When marketers consider where to allocate their online ad dollars, they might believe that the number of visitors to a social media site is a good measure of popularity. And perhaps this popularity will drive sales. But popularity is not the same as influence. For many marketers, influence is the statistic they should be considering. At least, that’s the opinion of researchers from Vocus and FutureWorks.

The recently issued joint study from these firms notes that 10% of marketers believe there is no difference between popularity and influence potential, which means 90% understand this important distinction. And 84% say they realize there is a connection between how much reach an influencer has and his/her ability to ‘drive action.’ Naturally, the type of action being considered is the potential evaluation and purchase of a product or service.

To improve the results from a social media campaign, marketers must target influencers. When asked which people are most influential in the social network space, here are the answers given by marketers:

  • Has handful of tightly connected friends/followers: 57%
  • Has thousands of loosely connected friends/followers: 36%
  • Has millions of friends/followers with little/no connection: 8%

eMarketer analysts point out the irony when marketers measure the metrics of their own social media campaigns. They clearly understand that attracting smaller groups of tightly connected friends/followers will increase influence and boost a campaign’s results. But here’s how they track the results of their campaigns:

  • Change in number of friends/followers/fans: 65.5%
  • Site traffic driven by social 59.5%
  • Mentions 39%
  • New leads generated 35.7%
  • Sales 28.5%
  • Key influencers/reach of messaging 25.7%
  • Duration of engagement/period of time 21.6%

The social media channel is still maturing. Marketers don’t yet agree if the channel is more about generating sales or improving loyalty. And the distinction may have to do with the type of product being sold and the demographic groups being targeted. Until more studies are completed, expect to see conflicting goals and actions on the part of marketers in the social media channel.

[Source: Verna, Paul. When Eyeballs and Dollars don’t Match Up. eMarketer.com. 7 Oct. 2010. Web. 20 Oct. 2010]