We all love a good list. Last week Forbes released their annual list of most powerful celebrities. Earlier this year, Forbes also gave a rundown of baseball’s most valuable teams.

Another thing we love is sports analogies. The sports analogy is often used in business to emphasize goals, strategies, obstacles, personal motivation and teamwork.

Why? Because sports are a relatively common experience across many cultures. People understand sports at the basest level.

 

The power of sports is strong at the societal level as well. The ancient Greeks used the Olympics to keep a truce among their warring city-states. A majority of the planet slows down to watch the modern Olympics, the World Cup and the Super Bowl in the U.S.

This power also translates into the corporate environment as we implore our teams and our customers to achieve their objectives. Score a goal. Drain a three-pointer. Dunk it. Go long. ”Just do it.” ”Run like never before.” Win!

So if sports has such a strong hold over us, who influences the business of sports?  Do we even understand the power of influence?

So inspired by the top earning athletes report, I sought to understand the power of influence, to see how easily I could define the top 10 influencers in the business of sports. I’m not sure I answered the question to my satisfaction, but the journey offers some insight into the power and the challenge of identifying influence in our social world.

If Sports Influences Us, What Influences Sports?

Clearly, sports influences many of us. But what influences sports? Or more specifically, what influences the business of sports?

If you’ve read the book or watched Moneyball, you know the story of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s strategy to master the business of sports by fielding a superior team on a basement budget.

If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie where Billy is played by Brad Pitt, the hero uses advanced analysis and lots of stats to acquire players that are simply more effective but that other teams ignore based on irrelevant personality traits.

The approach works. The team makes it further in the playoffs than anyone expects and Billy Beane is offered a lucrative position at the Boston Red Sox. While he declines the offer, his approach is widely studied and copied by Major League baseball in the years that followed.

Billy Beane has influenced the business of sports by solving one of the biggest challenges in business: a focus on results at the expense of personal bias.

Is Influence the Moneyball of Marketing?

While Moneyball offers a best-selling, hollywood-produced answer (based on a true story), I wanted to understand which type of advanced analysis helps us to identify the top influencers in the business of sports.

But first I had to define influence. Altimeter analyst Brian Solis (@BrianSolis) and author of a book titled Engage defines “Influence: To cause effect or change behavior.”

He believes that influence is one of the hottest trends in social media and argues that effectiveness for marketing in the digital age comes down to therealization of influence. And a whole business has sprung up to measure influence and help us to “realize” it.

Mark Schaefer (@MarkWSchaefer) points to this in his new book Return On Influence: The Revolutionary Power of Klout, Social Scoring, and Influence Marketing.

Mark once told me that he wrote the book to explain to people interested in marketing, social media and influence that great content wasn’t enough. You need influence to help spread ideas.

In his book, Mark explains that companies like Klout and Kred are developing complex algorithms that attempt to standardize social influence by evaluating individual social activity. Mark points out that these approaches should be watched and understood because they are being used to measure each one of us whether we like or not. And they may hold the key to achieving a measurable return on marketing.

Influence is Not a Popularity Contest

The number of followers you have on Twitter or the number of friends you have on Facebook are not indicative of who has influence over the public in general or a particular group.

Doing a quick search, I easily found a list of The Top 10 Athletes on Twitter.

I also found these Most Influential Athletes based on Klout

But these are really just popularity contests. These are people who have earned a following but it is not necessarily reflective of influence at all, on any topic, even in their own sports.

The Three Rs of Influence

In order to help me understand who is influential on our particular topic, influencers in the business of Sports, I reached out to Courtney Vaught, who is Director of Social Strategy and Marketing at a company calledTraackr (@traackr).

According to Courtney, Traackr locates individuals wherever they publish online and ranks their influence in a specific conversation based on a proprietary scoring algorithm. To derive an overall influence rating for individuals, Traackr uses three metrics: Reach, Resonance and Relevance:

  • Reach: the size of an influencer’s audience
  • Resonance: of activity the influencer creates when publishing
  • Relevance: to a particular online conversation based on frequency of specific keyword use

Courtney also expained that what makes Traackr different lies in third R:  Relevance. She said that Traackr defines influence based on the context in which someone is influential. “Justin Bieber has a high Klout score,” she said, “but he would never be considered influential in cloud computing.” Traackr attempts to add context to their score with relevance on a topic to uncover someone’s influence.

