Catharine P. Taylor , Thursday, March 25, 2010
Social media is a land of many holy grails - if it's not completely antithetical to have more than one - but probably none is more prized by marketers than the Influencer, that person who can sway opinion, get people to buy products and otherwise, well, influence the hearts and minds of dozens, hundreds and thousands of other people.
So far, in social media, this has been a relatively rudimentary exercise. Lots of Facebook friends? Thousands of Twitter followers? Scads of traffic to your blog? Great! Let's sign you up in the name of selling lots of product!
But two bits of intelligence I've read over the last few days show me that we still have a long way to go in understanding influence. Before I go on, here are some of the counterintuitive data points I've come across about the people that everyone wants to friend:
From ReadWriteWeb: That some of the most influential people on Twitter don't do a lot of retweeting. According to January and February data from Tableau Software and TwitterStats, @scobleizer (Robert Scoble) with more than 118,000 followers, retweets one percent of the time (though a quick look at his Twitter account indicates it may be somewhat higher); @stevecase however, retweets 28 percent of the time. He has more than 340,000 followers.
From ICOM (as reported by Mediapost): The idea of the universal influencer is a myth. Individuals can be influential in certain, siloed categories, but don't tend to have influence across all categories. Further, having influence has less to do with demographics or connections than it does with behavior. As the white paper about the study says: "No demographic similarities emerged in the data; there was no skewing toward age, gender or income. Influencers may be grandfathers or twenty-somethings, working mothers or stay-at-home dads. They could be the well to do or the up-and-coming."
What's at issue when you look at these data points is not whether the role of influencers is overplayed though that could be a knee-jerk takeaway. This data underscores it's crucial to understand the nature of influence, and only then will it be possible, as a marketer, to really influence the influencers.
Take the retweeting data above. What this should mean to a marketer is pretty straightforward: that people with true Twinfluence (that's Twitter influence, for the uninitiated) don't spend much time taking other content from the Twittersphere and sharing it. However, that data point shouldn't be extrapolated to the larger thought that they are lacking in influence and aren't worth a marketer's time. The data shows that 71 percent of @scobleizer's tweets in the first two months of the year contained an @sign. That says - and following him on Twitter bears this out -he is constantly conversing with other Twitter users. That certainly is influence; it just takes a different form than retweeting does. @stevecase's tweets contained @ signs 51 percent. Thus, his twinfluence expresses itself differently.
That loops back neatly into the ICOM data, which emphasizes how important behavior is in determining the nature of influencers, not for instance, the number of Facebook friends. Data-mining types will not like to hear the following: most influencers like to spread their influence via non-keyboard initiated word-of-mouth that can't be tracked using an algorithm. Compared to the average user, they don't even spend appreciably more time on Facebook than the average user does -- five hours per week as compared to 4.5 hours, though it, along with texting, appear to be their primary social channels.
I could throw out more data points all day long, but they would point in the same basic direction: toward the knowledge that although we seem to have gotten a pretty good bead on who influencers are, we need to know more about how they operate, in both online and offline channels if we are to truly harness their power.
Catharine P. Taylor has been covering digital media and advertising for almost 15 years. Contact her here.