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Forget 'audience', 'unique visitors' and 'page views.' Thanks to social media, more and more brands are looking to base media buys on new metrics like 'influence.'

Take, for instance, the brands that are turning to the Influencer Network put together by Condé Nast's Vogue.

AdWeek describes the Influencer Network as "a panel of some 1,000 women deemed to have sway over other women, based on how active they are on social networks like Facebook and Polyvore, a fashion site where people create collages of outfits and share them with other members."

At Vogue's direction, this panel is ready to provide brands with feedback about products and services and help brands spread the word about their products and services. According to Vogue, eight brands have tapped the Influencer Network thus far.

But are those brands really getting the influence they're paying for?

Logically, how active a person is on social networks doesn't necessarily reflect the "sway" he or she has when it comes to influencing the actions of others.

Taking a look several of the Influencer Network members AdWeek profiles, three run websites on free blogging platforms (wordpress.com and blogger.com) and three have a relatively small number of Twitter followers.

Obviously, it would be wrong to assume that someone doesn't have any capacity to influence simply because she uses Blogger to blog, or because she has less than 500 followers. But brands shouldn't be naive.

Many an ad network has built up a sizable audience over the years by aggregating lots of small properties, many of questionable quality. Here, it seems that the new trend may be to use a similar tactic, but instead of selling an aggregated audience, the network will sell the notion that the network has somehow aggregated 'influence.'

For brands, buying a network that sells audience may be even less fruitful than buying one that sells influence.

After all, true influence is really hard to measure, and the metrics by which it is often measured seem subjective at best and totally bogus at worst.

At least when buying a network selling audience, brands could have some assurance that they were receiving the opportunity to reach a certain number of people, even if the properties they could reach them on were of poor quality. With influence networks, brands have to figure out for themselves what 'followers' and 'likes' mean.

Then there's the issue of how the supposed influence these networks provide is actually leveraged. These three posts from three of the 'influencers' in the Influencer Network all appear to be advertorials, and in my opinion, not very good ones at that.

Not only do they stand out as shill pieces, calling into question their potential efficacy, there is no disclosure that they're clearly advertorials, something which one would think ethically appropriate, government disclosure guidelines in place or not.

At the end of the day, smart brands will question whether or not 'influence' is little more than a buzz word used to sell unimpressive advertising offerings. By the look of things, that might just be the case.

Patricio Robles

Published 13 July, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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