Top 10 Influencers in The Business of Sports

All effective marketing in today’s digital world starts with an understanding of the keywords that relate to your topic. So I worked with Courtney to refine a list of keywords on the business of sports. Then Traackr identified this list ofTop 10 Influencers in the business of sports:

Conclusion

We all love lists and we are all influenced by something. In business, we love to use sports analogies. In this exercise of trying to understand what influences that which influences us, I learned that we are all being tracked and scored and judged. There are many methods to defining influence. But I’m not sure there is a Moneyball secret to success.

I agree with Brian and Mark that influence is important – maybe one of the most important trends in marketing. And that in order to reach our target audience we have to understand what influences them.

Follow me on Twitter @BrennerMichael.

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This article originally appeared on Forbes.

About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is the Head of Strategy for the leading content marketing platform, NewsCred. He is also the author of B2B Marketing Insider, a contributor to Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to B2B Marketing Insider by Email

10 Comments

  1. Dale Perryman said…

    I teach a class on influence without authority. It seems that many times we attempt to influence through Push strategies which include Assert (I need, I want) or Reasoning (Here’s why I need it).

    Whenever it’s not working we push harder. I think we need to sometimes use more Pull strategies which include Listening, Guiding, Asking Questions, etc.

    Thanks for the informing post.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Dale, I couldn’t agree more and that is exactly what I’m trying to drive and be an example for in my own marketing efforts.

  2. Eric Wittlake said…

    Michael, this really puts a point on the current discussion of influence. When marketers talk about reaching influencers, they are talking about gaining relevant reach. Influencers are just a reach mechanism in the Traackr model. (Reach is raw reach, relevance is targeting, and resonance indicates both the quality of the reach and the chance it reverberates far beyond the influencer, adding additional reach).

    Billy Beane continues to have a significant influence, but today’s influence measurements would completely overlook him as well as many others whose influence reverberates far beyond even their lives.

    So I would ask the question, as marketers, do we really care about long-term influence? Or is it just a new way to identify potential reach?

    Food for thought, and a potential future post…

    — @wittlake

    • Michael Brenner said…

      I just read mark Schaefer’s book on Influence and in it, Joe Fernandez and Mark both point out that Klout and the other systems are only measurements of ONLINE influence. So yes, Billy Beane would be overlooked because he is not as influential as these other folks. I think much of the debate on influence circles around this issue. I believe there is value in asking and seeking to answer the “online or digital influencer?” question but also seek to understand that with the caveat and in relation to REAL or total or long term influence.

  3. Larry Levy said…

    Michael,
    Great post and gets to the heart of what we at Appinions have been saying form months now… Contextual over Individual influence wins every time!

    Tonya Ries produced a great paper on this recently: http://appinions.com/guide-to-influence-measurement-tools/

    @wittlake – If your definition of long term is 3 months, then yes I believe we do care, as it allows marketers to sort the temporal from the earned influencers.

    Michael – Keep up this line of thinking – you’re absolutely on the right track…

    Larry

  4. “We have to understand what influences our audience” .. there’s so much more to that. Not just to reach or to market to them, it’s knowing why they did, bought, clicked, shared – the action as a result/effect of the influence. It’s understanding the motivation; was it just ‘popularity’ and peer pressure, or maybe they’re trying to manipulate someone else’s, or are they genuinely influenced? You are spot-on when you’re talking about context and sentiment; filter in those variables, you get entirely different results pass just vanity counts of online activity.

    Which bring up the offline factor – I am not that much of a tech dork but I’ve ‘sold’ more than a few people on Macs; I’m iPhone tech support/guru — and don’t even own one (iPad yes). I’ve got real influence there that hasn’t come from what I’ve blogged or Facebooked; that’s just a byproduct of people knowing I’m an Apple dork. ;-) How does an automated algorithm track or score that? And of course it’s a bad example, as Apple products sell themselves.

    I’ve got Mark’s book on the desk, WILL read it someday as I know there will be truth and value there; but like Moneyball (loved the movie) think it’s only a part of the equation. And if we get fixed on any particular set of stats, we might miss the broader – and better – picture. FWIW.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Davina, you are absolutely right. There is so much more to it and that was part of the reason for the post. I think you will enjoy the book and the concepts Mark presents.

  5. Stacy Ries said…

    Hi Michael –

    I enjoyed this post. I think the 3 Rs are key to using data effectively. Please share what you discover on this topic going forward. As a marketer in the trenches with customer facing campaigns, it is inspiring to get insights about how to improve the customer experience which will inherently make our campaigns more effective.

    Best,

    Stacy Ries

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