Influence and Influencers: A Brief Introduction

Influencers are going to play a huge role in social media marketing over the next few years. I was recently asked my views on their growing role – so I figured I’d share my notes here. Let’s call it a brief introduction to influencers.

What you feel is the most accurate definition of an influencer?
I describe an influencer is someone who combines both the authority on your chosen topic and reach within your target market to be able to affect the decisions of the people you want to influence.

Do you think influencers are valuable to brands and businesses? Why/Why not?
Despite the billions they spent on advertising, almost all businesses live or die on the strength of word-of-mouth (WOM) recommendations. In the past 5 years social media has amplified the effects of WOM, turning influencers (aka “mavens”) into valuable marketing assets. With 40% of the UK population actively using Facebook, influence also has a long tail – so we’re all influencers now.

What do you think is the most accurate way of identifying an influencer?
Digital agencies will charge a large fee to find you the top influencers in your industry. They do this using a combination of manual research and social media monitoring tools. If you have access to one of the better (and more expensive) monitoring tools, you can create a list yourself – but both of these methods can produce flakey results. The best option is to spend the time yourself engaging online with the communities you want to influence. Start to follow the messages (tweets, blog posts etc.) that resonate, i.e. get shared around, and within a short time you’ll be able to identify the leading voices. Do this methodically for a few weeks and you’ll get your influencer list for free.

Any other comments/thoughts you have about influencers and social media monitoring tools?
It’s important not to confuse influence with popularity. Popular people or sites might have lots of followers (or readers) but very little impact on each one. Similarly, the influence of their followers might be low, so that there’s very little network effect. Conversely an expert in a specific niche may be too obscure to have significant numbers of readers, but be followed by several highly influential people who can spread his messages far and wide. His influence may be greater than the superstar blogger.

For some more in-depth insights on influencers, try the Forrester Blog (who created the image above) or the Influencer Scorecard project.

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  • Jeff

    I couldn’t agree more.  I worked with a company recently to help promote our services and they had a very similar dicussion with several memebers of our company.  They implemented a social media solution and our traffic as a result has sky-rocketed.

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