How to Measure Influence: 12 Communications Pros Design Their Ideal Algorithm

How to Measure Influence: 12 Communications Pros Design Their Ideal Algorithm

Recent research shows that consumers trust influencers more than they trust the information coming from a brand. Now more than ever, your message is competing with traditional media, word-of-mouth, online reviews, blogs, and more. Read our latest ebook The Communication Pro’s Guide to Influencer Marketing to learn how to find the right influencers, make the most of your relationships, and measure their impact.
Erika Heald
8 September 2016

For each significant purchase decision they make, Google research found the average shopper used 10.4 sources of information to make a decision in 2011—a number that nearly doubled from 5.3 sources in a one-year span. And most of that information is not coming from product marketing literature.

Marketers are competing with traditional media, word-of-mouth, online reviews, websites, blogs, and more when consumers research their products. And while consumer trust of advertising continues to decline, Nielsen research has found that word-of-mouth recommendations to perform strongly, with 82 percent of those surveyed somewhat or completely trusting personal endorsements.

Leveraging influencers is a great way to break through the noise, and help build a favorable opinion of your brand, and extend its reach. But quantifying an individual’s level of influence can be difficult and time-consuming.

To get a sense for how communicators are defining influence and evaluating whether or not individuals have it, I reached out to a number of PR and marketing pros, and asked them to share how they define and measure influence and what their ideal algorithm or process for measuring it would look like. Here’s what they said:

Dennis Shiao
Director of Content Marketing, DNN Software

How do you define an influencer?
Before I define the term, it’s important to establish some context: identify the topic in which you wish to gain influence. Next, define your objective. Putting the two together, one example might be: “To encourage marketing experts to share our definitive guide to A/B testing to their social networks.”

Within this framework, influencers are people that marketers follow and respect, because of their expertise in marketing. These people (i.e. the followers) will also take action based on the influencers’ recommendations. They’ll model their behavior. If influencers share their successes with A/B testing, their followers will try the same tactic for themselves.

What would your influencer algorithm look like?
I’d want a “Net Promoter Score (NPS)” for influence. It would measure how likely someone would be to take action via the influencer, combined with a scale factor to indicate how many people took action.

Getting down to specific metrics, I’d look to Twitter, since activity there is public. This would be a proxy, of course, because some influencers aren’t on Twitter! I’d look at things like:

Retweet ratio (percentage of tweets that receive a retweet), average retweets per tweet and the percentage of shares, comments and retweet-text that have positive sentiment.

I’d weight these all equally.

Next, for content they publish on their owned channels (e.g. website, blog), I’d look at the number and percentage of repeat visitors (i.e. shows reader loyalty) and the number of comments (with positive sentiment) per post or article.

I’d weight these all equally.


Tatiana Beale
Head of Content, Traackr

How do you define an influencer?
An Influencer is someone who has earned the trust of his/her community based on relative subject matter expertise.

What would your influencer algorithm look like?
At Traackr, we have created an algorithm to rank influencers based on their reach, resonance, and relevance. Relevance carries the most weight out of the three factors.


Amy Higgins
Head of Content Marketing, ZOZI

How do you define an influencer?
An influencer is someone that can drive engagement and increase your reach within a targeted network.

What would your influencer algorithm look like?

  • Reach: What’s their network reach? Depending on what you are looking at, that could be defined as social reach, email list, or readership (as in editorial reach).
  • Resonance: How much of a thought leader are they around the specific topic or area of interest? I would look to see if they are positioned as a thought leader at industry events or online publications. Also, do they openly share information and insight around the particular topic?
  • Intent: When others hear insight from this influencer, what’s their intent to purchase? This is hard to track. However, looks at interactions – if influencer talks about “A”, will “A” increase.


Jason Miller
Global Content Marketing Leader at LinkedIn

How do you define an influencer?
In my opinion an influencer is someone (in this case a marketer) who thinks for themselves, who’s active on social and shares their unique viewpoint and insights on a consistent basis, through various mediums.

What would your influencer algorithm look like?
I would look for reach, consistency, and engagement. With engagement being the most significant.


Guillaume Decugis
CEO & Co-Founder at

How do you define an influencer?
While everybody has influence, I’d define an influencer as someone who’s taking a proactive role in influencing people on a certain topic—and who’s successful at it.

What would your influencer algorithm look like?
I might be biased but I believe content—whether online, print, live—is the essential way influencers change perceptions, give inspiration and compel people to act. So my algorithm would look at how often an influencer’s content is quoted or referenced by others—either on their own blogs, media properties or on social media. And I’d make the algorithm recursive by giving a lower or higher weight to mentions based on the influence of the person quoting the influencer’s content.


