Judy Gombita points me in the direction of Len Stein‘s post which argues that “Google has become an especially telling measure of one’s reputation and standing”.
This implies search engine optimization (SEO) should be the primary focus of public relations. Indeed, the only measure of success is:
G cred (n.): Google credibility. What someone sees when they Google your name, business, product, organization or whatever. It’s an increasingly important measure of legitimacy and how seriously someone will take you.
This links into the ongoing discussion around online influence. Having “Google juice” is one thing, but what information emerges, who originated it, and what credibility do they have? These have to be key to ensure that your G cred is positive rather than negative.
So far the various attempts to evaluate PR influencers online have focused on different aspects:
- Edelman’s Social Media Index (which has generated over 90 comments so far) considers activity in blogs, Facebook, Twitter and so on – making it more a popularity contest.
- Flemming Madsen of Onalytica considers PR bloggers’ influence in terms of citation analysis which is interesting, but doesn’t really tell you much more than who is being referenced. It does, however, distinguish influence from popularity.
- The Friendly Ghost’s PowerPR Index draws on rankings such as Google, Yahoo and Technorati
- The Power 150 considers Google and Technorati rankings, bloglines subscribers, and a unique Tod factor assessment of content for marketing blogs.
These lists highlight the difficulty of focusing on influence in the fairly narrow domain of PR (or public relations) as opposed to those who are also commenting on copywriting, marketing, politics, journalism, media, news, technology, internal communications, education or a special sector (in my case, automotive).
As individuals, most of us write about what interests us, and link to other people we know, find stimulating or even annoying. These are unlikely to be exclusively in the PR micro-blogosphere.
Of course, from a professional public relations perspective, it would be helpful to be able to create measures to identify key “influencers”. It is also interesting academically and personally to reflect on the issue – not least for identifying new people to read – but do any of these approaches really reveal who is influential in online PR thinking?
I don’t think so. The beauty of online is that anyone can write an interesting post that can stimulate responses and start a debate. Chances are that someone will pick up on it (probably Judy) and make a connection from which other strands of discussion emerge. They may agree or disagree, with opinions that might be informative, entertaining, even persuasive. As high ranking as Micro Persuasion might be (that’s another link I’ve provided), does that mean what Rubel writes is really influential?
We also need to consider the credibility of any source. Wikipedia may be popular, have high Google juice, be well referenced, even be influential – but is it credible? As Chris Anderson argues in The Long Tail, Wikipedia can be very reliable – and also fallible (that applies to Rubel too– yet another link). Anderson cites Zephoria on Wikipedia:
It should be the first source of information, not the last. It should be a site for information exploration, not the definitive source of facts.
As in the classic Hovland theories there are many reasons for credibility – as a result of authority or expertise, or as “people like me”. Someone may an “A-list blogger” or at least you’ve heard of them. Sources may relate to, or be recommended by, someone you trust (possible Google). Or just be salient – as per Wikipedia.
In Gladwell‘s Tipping Point terminology, PR practitioners are on the “Law of the Few” hunt to identify those with the power to influence others. They may be a maven (source of information), a connector (a hub of social introductions) or a salesman (charismatic negotiator).
They used to be journalists – now we’re not so sure of their influence. The Few have become the Many online – but we’re still looking for the Few.
One problem in reducing analysis of “influencers” to algorithms to find the Few is that links and ratings don’t help identify advocacy. Isn’t that what we are really looking for in PR and marketing – people who will help advocate our position, promote our products/services, co-orientate to our messages?
Ironically, in doing this, public trust of journalists (and others such as celebrities) as advocates has reduced. The public increasingly believe, often rightly, that PR’s power and influence reduces the ability of those targeted to offer a credible recommendation.
We see it with views of motoring media and environmental issues. Some people are appalled by the views and behaviour of Jeremy Clarkson; whilst for others Top Gear is rated highly. Automotive PR practitioners face the dilemma of engaging with those who love the show; whilst recognising concerns about its negative influence – especially when communicating a responsible position for the industry on environmental matters.
Google may be the world’s greatest influencer, it may even have credibility if it brings up useful sources. But this would be affected if it is seen to be manipulated by SEO and PR. In any case, Google is not an advocate (unlike Clarkson if you are a fan); it doesn’t make recommendations – you only trust it to find information, not to offer up any quality assessment of its discoveries.
Real influencers have credibility and can be trusted as advocates – even if only in a narrow field. David Phillips proved this when telling an intern at a US PR consultancy:
If what Chevy is doing is interesting to me it will come via an expert practitioner blogger (in this case probably Heather Yaxley) through my RSS feed. By then the content will have been both edited and evaluated by a trusted third party. I will pull it from her.
Google may well be “word of mouth on steroids”, evidence of your popularity or hyperactivity online. As Stein argues, its “list of online citations is the new 21st century resume” and where others go to find “informed voices”.
Does this apply to those in PR who rank highly on the above lists. Are they really influential rather than popular? Or are they like Wikipedia – salient, popular, sometimes reliable, sometimes rubbish?
Where does this all lead us? Is the search for the Few relevant – especially if our aim is to then taint their influence and credibility as advocates?.
Perhaps we need to think more about supporting the Many who may be influential for different reasons. Yes, search engines and “key influencers” are important and we need to monitor what they reveal about ourselves and our clients.
But more than that, we should be pro-active and ensure strong values and good behaviour underpins the flow of positive Google juice from credible sources.
For our particular area (or organisation, in the case of internal communications) there may be a Few influential sources but we should avoid impacting on their credibility by abusing the power of PR – and be aware that their influence can negatively affect our credibility. That applies equally to Google, MicroPersuasion, Jeremy Clarkson or some strange cat-blogger with a zillion friends who Twitters, is regularly linked and ranks highly on Technorati.