Google to research Social Influence


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Businessweek and MediaPost are reporting that Google is going to study how influence actually works on social networks. This is a welcome change and if you've been reading this blog regularly, you can guess its something that I've been hoping for. 

Now we don't know how exactly Google is going to do this but we do know what they're trying to do. They're trying to understand (as they should) which friends in a social graph play a bigger role in social influence than others. They're going to figure out which friends in my network do more to spread information, which start conversations rather than end them and which influence most other people to take specific actions. 

Google is trying to create an influence rank, sort of similar to what folks like SocialMedia.com tried to do within the confines of a social network ad network (Facebook in their case). I can only manage how much easier it will be for them to sell ads once they have something in place especially if it also includes YouTube. Sounds pretty exciting, doesn't it? It is and a marketers dream.
Why are they doing this? The reasons are obvious and I wouldn't be surprised if Facebook is going down this path too. To monetize the social networks properly, you need to know who are the social influencers on the networks themselves. And this matters with YouTube as well. Google sees this piece of research to up the ante with Facebook. That's why the formed the Open Social and launched Friend Connect. 

The Media Post article brings up a lot of interesting questions some of which I have been grappling with. How do you actually measure influence? How can you account for the fact that influence can vary by context. The stage in a purchasing decision can also affect influence as can several obviously unmeasurable factors. Also, how does social influence on a social network compare to offline forms of influence. And how does it compare to the affects of advertising. Lots of questions and it'll be interesting to see how Google approaches this.

I can't wait for the day when we can measure peer influence better and move the debate beyond the notion of key influencers which in my opinion is a dated construct.


Follow me on Twitter (@shivsingh) for more insights on digital strategy and social media.

1 Comments

FM Days said:

This is certainly a step in the right direction. It does, however, seems like social media will remain at the margins of most businesses until we can get better metrics and truer measures of ROI.

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