Continuing my series of CEO Interviews, this time I’m speaking with Pierre-Loïc Assayag or Traackr. A seemingly inescapable part of Social Media marketing surrounds the idea of identifying influencers. Traackr is one of several tools on the market that can help brands and their agencies try to figure this out. I think Traackr is a pretty compelling tool and this conversation with Pierr-Loic demonstrates the depth of thinking they are putting into this.
Rick Liebling: Tell me about Traackr, how does it work and what makes it unique from other tools that help identify online influencers?
Pierre-Loïc Assayag: We’re fundamentally different from other tools out there in that we believe that relevance drives influence. There’s no such thing as an ‘influencer’ outside of a specific context, defined as: a topic, an intent and possibly a geography. For instance, Ashton Kutcher may have millions of followers, but he would be of no help to someone working on a campaign around cloud computing, even Robert Scoble, one of the most respected technology bloggers, may not be the right person to go to for campaigns around B2B niche cloud computing products.
This is the reason why Traackr only scores people in context of a specific search being run by a Traackr user. We don’t assign people a ubiquitous Traackr score as one level of influence changes drastically with context. Our tool uncovers influencers through a set of keywords. With the keywords, we’re able to identify the people on the web that are driving the conversation within a topic.
P-LA: Traackr works great irrespective of the industry, how broad or niche your topic is, B2B/B2C, etc. Customers of ours have used Traackr on large B2C product launches and very targeted (some would say obscure) B2B awareness campaigns with equal success.
The value of Traackr’s influencer data tends to grow with the precision of the search criteria and diminish for vague searches. For example, we’re often asked about ‘Mommy influencers’. Our answer always is that there’s no such thing… Being a mom doesn’t begin to define in what context one exerts influence; for that matter there are lots of parenthood topics or ‘mommy topics’ where influencers are not ‘moms’ (see this great post from Jeremy Pepper for more).
RL: The notion of ‘influencers’ really gained steam with Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point. More recently, Duncan Watts has put together data refuting Gladwell’s theories. Where do you stand on the issue?
P-LA: I have a love/hate relationship to Gladwell’s writing or more precisely, I love his insights, I hate how they are being overstretched (by him included). We also have to be careful not to misrepresent Duncan Watts findings: DW is also saying that small groups of people (call them influencers) sway issues, spike a trend, or kill brands or products. He’s differing from Gladwell in that:
1- he believes that anyone can be an influencer and doesn’t buy into Gladwell’s notion that there’s a special breed of influential people
2- he observed in his research the patterns determining who’s influential around a specific brand or topic to be random and unpredictable (therefore let’s not waste time trying to find them)
I wholeheartedly agree with the first point: everyone is to a degree an influencer in a certain context. For any and every context, the group of influential voices will change radically. So from that standpoint, he’s right to denounce Gladwell’s ‘tipping point’ theories around mavens, salesmen and connectors.
Interestingly, our findings show that tipping points take place all the time: on any given topic, 2 to 3% of contributors to a conversation yield over 90% of the performance metrics, so Gladwell is right. They also show that these 2-3% change completely from one conversation to the next, so Watts is right…
I disagree with the point that predicting who the relevant influencers are in a specific context can’t be done: there are ways to discover who are the people most likely to have a tipping-point-like impact on any issue; or at least there’s “A” way.
If you’re interested in this topic, I actually wrote about Gladwell and Watts about 3 yrs ago now when Traackr was just a toddler.
RL: Of course identifying influencers is only part of the challenge. What do you think brands should be doing once they’ve identified the people they want to engage with?
P-LA: Absolutely. Finding the right people for your issue or business is just the starting point, it’s an actionable piece of information that still needs to be actioned. Many of our clients are communication professionals and engage influencers to get a positive mention or review of the product/brand they represent. These influencer engagement campaigns can be tactical in nature or be more strategic / relationship-building. Marketers learn very quickly that influencer engagement requires a new approach, based on transparency and building mutual value.
Market research uses Traackr as an entity disambiguation tool, in other words, filter the topic they care about by the people who matter most and listen to what they have to say. Product marketing uses Traackr to bring together groups of subject matter experts to provide feedback on a prototype, brainstorm a new idea, etc. These are only a few of the many creative ideas our customers have come up with to best leverage our platform for their business.
RL: In social media you have to innovate or your dead. What does Traackr have in their labs for the next generation of influencer identification?
P-LA: In business you innovate or you’re dead. We have in our DNA not just the innovation gene, but the disruption one: we want to bring things to life that are game changers for our partners and customers. So what’s next?
1- Bring a version of Traackr to the general public. I can’t say much about this except that this won’t be another Klout or PeerIndex, getting people to claim their profile and offering them an influencer score. Stay tuned for more on this soon!
2- Surface more influencer insights: we collect and process much more data than we have made available in our interface so far and we will keep expanding the analytics we offer our customers.
3- Go international. Right now, Traackr only searches influencers communicating in English. We have in the works to add new languages.