involved so they should help.
There are a large number of tools if you are a software developer. If you're a programmer there are database tools and network database tools and libraries for getting data and breaking it into pieces. If you are not a programmer, however, the number of choices drop. You really have relatively few choices at that point. There are tools out there like Gephi (gephi.org), which is a very beautiful and powerful tool which can be used to draw very large networks and do visualization and analysis of them. That's one possible tool.
I, of course, have been working on a project of my own called NodeXL which attempts to address this issue with a real focus on automation. Really focusing on making this just a few clicks to produce this analytic output, this report. You can find it on the web or you can get it emailed to you. The report tries to answer the questions that we think that people who care about a hashtag and want to get an overview of it or want to act strategically towards it would want to know. One of those questions might be, "Who is important around here?" So we have a feature called the Top Influencers section and it simply lists the people with the highest betweenness centrality.
Then it presents two features that help you implement this strategy. This vision of engage the people at the center and talk to them about what they want to talk about. That is one. That is a simple feature which is that there is now a follow button on each of these influencers. The second is this feature we call a Smart Tweet. A Smart Tweet essentially is a rough draft of a message to a person that contains first their name but then two of their most important hashtags and two important words, or salient words, and then room for your message, your hashtag and your URL. The goal is to encourage you to talk to an influential person about what they care about and find a way to link it to your URL and hashtag. After all, you're engaged in strategic communication. You have a goal. You want to convey your message. We're going to make it easier because we're going to help you actually craft it with relevance for the person who is most influential.
Scott: Now that we understand how to find those influencers that are not in our immediate networks we have an action for you, the listeners, to take. Marc has a request form where you can request any topic for a variety of networks and get your own NodeXL network map that will include the betweenness centrality, the most influential people, and if you're on Twitter give you options to set up your own Smart Tweets.
Marc: People who request a map will be notified when we complete the production of the map and we'll post it to the NodeXL gallery. Often when people see a map and report that's about a topic that's directly relevant to them it's easier to understand how they might use the tool.
Randy: For links, transcripts and more episodes go to socialmediaclarity.net. Thanks for listening.