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My Life On The “V List”: How Social Media Reach & Influence Translate Into Offline Opportunity

As we’re prepping the final draft of the latest GRIT report for publication, I’ve been taking a long hard look at the “GRIT 50” section (the analysis of the MR firms perceived to be most innovative). Thanks to the input of of several folks, especially Renee Smith, Global CRO of Kantar, we’ve been looking at the data a few ways and that has informed my analysis of what the story (or stories) are regarding the ranking. I keep coming back to one central theme: the companies listed are masters of social marketing, and this idea explains how relatively small, new entrants onto the list compete effectively with large multinational firms. That certainly is not the only story, but for the purposes of this post we’re going to focus on how social media is leveraged to create and strengthen brands for business growth, and the principles that should be part of that strategy.

Obviously I am just a spectator when it comes to how these brands are leveraging various channels to market themselves, but what seems clear is that in the age of social media reach and influence translate into brand equity. Brands that can “own” a piece of mindshare across a channel (social, print or broadcast media) or an attribute (innovation, social responsibility, quality, etc..) can leverage that for real growth. This model is true across verticals and markets. This truism drives the growth of social media analytics and influence scoring and is a major focus of the use of those approaches for research purposes.

OK, I assume you already get all that and I promised you a discussion of how to actually apply this idea in the real world. Without seeming too self serving, lets use myself and GreenBook as an example of this model in action. I promise I’m not tooting my own horn here (well, at least not much), but I’ve always found it easier to use my own experience as a context for sharing information vs. a more abstract and objective analysis of others.

About a year ago Tom Anderson (arguably the master of using social media for brand building in MR) interviewed me about how I got started on this journey. I won’t repeat that here; if you’re interested you can find the interview on Tom’s blog. Let’s pick up from there.

2011 was the year that I began to get comfortable with my new found online visibility that my synergistic relationship with GreenBook had created, and it started to translate into opportunity in the “real world”.  During that time I was consciously attempting to build brand visibility for GreenBook since that was one of the objectives of our consulting relationship, but somewhere along the way I became part of the story I was attempting to craft for my client.  As a result I learned a few key lessons that I’ve tried to practice, such as:

  1. Find a POV.
  2. Sharing is good karma. Actively try to support others and share their content.
  3. Quality content is King when it comes to social media. Actively create or support others who create engaging and interesting content.
  4. Transparency and openness is the foundation of social trust.
  5. Social reach is driven by rules 1 -4; your network will expand and to an extent become viral if you focus on those rules.
  6. Influence is a by product of content and reach. It’s also a responsibility. People trust you, so work hard to reward that trust.
  7. Each day is a new opportunity to do more for others. I can’t stress that enough. It’s called “social” media for a reason so learn to play well with others.
  8. Brand equity is a by product of rules 1-7. If I had to write a formula it would be something like this: [[C (content) x S (sharing) = R (reach)] x [T (trust)]= I (influence)]]
  9. Brand equity is proportional to financial opportunity.

I’m definitely not perfect at any of these, but I do try to let them guide my strategy as much as possible and I think the formula is a successful one. It’s also the same model that I believe all brands need to consider in the Social Media Age.

I’ve been thinking of this a lot so far this year because, despite my attempts to deny it, I too have become a brand. Or more precisely, I have become inextricably linked with the GreenBook brand and have become, to a large extent, the public face of my favorite client. For all practical purposes, by being an evangelist for the MR industry I have also become the Brand Evangelist for GreenBook. It’s an odd thing to consider, but there it is. Of course I always knew I had a personal brand, but in my past running research organizations my personal brand was always in the background of the corporate brand. Now that I am front and center it’s forced me to apply the principles of brand marketing in a very different way than I ever had to before. Since I finally accepted the truth of the situation I’ve become increasingly aware of the parallels between my own journey and how companies can use a similar model to build their own brands and compete effectively against far larger organizations.

Where is my personal evidence? Well, recently Researchlive published an analysis of the MR Twitterverse and I was surprised by my own level of influence within this analysis. Here is the graphic:



Click here to download a high-res version of the full network map

In the article, Brian Tarran gives some details on how this analysis was derived:

In December, when Tom De Ruyck of InSites Consulting was crowned Tweeter of the Year by the #MRX community on Twitter, we asked him how broad the reach of the social network was in the offline research world. He guessed that “a few thousand researchers” were involved in one way or another, with a small group of “very active people” leading the discussion.