Michael Brenner
CEO, Marketing Insider Group and Author of The Content Formula

How do you define an influencer?
I define an influencer as someone or has authority on a topic and has built an audience based on that authority.

What would your influencer algorithm look like?
I think the measure of influence is a essentially their ability to gain traction with content across a network (size) of influence (specific personas). So I would measure common things like social shares, engagement, page rank, organic search and social traffic, number of subscribers they generate to their content, the relative influence of their audience, and also how targeted their content is to meet the needs of that audience.


Ben Noble
Communication Manager, NewVoiceMedia

How do you define an influencer?
You would think the title of influencer would come with a clear definition – a person who can create action or sway opinions of others – but when we view that designation through micro and macro lenses it takes on more abstract and complicated forms. When most people think of influencers, they tend to lean on the archetype of the gregarious and likeable celebrity. The macro view of an influencer is a person that is largely in the public eye, viewed as trustworthy, proficient and authoritative. But really anyone can be an influencer. The question is more so one of magnitude. What is the difference between a bad, good and great influencer?

What would your influencer algorithm look like?
Everyone can influence. But great influencers make broader and deeper impacts on a consistent basis. They are masters of social psychology and rhetorical devices, and their clout is perpetuated by the public ripples they create. If we were to rank influencers into categories of good, great and elite. We’d have to evaluate how their skills compare against a number of variables:

  • Presence: Where your voice is heard, can sometimes be as important as how many people heard it. The medium of a message can impact how it is received and who received it. Some influencers build out a niche (radio producer, blogger, broadcaster, social media specialist). Others – especially those elite few – tend to be more well-rounded. They master stage presence on camera, maintain articulate prose in print and have glaring wit in 140 characters or less.
  • Reach: Those who have more of a presence often (but not always) have greater reach. Today, this is the most looked at metric for deciding an influencer’s brand worth. Do you have a large audience? If so, you might be hailed as a mighty influencer. But in reality, the number of viewers you amass is only a part of the equation.
  • Authority: Influence is rooted in action. A person with many followers is powerless if those followers listen but do not act. Authority is the bridge between an order and an action. The elite influencer maintains a mobile army of followers. The authority that guides that army gives the influencer potency.
  • Intent: Sometimes even a good or great influencer can steer their audience in the wrong direction. Rouge commands that don’t align with a desired response may not directly detract from influence, but it certainly puts a damper on its usefulness. That is why clarity of voice is important. Clear commands with clear results are the mark of top-tier influencers.
  • Scope: Six degrees of separation may be a dead networking reference, but only because there are even less obstacles separating us from people we want to reach. Sometimes the most powerful person isn’t the person standing at the podium. The puppet master standing behind the curtain, the devoid of public presence may be the most powerful person in the room.
  • Endurance: Andy Warhol said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” That future isn’t far off. Consequently, influence for many people may be a fleeting moment in the spotlight. People maintain influence by performing maintenance on their network, contributing often and keeping their audience captive. How long an influencer can hold an audience is an important variable. It depends on how well they can stand-up to scrutiny, adapt and survive.


Caroline James
Head of PR & Communications – West Region, U.S., Cushman & Wakefield

How do you define an influencer?
Back in the day of my studying PR theory, we did not call “influencers” this, instead we referred to them as “third-party stakeholders”. So a “third-party stakeholder” (aka influencer) is someone who has the potential to positively (or negatively) impact your brand perception and reputation. For instance, I often target third-party stakeholders to provide an outside voice that is consistent or can add positively to our own, and lends trust and credibility in doing so. Pharmaceutical companies do it all the time— this is why they work so prolifically with doctors (who prescribe their product), government (who set health and medical policies that will impact their products), and not-for-profits who help raise awareness of certain health-conditions, etc (that can then be treated/cured by said pharmaceutical drug).

What would your influencer algorithm look like?
It would have to have categories related to level of importance to the brand, as well include how often an influencer interacts with the brand…for instance, let’s draw on a popular topic and say we’re talking about a dating app. Important ‘influencers’ would be people who have used the app and experienced success—they may have even gotten married—so you’d have them top of your list. And then say, it’s a celebrity single who also uses the app—they’re there too—on the top of the list. And you would include dating coaches who can recommend your app, relationship psychologists talking about the benefits of being in love, life coaches recommending ways to boost wellbeing “date! be in a relationship!”, etc. Build a list of those who have the greatest impact on your brand success.


Heidi Cohen
Chief Content Officer, Actionable Marketing Guide

How do you define an influencer?
Influencers are strongly associated with Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Law of the Few.”

