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Podcast with Traackr Chief Business Developer, Derek Skaletsky

Derek Skaletsky Derek Skaletsky

When I interviewed David Meerman Scott about his book World Wide Rave, he told me the story of Cindy Gordon vice president of New Media and Marketing Partnerships at Universal Orlando Resort. Cindy was in charge of creating a global marketing campaign to promote the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park. She could have spent millions. Instead, she told just seven people. And those seven people told tens of thousands. Gordon estimates that 350 million people around the world heard about the new "Wizarding World" all by telling seven people.

Welcome to a Online Strategy Channel of TotalPicture Radio with Peter Clayton reporting. Last week' John Sumser from HRExaminer published his latest Top 25 List of Online Influencers. A key element in HRExaminer's Top 25 Lists is Traackr's Online Authority List -- a list of individuals steering online conversations about a specific market or topic. Traackr scans the social web to identify the most influential and most relevant people online. Joining us today is Derek Skaletsky Chief Business Developer at Traackr.

In a recent post on Traackr's blog' titled "Is marketing entering a Post-Demographic Era?"' Derek poses the following question: "Let's pretend that you are a marketing exec at a packaged goods company which is on the verge of launching a new, unique laundry detergent. Now let's pretend that I have put together two distinct groups of people to which you could market — but you can only choose one. The first group is made up of women' aged 25-45 with an average of 1.7 children and average HH incomes above $75k. The other group is made up of people who are all passionate about laundry and other household chores. Which group would you pick?"

This podcast is sponsored by JobsinPods.com the podcast for employers,  recruiters, staffing agencies  use to go viral!

Traackr is a technology company dedicated to locating' scoring and ranking the web's top influencers in an infinite variety of topics and markets. Very soon' this service will become an essential part of any and every PR or marketing campaign. Traackr's proprietary social media search and scoring technology represents the most powerful and effective influencer solution on the market today.

"Discussions on brands are no longer controlled by marketers. Influential bloggers, reviewers, gamers and digital creators are now at the center of these exchanges. These online influencers mastered the art of capturing the attention of an audience and sparking conversations on the web around issues' products and brands they care about. What started as a counter-culture is now making an imprint on society and the economy."

"Communication professionals realize that they have to acknowledge these exceptional media contributors find a way to collaborate with online influencers. New opportunities are emerging for those ready to lead the transition from "paid" to "earned" media." Source: Traackr

Interview Transcript

Peter: Welcome to an Online Strategy channel podcast on TotalPicture Radio. This is Peter Clayton reporting. Last week, John Sumser from HR Examiner published his top 25 list of online influencers. A key element in HR Examiner's top 25 list is the Traackr's Online Authority List – a list of individuals steering online conversations about a specific market or topic. Traackr scans the social web to identify the most influential and most relevant people online.

Joining us today is Derek Skaletsky, chief business developer at Traackr.

Derek, welcome to TotalPicture Radio.

Derek: Thank you very much.

Peter: Quoting from your website, Traackr measures the online media footprint of influencers and provides a way to reach out to them. Can you give us an overview of your process and just tell us a little bit about what you guys are doing?

Derek: Yeah' sure. Quick back on Traackr – Traackr started with the kind of a fundamental belief that people were what was most important – individuals were most important about the web or will be most important in the near and distant future more so than specific pieces of content, which is kind of how the web is indexed now. What we're really set out to do was figure out a way to find those influential people and determine their level of influence online in certain topic areas or within a certain context.

The way that our process works in a nutshell is – it's a web search essentially it's keyword based. You set up a list of keywords, which are relevant to the topic in which you're trying to find influences, and we launch two simultaneous searches, really. The first search is of our own database. Right now we have a database of influencers which we track individual people across their whole social media footprint' meaning whatever they publish online and we track all their performing staff and their content over time. The first search that we do is of our own database.

The second search we do is of the web. We tap into all the social web platforms in Twitter, in the blogs, in the Facebook, in the YouTube, etc., and we look for content matches using those keywords. Once we find those content matches, we look for the author behind them – when I say "we" I mean our engine looks for the author behind then and then once it finds the author it goes back out into the social web and aggregates up their full profile and figures out how often they talk about that subject. Then we will return to essentially a list of people who are talking about that subject. Once we have that, we can then go in and we can pull their performance statistics from each of those platforms and those statistics are what give us the basis for our influence scores and metrics.

Peter: If I understand this correctly, you're able to actually spider deep into a site like LinkedIn and figure out who is talking about that stuff, whatever the topic is?

