Focus on Digital Influence, but not solely

March 23, 2012

Like  a child who clings to a favorite blanket, I sometimes get the feeling that there are marketers out there who believe that if they can just “find the influencers” in the social world, they will magically solve a problem of awareness and attention.

It’s a tempting thought indeed.

This is not to say that Influence doesn’t exist or isn’t important.

On the contrary, it is.

It’s just not as easy as a Klout score or a number of followers.

In that respect, I was quite excited to read Brian Solis’ new report about the Rise of Digital Influence.

He continues a noble effort to dispel the  myth that quantity/reach equals quality of influence and he does it in a fairly comprehensive way.

The actual money quote in this argument, however, comes from David Armano (his review of the report is here):

The size of networks to cause effect is irrelevant. The idea that only large networks can
cause effect is a myth.

I also liked how he broke influence down into a number of discrete component parts.

However, there are a couple of things that don’t go far enough and are worth a call out.

  1. Trust is Foundational
    Solis breaks influence down into 3 pillars. The second one is “Relevance,” which has 3 components-Authority, Trust, and Affinity. While he correctly identifies Trust as

    Difficult to measure, trust is the source of most meaningful relationships. It’s also a word that’s difficult to describe. We all know what it is. Here, trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truthfulness, ability, or strength of someone.
  2. I would argue that this is something that is foundational. Without trust, nothing else matters. It’s the ground on which the other pillars rest. At the very least, the algorithm that leads to Relevance and drives overall influence should be very heavily weighted on this one.

  3. Influencing the Influencers
    Towards the end, he offers advice on identifying and reaching out to the Influencers in your market and much of it is sound, but I think it implies a direct approach to outreach. I think there’s a secondary, complementary approach as well-leveraging the network of people whom the influencer trusts (after all, they don’t exist in a vacuum and the news travels up the influence chain before it gets amplified.) For this, you will want to dig in on the work of Mark Earls and his book (which isn’t a light read), HERD.
  4. Don’t Leave Everyone Else Behind
    Finally, I would have liked a strong emphasis (and you can argue that it wasn’t necessary in a paper like this, but given the tendency toward the security blanket, I think it is) that identifying, cultivating, and activating your influencers is only a part of the story. John Bell has pointed out that
    “It will never be as simple as identifying the top 10 "influencers" for a given topic and then convincing them to chatter positively about a brand.”

    and the Keller-Fay group has repeatedly shown, with some pretty strong data, that “influencers” only create 30% of the buzz (as reported in Rosen)…which means that 70% of the buzz is generated by ‘everyone else.”  Add in the fact that 90% of brand conversations take place offline and it’s just critical think broader.

All in all, I found the arguments refreshing (even if the case studies relied too heavily on the very same tools whose authority he was challenging) and a nice contribution to the ongoing (and probably never-ending) discussion of who is influential, where, and when.

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