Social Media Influencers are not Traditional Influencers


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Guest post by Damien Basille, follow him on Twitter | Read his blog

As more and more brands are moving all of their ad spend online, defining how influence affects their return on investment is necessary and must be done as soon as possible. While some are making inroads to define these calculations many are overlooking the fact that influence affects everything. Without factoring in the real issue of different types of influence you run into a number of problems, for instance focusing on one group of influencers over another or getting broad sweeping numbers instead of knowing exactly how effective your time and money has been spent on the proper target. One thing that usually doesn’t sync up here is that these online influencers with large followings are not the offline influencers.

People with social media influence are able to spread brand messages and have their audiences actually absorb it. To get things done one thing is for sure: the more influence you have the better. While it is important to be able to have your message spread far and wide to the right people it’s also equally if not more important to influence others offline. Generally people who are extremely influential offline fly under the radar online and are able to get things done this way.

Most of the time these people aren’t even online. Their offline networks are created so that they don’t need to be online. Some industries don’t necessarily need to be networking the way you and I may. When these offline influencers are online their follower numbers tend to be smaller and more concentrated. Why is that?

Online Influencers

What these people know is that while it’s important to have a large network to spread a message as wide as possible it’s even more important to have a smaller more concentrated network to make things happen. It’s the age old axiom of quality versus quantity. My answer to that is that it’s quantity of quality.

The one question you need to ask yourself is this: what is my purpose for connecting? Connecting just to connect is aimless. The reason the offline influencers command more influential ears is that they know their time is valuable so they make sure every connection has a purpose.

Every person in your life you connect to should have a purpose. Look at your 4 closest friends. Where they are will accurately reflect where and who you are. Ask yourself where you want to be successful in and focus on that. Both online and offline influencers know where they are successful because they concentrate on those areas.

Offline Influencers

What’s rarely seen is someone with a large online presence conveying an equal or greater command with influencers offline. Sure it’s been known to happen but not often. What happens with many online influencers is that their online influence starts to transcend these nonphysical boundaries and move into the physical world.

When this happens they may be able to wow the crowd but the savvy businessman will be able to spot a charlatans a mile away. Not to say that all those transcending are charlatans but what tends to happen is that because they can influence a crowd they think they can influence the boardroom. These two types of influence are not the same and take two different sets of skills.

Being able to influence C-level executives is different than getting a consumer to purchase a product. Sure the idea behind it is the same but you have to be able to speak not just two totally different languages. In fact each of those two languages are two different dialects.

The Influential Divide

Therein lies the problem with influence grading programs. While they try to ascertain digital influence this is still only a part of the picture. Even if you don’t factor in offline influence into the equation you still are left with a blanket influence grade. There’s all sorts of different types of online influence as I’ve talked about above, but let’s just only focus on the ‘big numbers’ influence for a moment.

Every influential person with large follower numbers interacting online in social media spaces are not doing so in the same way. Some of them aren’t even influential. But for the ones who are influential even they have different nuances in what they focus on. Programs can’t ever capture tactics, strategies, interactions and general feel of someone’s value. While someone may be 80% mass influencer and 20% executive influencer, grading programs can’t capture the secret conversations (IMs, DMs, emails, Facebooks mail, LinkedInmails etc) that make up the core of someone’s worth.

What often happens is that some of the most important decisions happen behind closed doors, online and offline. Sensitive correspondence tends to need discretion. Regardless of how transparent your interactions are there will always be something that you do that can be the linchpin to connecting.

The Future of Influence

Eventually what will have to happen is that programs like TweetPsych will be combined with social media grading programs like Klout as well as other lists like Ad Age Power150. All of these will factor in with some sort of sentiment analysis Myers-Briggs hybrid program that will tell you how you function. Signal Patterns is the closest there is to this so far.There are already programs analyzing your musical tastes and predicting for you (Pandora) as well as social media article prediction apps (my6sense) so why not a program that accurately pairs you up with people most similar to your interaction style?

YES this may be very self-referential and take out the randomness of life, but sometimes you just want to connect with like minds. Eventually what needs to happen is that a verified analysis program will have to scan all of your private correspondences and grade you on different sets of publicly published benchmarks. For obvious reasons there will need to be discretion in not saying exactly what is being looked as the correspondences are most likely sensitive.

Even Digg is building in influence to their ranking system:

…Digg and WeFollow will now be more closely linked as we experiment with user influence as it applies to the Twitter universe… user influence and the data we collect during this process will play an important role in upcoming versions of Digg.

I see this program not just analyzing the style and feeling of the messages but also the outcomes. Let’s say you have a conversation with someone about connecting them to something and lo and behold a deal comes to fruition with something you suggested. There’s no way anyone would know you had something to do with it unless you were explicitly a part of it. What if you connected the parties behind closed doors? That type of influence is lost on grading programs. (Klout tries to grade your Twitter Network Strength by asking How influential are the people who @ message you? and How influential are the people that retweet you? but how can you accurately do that if you don’t define the type of influence you’re looking to grade?)

