Laurie Ruettimann, The Cynical Girl

Last night, I started wondering why Laurie Ruettimann isn’t at the top of all of the influence lists we publish. There’s something wrong with any measure of influence that misses key industry players and their contributions, I thought to myself.

Laurie’s traffic and follower counts are enormous. Any time she takes a position, it creates a conversation. And, she knows, better than almost anyone out there, how to build a conversation into something that’s interesting to read.

And, she’s everywhere.

It’s hard to imagine a more successful social media brand development than the work that Laurie has done over the past several years. She saw the opportunity, got there first, experimented broadly (and continues to) and routinely sets a role model for one form of social media celebrity.

Wondering whether there is something wrong when she’s not on the top of the list seems like a fair question.

I was prompted to think harder about this when I received an invitation to join mBlast, another new service that measures social media influence. Built for Marketing and PR folks, mBlast’s service mPact is designed with all of the reporting and analysis tools you’d need to manage marketing campaigns for and about influencers.

(At least part of the market’s curiosity about influence has to do with consumer buying behavior. The idea is that there are some people whose recommendations the market will follow and that you can identify them by examining their social media footprint. The notion, which works well in the consumer universe, is somewhat less applicable in a B2B setting. Commercial purchasing is not quite as impulse driven as consumer behavior.)

I opened an account on mBlast. Not only wasn’t Laurie on the list, I couldn’t find anyone I’d ever even heard of. The primary categories of Human Resources and Recruiting were completely dominated by voices far outside the industry. With a little tweaking (the service allows very modest filtering), I was able to create a list that included Jessica Miller Merrell and John Zappe along with the swarm of other journalists I’d never heard of.

mpact by mblast - online influence

A search for "Talent Management" on mBlast produced a few familiar names. Josh Bersin, John Sullivan, Jessica Miller-Merrell and John Ingham showed up sandwiched between writers in the general industry press. Still, no Laurie, no Kevin Grossman, no Sarah White, no usual suspects.

mBlast is showing something really important about the HR idea marketplace. It extends way beyond the confines of our little echo chamber. HR issues are critical in all businesses and the general trade press cover unemployment, recruiting, talent management, training, succession planning, compensation, performance management, labor markets, skills deficits, talent wars and a host of HR issues.

They just don’t read the crap from the insiders.

So I don’t wear out my welcome, I’m going to jump straight to the conclusion. The measurement of influence (and the very meaning of that effort) is still in its infancy. In each arena I’ve mentioned (Laurie’s world, the HRExaminer Influence lists, the mBlast service), people are definitely influencing other people. It seems like the closer you get to the core of the industry, the less that keywords capture the essence of the conversation.

So, you might imagine that imagine that three hunks of audience segmentation are beginning to be observed (there are probably many more)

  • General Influencers: captured by mBlast. Talk about business issues in consumer publications. The public’s source of insight on key HR issues. These are the influencers you discover when searching through general news.
  • Buyer/Silo Influencers: captured by HRExaminer/Traackr Influencer Lists. Very specific clusters of industry jargon as key words. These are the people you will discover in Google when you research a silo.
  • User/Practitioner Influencers: not effectively captured yet.

The Laurie Ruettimann case suggests that there is probably a better way to think about some forms of influence.

If I were going to design a tool that effectively captured what Laurie does, it would look at her audience, not her work. Understanding the orientation and professional roles of her audience is the best way of gauging what she is doing. At the practitioner level, the silo specific language disappears and lively conversation takes its place.

It will be another couple of years before the influence measurers can get there.

  • John… I read your post about 4 times (and parts of more) – just to be sure I’m understanding the point you’re making.  I’m still not sure I do but I’ll give you my 2 cents (.85 cents in today’s economy.)  

    The question I think you’re asking is: “why isn’t someone who, by all “measures” of social connectiveness is very, very connected and popular showing up on the lists that purport to highlight those that influence a space using similar “measures.”  At least I think that’s the question you’re asking.

