Are TechComm Bloggers Influential?

I’ve been immersed in Social Media Metrics working with LugIron since early 2010. Because of this recent immersion I took a nerds-eye view of the recent post on the MindTouch blog, The Most Influential Technical Communicator Bloggers. Pretty exciting to be in such esteemed company. Excellent to have a badge to display, check it out!

MindTouch Most Influential Technical Communication Bloggers

Thanks go to Mark Fidelman and the MindTouch crew for compiling this list. The metrics nerd in me wanted to investigate further and do some more analysis. So here goes.

Metrics for bloggers and more

To be sure, social networking metrics do not have to be the same as blogging metrics. One missing metric, oddly enough, was number of subscribers. Understandable though. It’s not easy to find out subscriber numbers for other people’s feeds. It’s straightforward to get statistics for Feedburner feeds using either their API or the ol’ ~fc trick (See http://feeds.feedburner.com/~fc/justwriteclick for an example and my own subscriber stats.) But unless each blogger is willing to share their subscriber numbers, that column couldn’t be filled out. Plus, I know that some bloggers don’t worry about RSS subscribers and focus on building up an email subscriber list instead. For example, Scott Able’s RSS subscribers likely total less than 10,000, but his email lists are upwards of 70,000 addresses.

Then again, perhaps subscriber numbers aren’t all that descriptive of someone’s influence. As it turns out, Google’s PageRank is quite good at social network analysis. It’s on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest rank. The highest of all the tech comm bloggers has a 7/10, which is the same as TechMeme. That’s great for tech comm!

In case you’re curious about the formulas that go into Google PageRank, it takes these four factors into account according to Lithium’s Principal Scientist of Analytics Michael Wu in his post, Are All Influencers Created Equal?:

  1. Degree centrality: measures how many connections a user has.
  2. Closeness centrality: measures how fast a user can reach the whole network.
  3. Eigenvector centrality: measures how reputable a user is.
  4. Betweenness centrality: measures how many critical diffusion paths go through the user.

With those centrality measures in mind, you can see how each blogger’s blog works to help them acquire higher page rank. And these work into other scores on the list, such as Twitter Klout and so forth.

What is influence, really?

Very recently there was a quite loud backlash to Fast Company’s Influence Project. Check out these scathing posts.

Wow! The project was not about influence, nor even popularity. It was plain old link baiting. There didn’t seem to be any goal from the start. Without goals, influence is useless anyway. The supposed goal of a participant in the FC Influence project would be to get a big picture on the Fast Company site. Unfortunately it ignored the fact that many people want not to get attention paid to them but to their cause or passion.

Earlier this year, Lithium’s Principal Scientist of Analytics Michael Wu posted about the six factors of influence in online communities. His model is wonderfully simple – there are influencers and targets. Two factors for influencers are credibility, meaning how much expertise the person can provide in their domain) and bandwidth, the ability to transmit on a particular channel. In this case, both their blog and Twitter use was measured as a channel. The list would be a bit different if it were to measure influence in STC, on the Techwr-l mailing list, or on Twitter alone. I believe combining Twitter and blogging is a good move, because as Technorati points out in the 2009 State of the Blogsphere report, “Bloggers use Twitter much more than does the general population.”

Without targets, though, the influencers cannot share their passion.

Any keys to success?

I’m presupposing with that section heading that you actually want to know how to become an influencer. Perhaps you do not. But here are some takeaways from my experience and from my book about using social media for tech comm goals.

  • Relevance – Make sure your message is nearly always relevant to the subject matter. It’s okay to stray once in a while, to blend the personal with the professional, and make sure people know there’s a real person sending out these messages.
  • Timing – Understand when your audience is listening and looking for articles to read. Be aware of a follow-the-sun message system when your audience spills beyond your time zone borders. If you are looking for a decision to be made based on the timing of the message, put yourself in the readers shoes and walk through their decision process. Watch the stats and see when the most visitors come to your site and when the most conversions occur.
  • Alignment - You can align yourself in one channel for the greatest payoff. For me, I don’t spend much time on mailing lists or forums but mainly use my blog as an outlet for my thoughts. This laser focus over the last five years has paid off for me.
  • Confidence – Being the right person at the right time is one key to success. You have to make sure people have good reason to trust what you say. Whether that’s through proving what you know or admitting when you’re wrong, you have to instill confidence in people to be a good influencer.
  • Proficiency – I’m not as proficient with video for communication as I am with text and images. I’m aware of that in my blogging work and haven’t tested myself recently to stretch those boundaries. Tom Johnson has become increasingly proficient in audio and often works in new media such as screencasting to improve his channel reach and message. We can certainly learn from his good examples.

Notice that I don’t have super prescriptive keys here – I don’t tell you to blog twice a week or make sure your posts are at least 500 words long. You have to find your own ways to make these keys work for you.

My goals certainly involve influence, but also to be helpful. I think you’ll find that in my blogging. Personal and professional connections are also important to me – call them weak ties but I enjoy meeting people through my blog. It has offered me opportunities I hadn’t imagined when I first started blogging for my employer five years ago.  I’m extremely happy that tech comm has emerged as a profession as “one to watch” on the blogosphere.

5 Comments

  • August 2, 2010 - 11:05 am | Permalink

    Anne, congratulations on your status as an influential blogger. It’s a well-deserved distinction!

    Thanks for your deeper discussion of the metrics and all that goes into them. I especially like your comment about the importance of having the right targets to share our passions

    I think your keys to success on how tech comm bloggers can become more influential are right on. You’re doing a good job of practicing what you preach: As I mentioned in my post it isn’t metrics themselves that cause me to notice someone in the community but what they do, which ultimately affects those rankings. When I first discovered tech comm blogs a year ago yours was the second one I found. :-)

  • August 2, 2010 - 11:07 am | Permalink

    Great post, Anne. As usual, you cut straight to the core of the question with clear, concise logic. It’s not so much about analytics as it is building trust and relationships. Influence is more on how one helps shape thought and actions as it is the number of folks who visit a site or blog. People will follow someone if they trust that person and know that they are working from their passion rather than just trying to drive numbers just to sell product.

    Thanks.

  • August 2, 2010 - 11:28 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the links to Michael Wu’s work. It wasn’t clear to me from the MindTouch post or subsequent buzz what they really meant by “influential”. To me, it means “able to communicate a message to others, and have it affect their behavior”. The latter part of that definition isn’t really measured by these metrics, though presumably, people stop paying attention to bloggers who they don’t find relevant.

  • August 4, 2010 - 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to you all. I followed up with Mark because I really was in disbelief that I was beaten to spot number 5 because of Klout ranking alone. He said his aggregated weighted score literally has me one point behind Ellis. I’m working on my Klout and it’s up to 23 already. Though I don’t feel more influential. Funny, that. :)

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