There will be a need to use directories of people and correspondences that happen in the offline world akin to CrunchBase. This will be combined with all of the above along with something like a NetPromoter Score for people for a definitive influencer score. Social media is still in it’s infancy and still hashing out issues that other industries have long ago defined.

The next big hurdle for the online world to overcome will be converging interactions with the offline world that are organic, natural and can be quantified. As companies look to online networks to solve a lot of their traditional problems they’re going to want more and more accountability. This is where a converged influencer score will greatly help everyone out in the process in knowing someone’s real value, not just their perceived value.

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  • http://www.indiebusinessblog.com Donna Maria Coles Johnson

    “What these people know is that while it’s important to have a large network to spread a message as wide as possible it’s even more important to have a smaller more concentrated network to make things happen. It’s the age old axiom of quality versus quantity. My answer to that is that it’s quantity of quality.”

    I consider this the key point in this article. Influence is fragmented into a million little pieces now. As a result, “one to many” influence is not the only kind of influence. And for very small businesses, the people I serve, “one to few” influence is desirable and manageable. When a micro-business owner considers influence, the more targeted and niche that influence is, the better off that target is served. And when that happens well, a very small business has the option of staying very small and continuing to focus on that niche, or using the initial “one to few” influence factors to expand the platform and even add new ones.

    Thanks for a great discussion.

  • http://blog.owengreaves.com owengreaves

    So are you suggesting that every relationship you have to have an agenda? What's in it for me attitude? That seems kind of shallow to me if that is the message you are trying to send. If you're speaking in the strict sense of business hours, your time is valuable, you only have so much you can afford to give, then sure you have to pick & choose who you connect with.

    Relationships aren't always calculated, sometimes they just happen.

    I'm not sure why but, measuring influence via digital means doesn't sound like an accurate means of determining a persons worth or value. I believe everyone has something to offer, the struggle is determining it's value and only you can determine what that offering is worth.

    You always write thought provoking articles, sometimes I get a headache : )

    Thanks

    • http://twitter.com/pphilp Paul Philp

      owengreaves, I don't think agena is the right word. I think it more as an intent. Many relationships are intentional – I want to know you because you provide possible access and capacity. In order to have that relationship, I have to create value for you – so I align my intents with your intents. Not all relationships are intentional but many are. The art of intentional relationship is being authentic and intentional. If you aren't authenic, you come accross as pushy/sleazy or at least self-centered.

  • http://www.yinkaolaito.com/ yinka olaito

    Brian I like the point you make here.”Every influential person with large follower numbers interacting online in social media spaces are not doing so in the same way. Some of them aren’t even influential. But for the ones who are influential even they have different nuances in what they focus on. Programs can’t ever capture tactics, strategies, interactions and general feel of someone’s value. While someone may be 80% mass influencer and 20% executive influencer, grading programs can’t capture the secret conversations (IMs, DMs, emails, Facebooks mail, LinkedInmails etc) that make up the core of someone’s worth.'
    What that means is that everyone needs to find his/her own tipping point? CAn you give guidelines on how to find this?

  • http://www.zacharyadamcohen.com/farmtotable Zachary Adam Cohen

    Damien, Great piece. Couple of comments: It seems as though there is a duality emerging with online and offline influencers each staking out territories. It's true that many offline influencers have designed things so that they don't have to be online in the way that online influencers do, and still be effective. It's really a bifurcated reality in that sense. But the offline influencers are losing that influence every day, the publishers, PR types, journalists, Old media essentially…They still command things, can get books published, magazine pieces penned, deals signed, but more and more we'll see online infuencers be able to do that too.

    also, as lovely as it sounds, your quantity of quality comment rings false…nice try though ;)

  • http://fizzdot.com/fizzblog/index.php?blog=2&tempskin=_rss2 cassyput

    Depends what you mean by influence and whether you are human or a clone. If you are human then quantity of quality is limited. Our brains can only handle about 150 close relationships and we don't want all those to be 'business' – unless we are crazy politicians or work zombies. Using your network means relying on your network and its weak links too.

  • http://twitter.com/ThatPJ PJ Edwards

    There is no such thing as “online influence.” However you rate yourself online doesn't mean anything unless there are real world results.

    • http://www.zacharyadamcohen.com/farmtotable Zachary Adam Cohen

      PJ, what do you call it when someone does something online that has offline results…online influence!

  • http://davidhargreaves.wordpress.com/ david hargreaves

    It is an interestinbig point that you make the difference between physical and online influence. The biggest challenge though I think is ascertaining someone's online influence. As you say lots of followers doesn't mean they have a big online influence.

    One of the best explanations I have seen in this space is from influence experts Onalytica. They make a clear distinction between influence and reach. They use a UK example to highlight the point. Jamie Oliver has a huge reach around the issue of obesity in kids but much smaller influence than for example the UK government. The most influential organisations and people are those that connect directly into the most densely populated influence hubs. Onalytica has a great diagram to explain it which is lost in words.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Damien-Basile/615051954 Damien Basile

      I'll definitely check out Onalytica David. Thank you!

  • http://twitter.com/Sheldrake Philip Sheldrake

    Nice one Brian. You free 30th Nov, New York? http://bit.ly/1R444b

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Thanks Philip…

      Also, just want to make sure everyone knows that this is a guest post by Damien Basille.

