Review: The Business of Influence

1 May

Business of Influence Philip Sheldrake's The Business of Influence is a useful contribution to the literature on PR, marketing and social media – but above all it adds to the literature on measurement and evaluation.

The account starts with two milestone texts from 1999: The Cluetrain Manifesto and Permission Marketing. So we know to expect a discussion of rapid change and blurring boundaries between marketing and PR.

The author covers some theory and definitions (drawing heavily on the work of James Grunig), but is equally keen to cite arguments on blogs and responses on Twitter.

There's original thinking too. The concept of influence flows is an extension to the more usual discussion of communications models. Influence, Shelrake notes, is different from popularity.

He's strong on measurement – and acknowledges that his book complements Katie Paine's Measure What Matters (see my review). Sheldrake's description of AVE reads like a sentence from Cluetrain:

AVE: "a specious sum based on false assumptions using an unfounded multiplier, only addressing a fraction of the PR domain."

So how can we measure influence? Sheldrake is broadly impressed with Klout's approach – except that it only works for Twitter and ignores email, blogs, Facebook and other social media engagement.

The point about complexity is well made when he contrasts the simplicity of media evaluation in 1991 with the challenge of media monitoring and evaluation in 2011:

"Where should I listen and how should I make sense of it, and what demands a response and what should I say and when should I say it, and to whom should I say it and where should I say it, and in which format should I say it? When you multiply these possibilities together it becomes immediately clear that you're trying to deal with massive complexity, at least relative to your colleague from 1991."

Influence measurement, he argues, is like weather forecasting. "Just because it's difficult, and because it turns out to me more accurate some times and entirely unpredictable at other times, doesn't mean that it does not have significant value."

Sheldrake's approach, developed from the Balanced Scorecard concept, is the Influence Scorecard. Here the author reaches towards valid metrics, or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), that can be used to gauge influence. These cannot be generic, since 'KPIs should fit the strategy, not the other way around'.

The concept of influence is so much broader than the concept of social media. As Sheldrake writes, "I do wonder when the emphasis on 'social' this and 'digital' that might finally die."

It's clearly a problem for marketing, for advertising and for public relations. Sheldrake's solution comes in the form of a Chief Influence Officer, 'the incumbent… charged with making the art and science of influencing and being influenced a core organizational discipline… Ideally, the Chief Influence Officer will have a varied background covering marketing, PR, customer service, HR, product development and operations.'

The author, unsurprisingly, has just such a hybrid background (engineering, marketing, management, public relations). This explains his desire to categorise and enumerate – a useful corrective perhaps to most public relations literature, but an approach that makes for a jerky read.

He's written an interesting book (maybe even an important book), and I do sense agreement around the need to redesign and repurpose public relations. Influence, like engagement, could be a new paradigm.

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