But who are these people: the content creators, the sharers, the people driving debate and connecting people and ideas? Over two weeks, from 25 November – 9 December, Jason Brownlee of Dollywagon ran an analysis of all the messages carrying one of 350 keywords, ranging from ‘analytics’, ‘market research’ and the #MRX hashtag, to ‘biometrics’, ‘sample sizes’ and ‘paid respondents’.

Over 106,000 on-topic messages were collected in total, generated by 5,000 individuals or companies. Working with Jon Puleston of GMI, we narrowed the list down to the top 400 with an interest in market research and re-ran the analysis to produce the image opposite – a network map showing the lines of communication running between various Twitter users, represented as nodes.

Nodes are sized according to general influence. Brownlee explains: “People with the highest general influence tend to be the biggest, most credible players in a network. They create content that generates more in-bound links than anyone else, but crucially also tend to attract links from other credible players in the network.”

Brownlee has also applied a clustering algorithm to determine the main sub-groups within the market research Twitter community. These are colour-coded. “These groups are predicated on the frequency, pattern and density of connections between the nodes in each group,” explains Brownlee.

What this shows is how a relatively  small number of  individuals can use reach and influence to shape the debate within an entire industry while also building personal brand awareness. Just like the broader network of social media, Twitter influencers serve as  early trend spotters as well as channels for disseminating information to their audiences. In this example, the Twittersphere serves as a microcosm of the real world, or at least as a leading indicator of the topics that are creating buzz. It’s a bit of a “tail wagging the dog” situation, but the results are clearly a process that helps support brand growth.

This is when things get interesting. In the case of GreenBook it’s fairly easy to see how this is beneficial; influence and reach help drive traffic. GreenBook is a media company, so traffic means greater market share and that translates into ad revenue. It gets a bit more compelling when you throw me into the mix though. Nowadays I am primarily a strategic consultant and adviser to companies. I still have my own business initiatives at various stages of development, but the vast majority of my time and energy goes into my joint venture consulting practice with GreenBook, which is also where the majority of my personal revenue comes from. Just like any other organization, my efforts in utilizing various channels for brand building ultimately must support revenue generation. I love what I do today make no mistake, but I do have 4 kids to feed so making money has to come into the equation! My personal revenue comes through a few primary channels, most of which I work in collaboration with GreenBook on. They are:

  1. Consulting engagements
  2. Advisory work
  3. Event production

Certainly the growth of my own brand (and that of GreenBook) has facilitated the expansion of each of these channels and (hopefully) will continue to do so as long as I continue to follow the rules I listed earlier. It’s those principles that enable me (or any other brand) to stay relevant and grow. In 2012 I am seeing that in action in a most unexpected away: speaking at conferences.

Yes, in the past few years I have been involved with a few events but usually either as a blogger, chairperson, or producer. This year is seeing the inclusion of whole new opportunities as a speaker and workshop facilitator that I never expected. My belief is that these new opportunities came about solely because of my social media strategy in action since in the case of most of these opportunities I was asked to participate; I did not seek them out. The exceptions are the workshops I am conducting and the events I am co-producing myself. That is quite a big change.

Here is how this is relevant for us all. By leveraging all of the channels available to me and practicing the “rules of engagement” I have outlined, my reach and influence is translating into both an extension into new marketing channels as a well as new revenue producing opportunities, and in most cases I have not had to seek them out! If you’ve run sales organizations or are involved in supporting them then you know how important that last statement is.

I want to be clear that this is a fairly clinical analysis of where I find myself. I’m not nearly as calculating as I might sound here, but the process fascinates me and I think a periodic SWOT analysis is healthy for both businesses and individuals. Trust me, I have plenty of weaknesses as well, but I’ve been lucky to literally stumble into an area of strength and opportunity that I am incredibly grateful for and respectful of.  I try to remember that every day is a new opportunity to earn the trust and mindshare of my audience. It can’t be taken for granted; this type of brand building is a compact between all stakeholders in the relationship. My part of that deal is to continue to find new ways to help meet the needs of the market research community in my own small way. It’s a responsibility I share with many others (just look at the graphic above to see who else is involved) and I try to do my part within this dynamic synergistic network. The same idea applies to any organization providing a product or service within their own market.