    If I got that part right I’d suggest the following…

    You said:  “It seems like the closer you get to the core of the industry, the less that keywords capture the essence of the conversation.”  But in a paragraph before that you said:
    “HR issues are critical in all businesses and the general trade press cover unemployment, recruiting, talent management, training, succession planning, compensation, performance management, labor markets, skills deficits, talent wars and a host of HR issues.”

    Isn’t the real problem the definition of the “core?”  How can you find any meaningful influence when the “core” is made up of what looks to be at least 11 different – and potentially – unconnected topics.  I say unconnected because they only connect inside HR – not necessarily in the world of those who are looking for information.  

    In other words, a Manager of Operations may be looking for information on performance management but not on succession planning – therefore, in the influence metrics and social networks they may not be connecting to those that cover both – only those that cover the one element they are interested in – and that person may cover it in greater depth and more often than the generalist would.  Therefore, they would be more influencial.

    What that says to me – is that there is really a two-step influence graph.  The “inner circle” of HR,  (a much smaller group, therefore less influence on the total population) comprised of members who are worried about all the topics you listed as “core” to their needs and will be looking at the people you’ve outlined.  

    Then you have the next circle (a much bigger circle – member count wise) – those that specialize in a specific area of the HR space that may be of interest to the general business population (a much, much bigger circle.)

    Therefore – since each successive circle encompasses more people they can have more of an affect on the score of a particular influencer.  

    As the circle size increase – the scope of the topic actually get’s narrower – and therefore the role of the generalist becomes less influencial on the bigger audience since they are looking for information from specialists – who are looking at the core group (a much smaller group)

    At least I think that is something to consider.  Or… it just might be early and I might be an idiot.  Both of which at times are very true.

  • Thanks, Paul.

    It’s a big topic and learning about it means being confused. I recently
    heard someone say that learning requires that you are willing to be
    uncomfortable. I think that’s right and that it’s one of the most overlooked
    components of the HR universe: that it requires being uncomfortable to be

    You’ve summarized my readiness to learn pretty well. I think that’s how
    great conversations get started and I really appreciate the energy you put
    into thinking and writing about this.

  • John, your observations about influence or lack-of in the HR space are correct and something we at have been noticing and thinking about for months now. We’ve also thoroughly analyzed mBlast since it launched several months ago – along with similar services which frankly, are to overwhelming to be of much practical use in your day-to-day HR marketing and pr. In short, when it comes to influence, this is what we’ve found:- Influencers come and go – Some of the biggest influencers never make “top” lists- There are powerful influencers within really small groups spread out all over the place – their not on anyone’s radar. – There is no “top ##” influencer list in “HR”. The list changes by topic and time – Many people outside “HR” influence HR – sometimes more so. It’s not HR, it’s B2B.As a result of these changes our approach at HRmarketer was to build a “social voices” database made up of people who are discussing topics relevant to HR. We’ll launch this in the Fall and it will include several thousand (to start with) “voices” in the broader B2B space of HR, IT, Finance, etc. who are discussing HR and related topics on their social sites (Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, FB, etc.).  This database was purposely not called social influencers because “influence” as you know is an arbitrary term – everyone influences. We also wanted to distinguish this group from legitimate journalists and analysts (who we already maintain databases for). The real value of this new HR and B2B social voices database is the algorithm we’ve developed to analyze the “conversation” amongst these voices to uncover trends and identify, at any given time, WHO is driving conversations amongst the vast world of HR and B2B and what topics are hot. You can also segment data and “influencers” by a whole host of industry niches, geographic zones, etc. And as your article suggests, the influencers aren’t who you think 🙂 Fun stuff.Anyway, great discussion topic. I’ll share more as we approach launch. 

    – Mark Willaman, CEO, HRmarketer

  • Gaurav Kapil

    Hi John,
    My college Director once mentioned that a Research is read only by researcher himself, peer-reviewers and editor of journal. Not to be rude but a lot of HR stuff I read these days is good to read, good to listen, good to implement but rarely are core issues.

