Augie Ray: PeerIndex, Influence and the “Magic Middle”: Insights from CEO Azeem Azhar

We like Azeem. A straight-talking guy who doesn’t pretend PeerIndex is something it’s not. Here’s a recent interview with him, covered by ‘Experience: The Blog: Social Experiences that Build Brands’:

Influence is a term that is tossed around a lot in social media circles and is done so quite lightly. People pursue and grow their influence, brands want to leverage influencers and a new breed of tools strives to define influence and identify influencers. But influence has always been a slippery concept, defying easy definitions and metrics. To learn more, I interviewed Azeem Azhar, founder and CEO of PeerIndex (PI), a technology company that applies a scientific approach to the problem of influence. (If you’re not familiar with PI, you can check out my public PeerIndex profile here.)

Ironically, Azeem starts by tossing the term “influence” into the trashcan. “In a broad generic sense we know what we mean by influence, but in a specific sense it truly breaks down.” Instead of the term “influencer,” he prefers to use “peer opinion leader.” Azeem notes that opinions matter, but only the opinions from people others find trustworthy within specific domains of interest. “Expertise and influence rarely cross boundaries,” he says, although Azeem notes there are exceptions to the rule–polymaths such as Paul Kedrosky who manage to earn high topic PI scores across a range of very diverse topics.

While there are those who seek to game influence and amass tens of thousands of followers in automated ways, none of that delivers true influence or opinion leadership. “Simplistic counting mechanisms that reward the inane and popular do not reflect the discrimination with which most people and businesses make decisions,” Azeem notes.

PeerIndex’s solution to this problem is to separate the social media signals that are “cheap” from the ones that are “expensive.” “Following someone on Twitter is cheap. Retweeting a tweet to all your followers is expensive because you impose a cost on them. Getting a smart, busy, respected person to retweet a tweet of yours is even harder and more expensive.

Originally published 26 May 2011 on Experience: The Blog

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