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Jan. 8 2010 - 4:15 pm | 832 views | 1 recommendation | 5 comments

Tracking Your Every Move on Social Media: Are You An Influencer?

DownloadedFileOk, so what is the difference between “search” and “social media” marketing? It takes so little lately to make me feel like a dinosaur. I vaguely get this: people are bouncing around between Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google to find everything from a job to a date to a product—but I wasn’t really sure how this could be used to market anything, at least market in some systematic, strategic way.

And then I read a post from Ben Straley who started a company called MeteorSolutions, that said many websites are reporting that more than 20 percent of their inbound traffic comes from “shared links” that people pass along via social networks—that’s when you Tweet or Facebook something you find noteworthy.  Straley says his clients want to know how they can track  that  word-of-mouth, pass-this-along stuff to figure out if it’s generating some business. Social media activity, says Straley, drives “a huge increase in searchable and lined content about your brand.” People share links with friends, talk about you on blogs (like I am), wind up following you on Twitter, buying your book on Amazon and before you know it… well, sales are up. Or followers.

Straley’s Seattle-based company MeteorSolutions is garnering some attention for its technology. The company tracks something it calls “earned media,” which it defines as “your content, shared by customers through email, blogs and the social web. You can buy as many banner ads as you want, but when your visitors share your message for you…that’s earned media.” Earned media is, essentially, what people are saying about a particular brand, product or event, in real time. Meteor has a proprietary technology that uses something called “tracking scripts” to (according to its website):

monitor the “pass-along” of content from one person to another via links on web pages, bookmarks, email messages, instant messenger and mobile devices. As tracked content is shared between friends, on blogs, and within communities, Meteor Tracker generates a sharing graph that identifies each “node” (unique visitor) within the graph and captures every site visit generated through each individual source.

The company tags each visitor to a  website and then tracks whomever they tell about your site as well as how they share links and content. These people virally evangelizing for you are known as “influencers,” according to the company. Sounds slightly Orwellian, yes, but Straley told SmartMoney.com this week that the information he tabulates for companies is “dense enough to be useful but lacks personally identifiable traits.” And he has said that this tracking of word-of-mouth content allows a company to then buy keywords associated with a particular ongoing conversation about a product, topic, event, whatever, driving even more traffic their way.

Yes, it’s insanely granular, in that the company can track who passes particular links and what happens to that information afterwards. Of course as soon as the conversation is over or dies down, it’s onto the next micro-trend, and the next, and a never-ending stream of watching and following, watching and following.  Which, frankly, sounds exhausting.  Then again, it might be important. This week writer Diana Ransom, writing in SmartMoney.com, explained it this way:

When social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter reached a critical mass of users, business owners saw dollar signs. 

The sites not only allowed owners to reach hundreds of existing and potential customers, they provided a fun – and free – way for owners to communicate with customers. Still, figuring out whether a company’s social networking efforts are working has been tough, especially since there isn’t an exact science to measure the results.

MeteorSolutions is clearly just the beginning of our attempt to quantify the value generated by social media activities.


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    I'm a freelance journalist based in San Diego, Calif. I do a lot of business writing but also write about education, family life, social issues and politics. I have an interest in companies doing innovative work in science and technology. Over the years my work has been published in a variety of national publications, including The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor, Self, Glamour, Psychology Today, CNNMoney.com, FORTUNE Small Business Magazine, Slate.com, Salon.com and others. I write a monthly column in the Sunday New York Times Business section called "Career Couch."

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