Derek: Yeah, certain platforms are tougher than others. LinkedIn is a closed network. It's a lot tougher to mine contents specifically on LinkedIn because it's a closed network, but we can do a little bit of it. Same with Facebook – we can only get public Facebook data because Facebook is closed. If the user chooses to be closed in Facebook, we can't access their content.

Peter: How about Twitter?

Derek: Twitter is fine. Twitter is obviously very open. Twitter is probably the most open of any other platforms, so we can get a lot of information from Twitter.

Peter: Okay Derek, let's drill down a little bit more on the methodology Traackr uses, which as you point out, consists of searching and identifying and qualifying and reporting. From my perspective, the first two seemed quite easy – the spider and find these people, but how do you qualify and how do you make sure that the people that you're presenting as these top influencers are not just SEO whores?

Derek: {Laughs} My first two thoughts is the first two pieces are really not easy. Searching the web is not easy. I always describe it as a big ocean of dirty water. Figuring out how to search the web is not easy and then figuring out how to kind of re-index the web is what we're doing by person. Right now, the web is organized by individual pieces of content and then further organized by individual pieces of content on siloed platforms. What we're trying to do is kind of re-index the web by person and that's a really challenging process and we still struggle with it a lot. I think we're the best of anyone doing it, but it's still a challenge on a daily basis. That's the identifying piece.

The qualifying piece is actually relative to the search and identified piece is probably easier because once we find a person, then we have the ability to get stats on each one of those persons' profiles and then it's a matter of coming up with the right algorithm to try and estimate an influence score.

The question about how do we know they're not SEO whores; the answer is SEO whores are difficult to spot sometimes. Sometimes they are. In our algorithm, we have some spam flags. If there are certain things that show up as a flag for us, then we flag them and we can exclude them and blacklist them. We do that along the way. We do have some kind of our own spam filters in our algorithm, but other than that, it can be a challenge.

Everyone in our database has been vetted and been flagged as legitimate. The results from the web, however, do still need to be vetted so there are still people at Traackr that eyeball the results of a search and vet the results to make sure they're not letting spammers and content aggregators, they're probably what you're referring to as SEO whores because they are just really hard to spot and hard to catch.

Yeah, that's why before we deliver a list to a client there's someone at Traackr that actually looks at it and makes sure that all the people on there that are legit.

Peter: Let's spend a little bit of time talking about the last project you did for HR Examiner, which was the top online influencers and leadership. John came to you with a keyword list he developed with the help of Dr. Todd Dewett, a professor at Wright State University and expert on leadership. You have this awesome keyword list. Now what? What happens next?

Derek: The next step is what I described earlier is we would launch a search using those keywords. The first thing again we would do is search our own database. Is there anyone in our database that use these keywords and then we would pull the people that are using those and then we combine those with the results that we get from the web. We would go out and actually each keyword is an individual search across all those platforms. We'd search Twitter and blogs and YouTube, etc. for each individual keyword and then what happens is all those results come back and our engine then says are any of these the same authors talking about this stuff? Aggregate up those profiles and then it comes out with a scored list which says here are all the people talking about it. The people that talk about it more often will have a higher relevance score to the topic, so they may bubble up higher on the list.

One thing I should say is we have three metrics that we use to what I say triangulate into a score of influence. As you know, there's really no quantitative score of influence or one single quantitative metric that defines influence. We use three scores to kind of triangulate into influence. One is reach, which is essentially a measure of popularity – how big your audience is.

The second is resonance. That's a measure of how much activity you create when you publish. So when you publish, are people linking back to it? Are they commenting on it? Are they re-tweeting it? Are they rating it? etc.

Third is the measure of relevance. How relevant are you to this topic, and that's based on how often do you use those keywords in your content. Those three metrics together go into what we consider an influence ranking.

Peter: Okay Derek, as John and I discussed the folks you would expect to see on this list – John Cotter, Warren Bennis, Jack Welch, Tony Robbins, Marshall Goldsmith, David Rock, Daniel Goleman – they're not here. Tom Peters is really the only name that is in the top-paid keynote speakers and best selling authors' club that's on this list. How do you explain this?

Derek: The simple explanation is we measure online influence. We aren't able to measure any kind of offline influence for anybody. The classic example I give is Steve Jobs. There's probably no one more influential in the world of both technology and entertainment than Steve Jobs' but he doesn't publish anything online' so we would never find him. He would never make a Traackr influencer list.

I want to make sure that you understand that we are measuring online influences; these are people that are publishing online on a consistent basis that we would find and rank.

A lot of times what we find is online influence is a good proxy for offline influence and today, it's a pretty good proxy for offline influence. Five years from now, I think it's going to be a really good proxy for total offline influence and ten years from now it will be a great proxy.