    • http://twitter.com/Sheldrake Philip Sheldrake

      Oh yes indeed. Thanks Brian and sorry Damien!

      Nice one Damien. You free 30th Nov, New York? http://bit.ly/1R444b

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Damien-Basile/615051954 Damien Basile

      I live in NY so I'll be around. I'd love to add my view on this topic to Influence Scorecard.

  • http://www.richardbuettner.com/ richard

    I find it just amazing how much information you can get out of the social graph!

  • http://veryofficialblog.com Shannon Paul

    True influence will always be difficult to track, especially if it is measured in reposts and tweets or self reporting.

    Sometimes people retweet and link to information simply because it's relevant, interesting or useful to them — it doesn't matter who posted it. I like to think that I tweet/blog about posts, articles or products I find genuinely interesting and worthy of passing along. If someone I adore tweets something that's not for me, I don't feel compelled to pass it on out of any social obligation and I hope they understand.

    The other side of measuring influence has to do with self-reporting. Any good marketer can tell you people are often unaware of what actually influences them. That's why psychology exists.

    I also disagree with the notion that connecting just to connect is aimless. Real connections transcend personal agenda and the value of connections is something that can only really be calculated in hindsight.

    I think the biggest factor in anyone's real influence is the degree to which they can share passion and inspire trust – that ONLY happens through connecting for the sake of connecting, but maybe I'm missing something…

    Understanding how people, content, commerce and networks are all aligned is important, but I'm skeptical that any individual “influencer” is at the center of that equation – huge celebrities bomb at the box office and fail to write best-selling books. I can love YOU, but hate your work, and vice versa. This is true online and offline.

  • Sam Lammie

    Interesting read. One comment especially drew my attention that “Where they are will accurately reflect where and who you are.” Not that you are explicitly focusing on the spatial, but…For me I jump start this with a quote from Davenhall (from ESRI) at TED MED about understanding personal health and that “…the basic formula for good health is:
    Genetics + lifestyle + environment = risks.” I love observing weather, but also forecasting and the meteorological context. Makes me wonder how we voluntarily track each other, not from a human perspective, but from a biological one and what that may tell us.
    Appreciate it.

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  • http://www.beastoftraal.com/ Karthik

    Connecting with anyone based on 'some' agenda sounds like an abuse of any connection. A connection could be beneficial for both parties on some basis, but that is not necessarily a must-have.

    Also, if you extrapolate an online network into an offline network, what you see is that only the size and reach of your network has increased – not the kind of influence you perceive you may have. Its simply a number + reach game, which is obviously not possible in the physical world.

    For instance, a politician on stage, speaking to a large crowd that has assembled specifically to hear him speak, may be influenced enough to vote for a party he represents. Can he pull it off online, say, via twitter? Of course. So, what it would simply mean is that the only thing that matters is the kind of image an influencer has built, offline or online.

    Guy Kawasaki having 189K followers does not necessarily mean he can sway the opinions of even half of that 189K – he sure can get a retweet or two or even 2 dozen (mere online influence), but to translate that into real life influence (of aiding a real life action), he needs to do a lot more than pulling assorted, interested links from the web, post it on holykaw and then pass it off via alltop or his twitter account. And no, outsourcing his interactions to 3 other humans is not part of that equation.

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  • rachh

    Social media online influencers are more significant compared to traditional influencers. Products consumers purchase are now from Amazon reviews and what their friends say about them online. People are now more influential now than ever before due to social networking websites. People create buzz when they frequently update their Facebook statuses or Tweet. They influence the friends who follow them on these web sites because it is posted on their mini-feeds. I am more likely to believe what my friend says about a product via Facebook or Twitter before visiting a product's web site. Social media networking is moving rapidly that these web sites now have niche advertisements. From this movement, future marketing for products will be more personalized and narrow due to people influences on social networking web sites.

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  • http://itsallabouttheconversation.com Mark Peesel

    “My answer to that is that it’s quantity of quality.”

    Or is it the Quality of Quantity? Regardless, I believe you need both to go together. The quantity of really bad stuff coming out of Twitter is endless… Posts like this are great! It's Quality, and we need more of it.

    Thanks!

  • diseoweb

    Totally in agreement without purpose there is no course and this is similar to the failure

  • http://twitter.com/PhilGo20 Philippe Gauvin

    Great post, really.

    About tools to rank and classify influencers, one part that seems to always be missing when we're envisaging it, is the necessity to analyze these content being shared, retweeted, blogged and discussed. Even an online influencer with a huge following probably won't influence much if he's talking outside of his usual circle of knowledge.

    Good tools should not only analyze the tweet itself, but obviously the content at the other end of the link …

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  • http://hhtp://philgo20.com philgo20

    Great post, really.

    About tools to rank and classify influencers, one part that seems to always be missing when we're envisaging it, is the necessity to analyze these content being shared, retweeted, blogged and discussed. Even an online influencer with a huge following probably won't influence much if he's talking outside of his usual circle of knowledge.

    Good tools should not only analyze the tweet itself, but obviously the content at the other end of the link …

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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