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How the Shape of Influence changes social media strategy

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Brands are investing heavily in social media “influencers”, but most are getting it wrong, because they don’t understand the shape of that influence, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Every big brand in South Africa is turning to social media to get conversations going around their products. For many, the heart of their strategy is to rope in “influencers” – people with a huge followings whose posts and shares generate massive responses.

So far, so expensive.

When the brands measure the effectiveness of these campaigns, based on the reach of the posts, they come away highly satisfied. But when they measure real impact – brand loyalty and sales in the real world – they are often underwhelmed. Usually, they have no idea what went wrong, since the campaigns look so successful on the surface.

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A new research project set out to find out exactly what goes wrong – and right – and came up with a startling discovery: that influence has a shape. More than that, the shape changes for every brand.

Fifty major brands cooperated in the research, conducted by World Wide Worx, in partnership with social intelligence platform Continuon. They allowed access to their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts for three months, enabling the Continuon platform to collect 100-million pieces of data, generated by 5,25-million individuals who had interacted with the brands.

The result is a study called #OnlyConnect2018 – The Power of Brand Influencers.

“When looking into what the actual definition of influence in the real world is, it becomes clear what needs to be measured in digital influence,” says Richard Nischk, product manager for Continuon. “Influence is defined as the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself.”

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When influence leaped over to social media, however, a new way of thinking about it evolved, by necessity. But necessity is not the mother of accuracy.

“The norm in social media and digital has been to take ‘reach’ and impressions as key variables in the measure of how influential people are,” says Nischk. “We saw that as a clear opportunity to redefine the measurements of influence, and rather take an approach that provides metrics that can be, in a quantifiable manner, used to increase return on investment.

“Reach is most certainly an important element of the equation. However, what really counts is having the ability to affect behaviour. In social media, this comes in the shape of sharing, engaging, interacting, tagging and gaining word of mouth from the people you reach.”

Continuon developed an Influencer Algorithm that uses the engagement types and behavioural data points to assign influencer scores to those who carry influence for a brand, but within those brands’ specific social media communities. They discovered they could identify thousands of influencers within these communities: influencers who cost nothing and are authentic.

They found that the best measure of social media influence, in terms of impact on brand loyalty, was the ability of an individual to extend the conversation around a brand or product beyond the original post or repost. This is called the velocity of social conversation and engagement, and it can be measured precisely.

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Continuon asks three questions:

  • At what point did an individual join the conversation and what impact did that interaction have on the conversation?
  • Did it result in a reaching and impacting the right audience through the right channels and at the right time?
  • Which individuals and clusters of people were responsible for this increase in velocity?

The Continuon platform then assigns a score out of 100. Based on that score, every influencer is clustered into a segment, and the segments add up to both the shape and quality of a brand’s social media community.

“Rarely do you ever see someone who has a score of 90 or above, and the overall shape follows that of a pyramid,” says Nischk.

The large majority of influencers carry low scores and exist within the bottom two tiers of influencer segments, which Continuon calls the The Herd and The Sharers. Next come The Trendsetters, with scores of 40 to 60, who start being influential. Finally we get the real influencers, with the Lighthouses having scores from 60 to 80, and the Icons – the cream of the crop – with scores above 80.

“Understanding this enables brands to understand the different levels of influence within their community, and how each level can be leveraged to build an army of authentic brand influencers,” says Nischk. “Brands can drill down and get granular to understand every single person as an individual and what their individual influencer score is. Now, from an impact point of view, influencer profiling can be granular, relevant and measurable within the social media universe.”

The ideal shape of influence is a standard pyramid, with a big base of Herd, slightly fewer Sharers, and a gradually tapering and reducing number of Trendsetters, Lighthouse and Icons. The reality is that most brands – and entire industry categories – have a flat and shallow shape that has no Icons and only a small proportion of Lighthouses. This means that their influencer strategies not only look flat, but are falling flat.

The top performers in each category have steeper profiles, with far more Lighthouses, but still very few Icons.

The category that stands out also offers a ley lesson to all brands: Non-profit organisations are the most likely to have Icons influencing their conversations. Because these conversations are not based on commercial campaigns, the conversations tend to be more authentic, and voices that extend this authenticity have the greatest impact.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

 

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IoT sensors are anything from doctor to canary in mines

Industrial IoT is changing the shape of the mining industry and the intelligence of the devices that drive it

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The Internet of Things (IoT) has become many things in the mining industry. A canary that uses sensors to monitor underground air quality, a medic that monitors healthcare, a security guard that’s constantly on guard, and underground mobile vehicle control. It has evolved from the simple connectivity of essential sensors to devices into an ecosystem of indispensable tools and solutions that redefine how mining manages people, productivity and compliance. According to Karien Bornheim, CEO of Footprint Africa Business Solutions (FABS), IoT offers an integrated business solution that can deliver long-term, strategic benefits to the mining industry.