What I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the day I forget my responsibility in this relationship is the day that my brand and ultimately my value begins to decline. And again, I think that lesson applies to all brands regardless of their offering or markets served.

If anything, that is the lesson I was hoping to impart here. In order to effectively leverage virtually any media source in the social era you have to understand not just the mechanics of the channel but the dynamics of relationships in general. Those brands who get that are experiencing success. Those that are not are having a tougher time competing and have to rely upon more traditional (and expensive) tactics to make up the gap. Certainly this isn’t the only factor impacting either scenario, but I believe it is an important one.

It really is all about relationship building. The bigger a brand is the more important that principle becomes since it is so easy to succumb to an institutional, mass production mindset due to the very infrastructure necessary to support big companies. This is a lesson that the smaller “strategic consultant” type MR agencies that are beginning to gain greater market share within MR know very well and they leverage it across all of their customer touch points. It’s even a lesson that I am seeing various tech suppliers adopt as well, which is interesting indeed.

So, there is my take on my life on the “v”  (for virtual) list. I hope using my own journey of how developing social media reach and influence has translated into real opportunities has been helpful (or at least mildly interesting!) for you. This is certainly an evolving model that we’re trying to pin down here so 6 months from now I may have a very different take on this, and as long as you seem to find it helpful rest assured that I’ll find a way to share it with you.

Oh, and for anyone interested here is my pretty insane event calendar for this year (as it stands today) including a few new things that we’re working on that I hope to pull off. I promise that I will do my utmost to deliver real value through these channels as I try to do within social media. I hope to see you at one of these events this year!

  • Virtual – February 15th: Netbase Social Smarts Series: Debating the State of Social Research
  • Cincinnati – March 5-7: P&G Innovation Tradeshow (speaking on innovative MR techniques and suppliers)
  • NYC – March 25-28 ARF re: Think (I am now on the Leadership Council of the Researcher of the Future Forum)
  • NYC – March 27: GRIT Reception at ARF (more on that soon!)
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands – April 16-21 MRMW Europe (Chairing)
  • NYC – April 26: Future of Research Workshop at NY AMA (more on this soon too!)
  • NYC – April 27: AIMRI Meeting – “Online research & social media on the international landscape” (speaker)
  • Las Vegas – April 29-May 2: The Market Research technology Event (Co-Chairing)
  • NYC – May 9th: TRC Research: Frontiers of Research (Keynote speaker)
  • St. Johns, NF – May 30 – June 2: MRIA Annual Conference (Keynote speaker)
  • Cincinnati – July 17-21 MRMW US (Chairing)
  • Austin – August 2nd: SWMRA Educational Forum (speaker)
  • Austin – August 15th Neuromarketing and Cognitive Psych Event (tentative, GreenBook Produced))
  • Australia – August 24-Sept. 1 AMSRS Annual Conference  & GreenBook Workshop Series (Keynote speaker)
  • Atlanta – Sept 2-4 ESOMAR Congress (speaking or chairing a panel)
  • Pittsburgh – October 14-17 Society of Insurance Research Annual Conference (speaker)
  • Atlanta – December (tbd) 2nd Annual Insights Innovation Competition (Chairing, tentative)
  • Delhi – December (tbd) Innovation in India Market Research Conference (workshop and Keynote, tentative)
  • Sao Paulo, Brazil – January (tbd) Innovation in LATAM Market Research Conference (workshop and Keynote, tentative)

And just in case I’m not overexposed enough, don’t forget the weekly podcast GreenBook and NewMR put on: Radio NewMR.  Also, starting this month GreenBook and ResearchAccess are partnering to put on a series of monthly webinars using a panel/debate model on various topics of interest to the future of the industry. The first one is scheduled for February 21 on the topic of Big Data. Look for more on that soon!

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Leonard Murphy

Leonard Murphy

Executive Editor & Producer, GreenBook