    When an outsider comes to HR there is only one wish that is ‘how soon can I get over with this’. I do not think people are interested in what HR says. I mean do you really read all those mails/brochures even from honest retailers? Instead we should help people to let them do their best. I’m really been influenced by ‘One Page Talent Management’ because that book dealt with so many core issues.

    Even buzz around social media is like debate on TV, good to listen, good to see, and damn easy to forget. People will remember it only when they’ll see sincere ROI in it.

  • Well Said Mark  — Especially the following Some of the biggest influencers never make “top” lists- There are
    powerful influencers within really small groups spread out all over the
    place – their not on anyone’s radar. – There is no “top ##” influencer
    list in “HR”. The list changes by topic and time – Many people outside
    “HR” influence HR – sometimes more so. It’s not HR, it’s B2B.

    and — the influencers aren’t who you think 🙂  — Very poignant comments and very true.

    Penelope Trunk proved that “popularity” and lot’s of followers doesn’t create a reason to keep an individual around.  She and many were shocked when Yahoo fired her, inspight of her Hundreds of comments every day.  

    Content, participation in the industry, and experience does play a huge role to gain Industry trust and respect!

    It is true though, that Popularity does gain a lot of friends 😉

  • Anonymous

    Hey John,

    Interesting topic, I of course see Laurie all over the place as well…here’s my thing again, Reach and Influence are two different things..certainly one contributes to the other but it’s hard to measure influence in a quantitative way without mass media mind reading machines (and I’m sure those have not been invented yet).  Just my two cents.

  • In the olden days, before the World Wide InterWeb, most “experts” in any field actually became experts because they worked in their field, and more than likely went to school studying the field they eventually went into to work in. They then worked in their field for many, many years, maybe started speaking locally then nationally, wrote papers and got published, wrote books and got published, became a “talking head” analyst in their industry appearing on news and radio and cable access shows, and then most likely called in to consult with organizations.

    All because they were the experts in their field. All because they actually worked in their field for some significant length of time (10,000 hours maybe?). Old school expertise generated tons of qualitative and quantitative influence. Broad generalization, yes, but predominantly true until now. And unless you were/are a grifter, which unfortunately goes hand in hand with “now”.

    Online social influence is important today and has it’s place, especially in recruiting and marketing, but it shouldn’t be confused with sound industry expertise, and I have to agree with Dr. Wendell Williams on the fact that online influence has gotten messy and misleading, dangerous even, particularly in a world where we assume everything we find on Wikipedia has been vetted and verified. Influence doesn’t mean expertise, and fortunately Gaurav’s also right about a lot of industry influence these days, and not just in the HR B2B marketplace — good to read, easy to forget. Unfortunately search engines do not forget.

    I do agree with you, John. Analyzing the influencers’ audience is critical, not just for influence origin’s sake to understand the “what” and “why”, but from a marketing perspective as well, because then it becomes a targeting exercise and whether or not I’m playing in the right social “talent/buyer” pool. I believe that’s why HR B2B suppliers are still flailing when it comes to social media marketing; they’re trying to leverage the online influencers’ influence directly, without really understanding the level of expertise that exists or doesn’t, as well as engaging the influencers’ audience and who they are — the practitioners, the buyers — who today overlap all lines of business, not just literally the HR/recruiting silos.

    Writing about something a lot online maybe get you noticed, and no matter how smart or irreverent someone is online, as long as you’re still working in and with your field to some degree, then you’re a relevant influencer and your audience is going to be relevant.

    Maybe not an expert per se, but relevant. And that’s enough qualitative and quantitative influence for me as an HR B2B social voice and marketplace evangelist.

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  • Who is Laurie Ruettimann?

  • Hey John, when are you going to design an influence measuring tool?  I’d buy it.

  • Hmmmm.

  • Jason Martinez

    IMO she needs to get her act together…I sent in for an autographed photo months ago and am still waiting!

  • John, I agree with your point. Measuring influence is not an exact science, and lists are great but all too often leave out top influencers. I am quite surprised at any HR/Talent Management list that does have Laurie, Evil HR Lady or Steve Browne on it.

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