There is a very productive conversation underway (with lots of debate) about the measurement of distributed influence in Social Media. Jim Tobin of Ignite Social Media added to the discussion this week. My comment on his post is quoted below. If you are interested, the discussion was started by Jonny Bentwood who introduced a concept called the Social Media Index. It widened the concept of influence beyond that of “only” blogs and its corresponding traditional measure of influence: links. He then published a whitepaper on distributed influence which Jim was responding to. If you like this discussion, you might also want to check out other thoughtful contributions on the subject from Kami Huyse, Jason Falls, Chris Newton, Clive Thompson.

My comment on Jim’s post:

Hey Jim,

You make excellent points. I think your point about context and topic is very central to this whole discussion. This is exactly how we approach influence at Radian6. Influence is context specific and topic specific, as you say. That is why our measurement of influence needs to be context-based (by topic) and not only personality-based. Now, there is a factor (let’s call it popularity instead of influence), where “by their nature” someone has a greater potential to become an on-topic influencer, but this potential does not make them an influencer (yet) until they become active in that topic and they begin to generate the conversational dynamics that demonstrate their influence (i.e. posts/memes, comments, unique commenter, on-topic links, engagement, etc.).

In terms of your proposed ideas, I would love to see this “white pages” directory materialize. There are several attempts underway (Spock, lifestreams/Tumblr, etc.), but none of them have tipped yet. In our monitoring tool, we already analyze contribution levels from multiple sources and measure topic/context-based influence down to a user level but each of your online personas would be identified and ranked independently. If we had such a directory, we could unify them in a snap. We are thinking through various ways extract these persona linkages, but a directory would be great, even if it was just a simple lookup.

Marcel LeBrun CEO, Radian6