Peter: Traackr works its magic, the list comes back, and guess who's on it? John Sumser. He freaks out, tells you guys to get him off the list. He's not a leadership expert. In fact, only a handful of people on this list are what you would identify as leadership coaches or experts in leadership. That begs the question – what makes this relevant?

Derek: Who's to say that John is not a leading voice in leadership? Who's to say that if John talks about leadership, he's not going to steer some opinions and drive some decision? And that's what these lists are all about. Just to be clear, it's also based on the keywords in the search. You may have a different set of keywords that you think define influence in the leadership world and that may produce some different results.

We really believe that influence is totally contextual and someone may be highly influential when it comes to leadership studies, but may be not influential at all when it comes to indie rock bands. Within each niche, there's different ways you can slice it based on what keywords you use to drive the search.

We at Traackr try and be as unbiased as possible. We really want to put ourselves in a position, we are technology solution supporting people doing this kind of work and their bias – they can bring their bias to the keyword list and we'll produce an unbiased report off that. Based on the keywords they use, these are the people that are driving the conversations and driving, hopefully, decisions and opinions on this subject online.

Peter: Let's take this one step further; let's say I was marketing a conference on leadership, is this a list of people I'd want to promote my event to?

Derek: I would actually say this is a list of people that you should want to help you promote your event. You'd want to promote to their audiences. Each person is an individual, so there are different ways that these people would be helpful for you. There are some people that might be great speakers. There are some people that would be great promoters of the event. There are some people that may be great advisory board members for your event. That's where the qualitative layer comes into this. We generally produce the data and the results and our clients are the ones that are adding a qualitative layer on top of that and saying how do I take action on this? How do I engage these people? Where would he be most helpful for me? Where would she be most helpful? That's something that's really our clients' job to figure out the best way to – I don't want to say use these people, but the best ways to collaborate with these people.

Peter: Talking old school marketing PR here Derek, I can envision some Ad agency guy saying to you "Give me Jack Welch on Good Morning America and he'll sell a hundred times more tickets than all of your bloggers put together." How do you respond to that kind of thing?

Derek: In that case, I'd say let's do it. I'll take that challenge in that specific case. I always say this is one piece of marketing communication, advertising – this is one piece of it; it is not the be all end all but Jack Welch on GMA may be another good piece of your marketing mix for that particular project or event. I'm not saying it's a bad solution. I don't know that Jack… I would argue that he would not be hundred times more successful on GMA for this particular event, but it might be a good way to do it.

I mean, marketers and advertisers are all starting to realize that this online world isn't going away and it's only getting bigger. They're having to learn how to work it into their mix in a much bigger way everyday. My short answer is – Jack may help you as well, but I wouldn't disregard the power of online influencers at all.

Peter: Which all sort of lead up to your recent blog post on Traackr titled Is Marketing Entering a Post-Demographic Era? Well Derek, is it? Is the old school of reaching a certain demographic by age and income and geography, has that become irrelevant?

Derek: My argument in the post-demographic era is actually – it's not actually a new argument; people have been trying to figure out better ways of predicting buying behavior other than demographics for a long time. I mean, psychographics is a whole new school trying to improve on the demographic context.

My theory is that demographics – ultimately what you want to do is get a better bang for your marketing or advertising buck. You want to market to the people that are going to lead to higher sales conversion rates for your products or your business. Demographics was an old school way of predicting someone's interest, which in theory would predict their buying behavior.

My point now is that demographics are becoming less and less irrelevant. I don't think they're completely irrelevant right now and I think you need to think about that as you're marketing a product, but I do not think that they are as important as they were ten years ago or even five years ago. I think five years from now, they'll even be less relevant because now as the digital natives and as the digital natives really – I think they're starting college pretty soon – they're going to be online and they're going to be producing content online and they're going to be expressing, conversing,and collaborating online. With tools like Traackr and others, if you can find a way to understand our interest directly, then that will be a much greater predictor of their purchasing or consuming behavior than any demographic.

Peter: You know, Derek, when I interviewed John about the influencers list and after spending some time on your website and reading your blog, I thought of this interview that I did with David Meerman Scott about a book he wrote called The World Wide Rave. One of the things he told me about was this marketer, Cindy Gordon, who is vice president of new media and marketing at Universal Orlando Resort. She was tasked with creating a global marketing campaign for the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Of course, this is Universal Studios and Warner Brothers and she could have spent millions of dollars, but instead, what she did is she went out and found the seven most influential bloggers and fan sites for Harry Potter and she connected with those folks and set up a private screening for them with the folks who were developing this new park with the designer who is actually the designer on the Harry Potter movies. Those seven people were responsible for telling hundreds of thousands of people through their fan sites and blogs.

