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How the Shape of Influence changes social media strategy

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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Time for smart energy

South Africa is experiencing an energy crisis that requires the public and private sectors, along with households to work together. Fundamental to this is embracing innovative technology that provides more efficient ways of managing the country’s energy.

Riaan Graham, sales director for Ruckus Networks, sub-Saharan Africa, said: “With the number of connected devices expected to top more than 75 billion worldwide by 2025, the Internet of Things (IoT) can be considered an important tool in reaching this goal. Already, connected devices can be used to deliver smart energy that sees a more optimal use of resources.”

This approach relies on a smart grid of connected sensors pointing to areas where energy is wasted. In turn, the supply to these points can be allocated to higher priority areas resulting in a better use of resources.

Aiding this drive towards connected devices is government pushing towards the establishment of smart cities. These cities require a technological infrastructure built around various sensors connected to the internet to not only generate data, but control things as diverse as traffic lights, street lamps, and other electrical devices.

Graham said: “These smart cities enable lighting to be automatically switched off when not needed. Sensors on the connected devices will detect when people are on the street and turn it off or on accordingly. What might seem like a novelty, can make a massive difference in reducing energy waste.”

According to Kate Stubbs, director of business development and marketing at Interwaste, IoT is just part of how technology can be used to create a more efficient environment.

“South Africa produces an average 108 million tonnes of waste annually,” said Stubbs. “Of this, only 10 percent is recycled. There is significant potential to use this waste and convert it to energy. This is more than just the traditional way of viewing recycling. Instead, it is using technology to extract value out of waste through initiatives like refuse and waste-derived fuel.”

The first South African Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) plant was launched in 2016 and not only aims to reduce landfill, but also the country’s carbon footprint. As the name suggests, the plant converts general, industrial, and municipal waste into an alternative fuel that is used in the cement industry.

Stubbs said: “Spin-off benefits of this plant includes the creation of additional employment opportunities and a reduction of South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions. Waste management entails so much more than what many people think. But the key remains a combination of technology innovation and a willingness to use the resources generated by this.”

Graham agrees about the need to readily accept the innovation technology brings as the country is teetering on a significant energy disaster.

He said: “New technologies are critical in helping the countries and their cities of the future promote sustainable energy use. For example, Nairobi has introduced smart street lamps that use LED lighting saving money and resources on energy costs. These lamp poles also have Wi-Fi embedded in them that sees air quality probe sensors submitted vital data for city planners on where there are pollution hotspots.”

Stubbs feels these are good examples of how energy management approaches in the connected world need to be non-linear.

“The traditional ways of adopting technology, recycling, and managing energy must be seen as relics of the past,” she said. “Instead, we must all work together and readily embrace modern solutions or risk our country entering a new dark ages.”

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Girls4Tech aims to cut gender gap in AI and security

Cybersecurity and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are two of the hottest technology fields today, with job opportunities continuing to grow across both. However, worldwide, women make up less than 15 percent of the professionals in these high-tech jobs[1], and only one in 20 girls opts for a career based in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)[2].

To help narrow the gender gap, Mastercard has been cultivating young technology enthusiasts as part of its signature education platform, Girls4Tech. Currently in its fifth year, this hands-on, inquiry-based STEM programme has reached more than 400,000 girls (ages 8-12) in 25 countries, more than doubling its established 2017 goal. Girls4Tech was first launched in the South Africa in 2017, and has seen numerous Mastercard employees acting as mentors to local students ever since. As Mastercard marks the fifth anniversary of the programme, the company builds on a successful track record of impact with an even more ambitious commitment to reach 1 million girls by 2025.

Mastercard created Girls4Tech in April 2014 to inspire young girls to pursue STEM careers through a fun, engaging curriculum built around global science and mathematics’ standards. The programme incorporates Mastercard’s deep expertise in payments technology and innovation, and includes topics such as encryption, fraud detection, data analysis and digital convergence.

“Driving inclusion, equal opportunity, and women’s empowerment are key priorities at Mastercard. Investing in a more inclusive future is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. Women are the driving force behind global economic growth, and their contributions will continue to elevate communities and society as a whole,” says Beatrice Cornacchia, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Communications, Middle East and Africa at Mastercard. “Through our Girls4Tech programme, we’re extending our commitment to the next generation of women leaders and developing a strong pipeline of talent by encouraging girls to embrace the subjects that will prepare them for the workforce of tomorrow.”

New Curriculum Unveiled

As technology skills continue to evolve, the Girls4Tech programme is launching a new curriculum to give girls deeper exposure to the growing fields of cybersecurity and AI.

Furthermore, to continue the engagement with girls who have already participated in the programme, Mastercard is launching Girls4Tech 2.0. Designed for older students, ages 13-16, the new programme aims to keep girls excited about STEM throughout the critical high school years and also emphasises important 21st century skills – such as collaboration, creativity and communication – as they work in teams to apply their technical knowledge to solve real-world challenges.

Impact Highlights from the First Five Years

  • To date, Girls4Tech has reached over 400,000 girls, with events in 25 countries and six continents.
  • The programme has engaged more than 3,800 employee mentors worldwide.
  • Mastercard has created partnerships with Scholastic, Be Better China, Singapore Committee for UN Women, Major League Baseball, R&A, and Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship to further scale the programme and offer STEM skills in unique ways to girls ages 8-12.
  • The programme has achieved global reach with the curriculum translated into 12 languages.

To learn more about the programme, please visit the Girls4Tech webpage.

[1] 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study:  Women in Cybersecurity

[2] U.S. Department of Commerce, Women in STEM 2017 Update; World Economic Forum, Gender Parity and Human Capital Report 2017

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