“To fully harness the business potential of IoT, the mining sector has to understand precisely how it can add value,” she adds. “IoT needs to be implemented across the entire value chain in order to deliver fully optimised, relevant and turnkey operational solutions. It doesn’t matter how large the project is, or how complex, what matters is that it is done in line with business strategy and with a clear focus.”

Over the past few years, mining organisations have deployed emerging technologies to help bolster flagging profits, manage increasingly weighty compliance requirements, and reduce overheads. These technologies are finding a foothold in an industry that faces far more complexities around employee wellbeing and safety than many others, and that juggles numerous moving parts to achieve output and performance on a par with competitive standards. Already, these technologies have allowed mines to fundamentally change worker safety protocols and improve working conditions. They have also provided mining companies with the ability to embed solutions into legacy platforms, allowing for sensors and IoT to pull them into a connected net that delivers results.

“The key to achieving results with any IoT or technology project is to partner with service providers, not just shove solutions into identified gaps,” says Bornheim. “You need to start in the conceptual stage and move through the pre-feasibility and bankable feasibility stages before you start the implementation. Work with trained and qualified chemical, metallurgical, mechanical, electrical, instrumentation and structural engineers that form a team led by a qualified engineering lead with experience in project management. This is the only way to ensure that every aspect of the project is aligned with the industry and its highly demanding specifications.”

Mining not only has complexities in compliance and health and safety, but the market has become saturated, difficult and mercurial. For organisations to thrive, they must find new revenue streams and innovate the ways in which they do business. This is where the data delivered by IoT sensors and devices can really transform the bottom line. If translated, analysed and used correctly, the data can provide insights that allow for the executive to make informed decisions about sites, investment and potential.


“The cross-pollination of different data sets from across different sites can help shift dynamics in plant operation and maintenance, in the execution of specific tasks, and so much more,” says Bornheim. “In addition, with sensors and connected devices and systems, mining operations can be managed intelligently to ensure the best results from equipment and people.”

The connection of the physical world to the digital is not new. Many of the applications currently being used or presented to the mining industry are not new either. What’s new is how these solutions are being implemented and the ways in which they are defined. It’s more than sticking on sensors. It’s using these sensors to streamline business across buildings, roads, vehicles, equipment, and sites. These sensors and the ways in which they are used or where they are installed can be customised to suit specific business requirements.

“With qualified electronic engineers and software experts, you can design a vast array of solutions to meet the real needs of your business,” says Bornheim. “Our engineers can programme, create, migrate and integrate embedded IoT solutions for microcontrollers, sensors, and processors. They can also develop intuitive dashboards and human-machine interfaces for IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) devices to manage the input and output of a wide range of functionalities.”

The benefits of IoT lie in its ubiquity. It can be used in tandem with artificial intelligence or machine learning systems to enhance analytics, improve the automation of basic processes and monitor systems and equipment for faults. It can be used alongside M2M applications to enhance the results and the outcomes of the systems and their roles. And it can be used to improve collaboration and communication between man, machine and mine.

“You can use IoT platforms to visualise mission-critical data for device monitoring, remote control, alerts, security management, health and safety and healthcare,” concludes Bornheim. “The sky is genuinely the limit, especially now that the cost of sensors has come down and the intelligence of solutions and applications has gone up. From real-time insights to hands-on security and safety alerts to data that changes business direction and focus, IoT brings a myriad of benefits to the table.”

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Oracle leads in clash of
e-commerce titans

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Three e-commerce platforms have been awarded “gold medals” for leading the way in customer experience. SoftwareReviews, a division of Info-Tech Research Group, named Oracle Commerce Cloud the leader in its 2020 eCommerce Data Quadrant Awards, followed by Shopify Plus and IBM Digital Commerce. The awards are based on user reviews. 
The three vendors received the following citations:

  • Oracle Commerce Cloud ranked highest among software users, earning the number-one spot in many of the product feature section areas, shining brightest in reporting and analytics, predictive recommendations, order management, and integrated search. 
  • Shopify Plus performed consistently well according to users, taking the number-one spot for catalogue management, shopping cart management and ease of customisation.
  • IBM Digital Commerce did exceptionally well in business value created, quality of features, and vendor support.

The SoftwareReviews Data Quadrant differentiates itself with insightful survey questions, backed by 22 years of research in IT. The study involves gathering intelligence on user satisfaction with both product features and experience with the vendor. When distilled, the customer’s experience is shaped by both the software interface and relationship with the vendor. Evaluating enterprise software along these two dimensions provides a comprehensive understanding of the product in its entirety and helps identify vendors that can deliver on both for the complete software experience.

“Our recent Data Quadrant in e-commerce solutions provides a compelling snapshot of the most popular enterprise-ready players, and can help you make an informed, data-driven selection of an e-commerce platform that will exceed your expectations,” says Ben Dickie, research director at Info-Tech Research Group. 

“Having a dedicated e-commerce platform is where the rubber hits the road in transacting with your customers through digital channels. These platforms provide an indispensable array of features, from product catalog and cart management to payment processing to detailed transaction analytics.”

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