As a matter of fact, Cindy Gordon estimates 350 million people around the world heard the news that Universal Orlando Resort was creating the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park through these seven bloggers. It's just a phenomenal story.

I think that's fascinating.

Derek: I wish we had worked on that because I think that's exactly the type of work that we do and our clients are doing and it has really been brilliant. It's great to watch. That's a great story, I didn't know it. I'll have to read that.

Peter: To wrap up here Derek, other than John's top 25 list, can you share with us some of the projects that Traackr has worked on and perhaps some of the takeaways from some of your clients and what their objectives were?

Derek: Yes, and most of our clients are communications agencies, for the most part. We do some work with brands directly. It's really great because they're doing all kinds of different things. We work with small niche technology clients, all the way to Honda and other big consumer brands and they're doing all kinds of different things. We also do some works in politics for people who are trying to find the most influential voices in a certain topic area or perhaps one issue in a certain state to help support their campaign.

The Universal example you just gave reminded me of our Honda example and it's actually a good counter to your Jack Welch question.

When we worked at Honda' they were launching the Insight in the UK – their hybrid car in the UK, and it was during the economic mess. Honda had cut all TV advertising for the launch of this car. It was the first time ever Honda has launched a car without any TV ad support. The agencies and the Honda's marketing department really had to figure out had to get this car out with no TV ad support. We worked with them and they got top 100 list of hybrid car influencers. There are two great stories that came out of it… well there's a bunch, but the first one was just like you said, the list that they got was really two different lists. It was one that were car influencers in general and then there were other green technology influencers.

They went out first with the same kind of messaging package and same offer to all the people, which was test drives the hybrid and all this stuff. The car influencers responded pretty well. However, the green technology influencers didn't respond at all. When Honda asked us why they weren't responding, we said' "I don't know' why don't you ask them?"

They reached out and they asked a few of them why they didn't respond to their offer and their messaging and the green tech people said, "We don't drive cars. We don't really care about how the car drives. I don't want to drive the car. What I care about is what's behind the car and what's driving your fuel efficiency technology and what your 10-year road map is to improve in fuel efficiency and move totally to electric eventually…" blah' blah blah.

Honda said wow okay. They ended up inviting several of those influencers and they flew them to Japan to Honda's head research facility and they met with engineers and they got a glimpse into Honda's 10-year plan for technology, etc., etc. And then they got tremendous response from that community because it was what they were interested in.

Then the second story that came out of that was one of the top influencers for the Honda Insight in the UK was this guy named Bobby Llewellyn who at the time had a really popular YouTube show where he interviewed B-level celebrities in his car as he drove around London. He set up a camera on the dashboard and he interviewed a celebrity as he drove around the streets of London, and he drove a Prius. That's why he came up on our search because he loved his Prius and he talked a lot about his Prius and at that time, he was the most re-tweeted person on Twitter that we had come across.

He had a huge audience online both from his YouTube show and his Twitter account, very, very popular, very loyal, and he loved his Prius and he talked a lot about it. When he came up on our search, Honda said, "This doesn't make any sense, he's not a car guy, he's not a green tech guy' why?" They thought our search was broken. When we said to them no, this is why he came up because he talked about his Prius and that was one of the keywords that they used to drive the search, their eyes lit up and they said, "Oh my god' well, what do we do with this?" and we said,"Send him a car. He does his show from his car."

They did. They sponsored a show for a couple of weeks and they sent him an Insight and he did the show from the Insight and he talked about the Insight a bunch and it was a huge hit for Honda. The end story is they ended up opening and launching the Insight again without TV ads and beating the Prius in the UK, becoming #1 hybrid car in the UK, which is only the second country that that has ever been achieved for the Insight.

That was a really good campaign for a lot of reasons for Honda. Your Universal example reminded me of that.

Peter: That's a great story and it really shows how things have shifted, especially for the Gen-Yers, correct? How much time do Gen-Yers spend watching TV?

Derek: Exactly. I mean the digital natives – and I forget exactly how old they are now – but they're approaching college and so this is what they know. Kids that are born today won't even know or hardly know what it's like to watch TV on a television screen.

Peter: That's a good thing. Well Derek, thanks again for taking time to speak with us on TotalPicture Radio. It has really been interesting to learn about what you guys are up to there at Traackr, which by the way is Traackr.com.

Derek: Thanks Peter, I appreciate it.

Peter: We'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this podcast. Visit Derek's feature page in the Online Savvy Channel of TotalPicture Radio. That's TotalPictureRadio.com to voice your opinion.

This is Peter Clayton reporting. Thank you for tuning into TotalPicture Radio, the voice of career and leadership acceleration.

Peter Clayton

About Peter Clayton

Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.


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