Sunday, December 12, 2010

Understanding Influencers

A month ago a documentary on influencers was released. It’s a great piece which begins to uncover the realities of this breed.

“INFLUENCERS is a short documentary that explores what it means to be an influencer and how trends and creativity become contagious today in music, fashion and entertainment. The film attempts to understand the essence of influence, what makes a person influential without taking a statistical or metric approach.”

INFLUENCERS FULL VERSION from R+I creative on Vimeo.

There is no denying that influencers is a new key buzz word that’s here to stay. It isn’t a fad, it’s one of the cemented foundations of the new communications paradigm as we know it. Influencers are the key to spreading news and ideas across their social networks of interest.

We probably first saw use of the idea in Malcolm Gladwell’s book- The Tipping Point – where he investigated the idea of Mavens, Salesmen and Connectors. They all did their job to spread different types of information and an influencer is a simplified idea of those concepts. They are a trusted individual and the go to person on a certain topic.

When we come to the world of media, marketing and PR who are the influencers?

Official media people, i.e. anyone with a press pass, is an influencer. They have a platform which supports them and allows them to have a voice. On the other side is the existing audience base whether in press, online or broadcast. No doubt there is influential power, but it’s much more one way and harder to establish 2 way communication. Censorship and control may have something do with that.

Bloggers, tweeps and social media addicts have to build their audiences and become recognized as influencers. Once they arrive they often have the potential to influence people with more authority than traditional influencers. The removed barriers of access allows them to be more honest, upfront and simply more accessible that those in a corporation/media provider cannot adhere to. They are therefore more trusted.

The added benefit of being completely open and (generally) uncensored means everyone in the network has a say. The influencer is driving the conversation, but any comment, positive or negative, has a place.

Is there a difference in harnessing the influential power of either of these influencers?

There is, but it’s debatable. Once a social media influencer becomes as well known as any other media personality, do they not automatically become part of that celebrity bucket?

My initial reaction is yes- but these types are few and far between. Perez Hilton and Dooce are one in a million. Any marketing approach here would be viewed as the classic celebrity endorsement.

The influencers we all need to be harnessing are those who have real connections with their respective communities. They participate and connect with as many of these people in their communities as they can. They are part of something as opposed to the sole driver. They may also connect with people in the real world, or the prospect of meeting is a possibility. It is a more real relationship and all levels of pretense are removed.

And the simple way to get involved in these circles, with these influencers, is find ways to give back. Find the leverage point where your company/brand can connect and allow advocacy to grow. Relinquish a bit of control and respect these influencers – giving them complete freedom creates more appreciation. Influencers will feel that they are respected as equals and trusted by a big corporate.

What Next?

The bottom line is that these relationships are constantly evolving and the influencer importance within a communications strategy is growing. We are understanding new components of the influencer dynamic every day. But by tapping these new voices you can generate positive returns for your business and that’s never a bad thing.

This post also appeared on my comapny's blog

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