What’s A Social Media Influencer?

I was playing with Klout recently, which “identifies influencers on topics across the social web”. It got me thinking about about not only the attention that “influencers” receive but how an influencer is defined.

It used to be that influence was mostly based on someone’s level of expertise and the respect they had within their community.

Today, social media influence certainly has something to do with expertise but it also has a lot to do with the size of your following.

This is where things start to get interesting because the size of someone’s following can have a lot to do with how much time and effort they invest to build and nurture their following and personal brands.

For example, a social media “expert” who generates a lot of content (blog posts, tweets, Facebook updates) and actively engages with other people within the social media ecosystem can become influential, even though they may not have a lot of expertise or experience.

The fact that social media is such a nascent marketplace lends itself to the reality that anyone with some marketing savvy and enough time to have a major social media presence can position themselves as a influential person.

The question is whether these kind of people are influencers or operators. Maybe they’re both but the issue is raises is whether we’re giving too much credit and attention to “influencers”.

As more companies use social media to attract attention to their products and services, there’s a growing focus on courting the influencers.

It’s not so much a numbers game in which a company reaches out to as many people as possible (aka The Shotgun Approach) but an attempt to target people who matter (which is an entirely different definition and conversation). The theory is that if you can capture the attention of people who matter, they will, in turn, influence other people to pay attention as well.

The challenge and problem with this approach is that defining an influencer is a subjective exercise. The methodologies, metrics or assumptions to determine an influencer can be all over the map. One person’s influencer can be another person’s B or C-lister.

At the end of the day, we need to be pragmatic about the how much attention influencers deserve. Rather than getting too carried away with their importance, we should spend more time getting a better handle on how we define an influencer and the impact they really have on a company’s prospects.

More: Klout will be a guest on Sept. 9 on Marketwire’s #ssmmeasurement chat. You can submit questions through Twitter by sending them to @marketwire, post them on the Marketwire Facebook page, or email them to nshin[at]marketwire[dot].com.

4 Comments on “What’s A Social Media Influencer?”

  1. Interesting point about whether influencers have to have expertise per se or simply have to be thought to have it. I work with professional people (I run an architects practice) and expertise is very highly prised. People with influence beyond their expertise are generally frowned upon (as is social media, as it happens!). So influencing professionals requires more than a following. You have to have something useful to contribute.

    On the other hand, I’m fascinated by this phenomenon whereby brands seek to attach themselves to ‘influencers’ in the hope that they will gain greater reach from them. Whilst this is true, surely the most effective brands are effective because they have become the influencers, the leaders in their field. Because they have contributed something themselves rather than coat-tailing on another. I think the brands who are really doing something special and effective with social media are being original. The influencers just come along because they want to.

  2. I very much agree with Su’s comments. I find it troubling to watch brands target ‘influencers’ who have no knowledge of their product but are fun, exciting, cool…. and therefore have many followers.

    I recently read a blog post for a CPG product and, if I were to guess (and it was pretty obvious) it was ‘forced’. It was clear the influencer got to attend a VIP event and enjoyed it, but the blog clearly lacked any true enthusiasm or appreciation and most comments had more to do with the party than the product (or it’s key attributes). In fact, even the name of the product category was spelled wrong! So, while I now know that the product had a launch, I’m actually LESS inclined to purchase that product as I now see their market as being unsophisticated party-ers with irrelevant comments vs. informed persons of taste (the actual market for the product – I’m familiar with it and previously was a regular patron).

    I think, perhaps, we should think of targets as
    * Connectors/communicators – no real influence, simply people in the know that tell lots of other people about ‘stuff’
    * Experts – those with specific knowledge or klout who may/may not influence.
    * Influencers – people who combine an element of both connection AND expertise. The latter seems to be sorely missing in most brands’ efforts.

  3. Totally agree
    As far as I can see, there is a great trust inflation in some social media spheres, e.g. in Russian sector of Livejournal.

    Besides, lately this effect shows in some russian electronic media, which tries to became “social”, enabling commenting and automated quoting.

    I think, that one of the relevant ways to qualify “expert” or “influencer” and his (her) numbers of “followers” or “influencees” is to check the quality and relevance of content generated by followees, espesially expertise demonstrated in high-engaged discussions.

    This criteria often shows that talks in most visited blogs/media resouses consist mostly of “hm”, “wow”, “piss” etc. At the same time the most interesting and devoted speaches are said in some quiet cosy places. 🙂

    Dmitry Faizov

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