The 3 categories of influencers include:

  • Connectors. They know a lot of people across interests.
  • Mavens. They’re “information brokers. ” They solve problems and distribute the information in way that facilitates sharing and dissemination.
  • Persuaders. They’re charismatic idea salespeople. Their negotiation skills motivate followers to act.

What would your influencer algorithm look like?
With regard to influencers, there’s not a one-size-fits-all algorithm. You must understand your target audience and who sways their opinions related to your products and services.

Depending on your niche, you may need to go offline to determine who the true influencers are. According to Keller Fay, roughly 72% of word of mouth happens offline.


Hannah Kovacs
Community Manager, PostBeyond

How do you define an influencer?
I define an influencer as someone who has proven deep domain expertise in a specific subject area with a willingness to share their knowledge, and educate and learn from others. An influencer is *not* defined by their Klout score or follower count.

What would your influencer algorithm look like?
One of the key words in my definition above is “proven,” meaning there must be evidence to back up their experience. Just because you’ve been on Twitter for 7 years does not make you an “influencer” or expert. I’m talking about years and years worth of hands on experience, that can then be translated into teachings and lessons for others.

I’ll give you two good examples: Ann Handley and Michael Brenner.

Ann Handley, for instance, has been dubbed the most influential woman in the social media marketing space because she has 16 years-worth of experience, from co-founding MarketingProfs to writing multiple bestsellers.

Michael Brenner draws his experience from 20 years in marketing leadership roles at Nielsen, International Communications Research and SAP. Today, Michael is a revered content marketing expert and CEO of Marketing Insiders Group.

So, I’d look at years spent in the sector—I’d award 1 point for every five years-worth of experience. Next, I’d look at what they actually contribute to the space. I’ve come across ‘marketing influencers’ before who had never published or wrote on a darn thing. Deduct 1 point for every 6 months they fail to contribute anything to their area of ‘expertise.’ Finally, look at who they work with? If they are a lone consultant, who are their clients? They should have some notable success stories that speak to their experience. I’d award 1 pt. for every case study/client they’ve been associated with. If they can’t cough up any strong examples of their work, they’re not a real influencer.


Sarah Nagel
Community Outreach Manager, Sprout Social

How do you define an influencer?
An influencer is an individual with a high level of expertise or skill in a specified industry. They are acknowledged and followed for their vast knowledge, experience or skill. They have the ability to persuade others to follow their actions.

What would your influencer algorithm look like?
I’d assess:

  • Years of experience in specified area, as well as other relevant areas (Lightly weighted)
  • Knowledge around different aspects of field of expertise (Somewhat weighted)
  • Connection to followers – how much influence do they really have on followers to take action? How do followers perceive their relationship with influencer? Do they feel close? (Heavily weighted)


Maureen Jann
Director of Marketing, Point It Digital Marketing

How do you define an influencer?
When I hear the word influencer, I think about it from two perspectives. The first is from a marketer’s perspective (surprise, surprise!). When a marketer thinks of an influencer, they see them as an opportunity to share a message with an audience that has the potential to be interested in their product. If a marketer picks the right influencer, and the influencer has a clear view of who they are and what they stand for, a message that benefits both parties can serve as both a value-added experience for readers or followers and a fantastic platform to inform people about a product they might be interested in.

The second way of looking at an influencer is from a user’s perspective, an influencer is someone who has developed a personal brand that represents a topic or an interest that they’re interested in. Those influencers have a like-minded community. They offer a clear perspective on topics that are important to them and their community. Finally they have developed some sort of personal brand that have made them recognizable to a community.

What would your influencer algorithm look like?
I think all of those ranking influencers could be boiled down to three main differentiators: Voice, Reach, and Recognition.

Voice includes a clear visual brand, defined topics that they cover regularly and consistently, and a distinct opinion on industry topics. The voice defines and builds the audience, and crafts the overall marketability of the brand. Based on the importance of this element, I’d assign this 40%.

Reach would encompass the number of people in their community, their recognition in the industry (including things like publishing and speaking) and tactics and strategies outlined in their published perspectives applied in business. The reach identifies how many people can be influenced and where they can be influential. Due to the importance of the community recognizing the importance of this person’s contributions, I’d assign this element 40%.

Finally, recognition is where the industry acknowledges their expertise with things like awards, speaking engagements, books and an academic presence. Although this is important from a credibility perspective, so often these acknowledgements are pay to play. Also, I believe that the impression of the community is more important than the industry, so I would assign this one 20%.

How do you define an influencer? We’d love to hear your take. And for more influencer marketing insights from these marketing and communications pros, download The Communication Pro’s Guide to Influencer Marketing.

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