Chasing After Influence: A Social Media Trap or the Holy Grail?
Influenceâ€”it’s what social media gurus (and affiliate marketing experts) say your company should be pursuing (or what you should be paying attention to). We’re told â€œinfluencing the influencersâ€ is the Holy Grailâ€”the key to unlocking success and social media is in the thick of it. But might all the hype about influencers be a trap? Could all of this focus on influence be a big waste of time? Perhaps what we’re really talking about here is nothing more than passive, quantitative clicking posing as true, outcome-producing influence.
A Flimsy Theory
Rachel Happe, an independent social media consultant (one of the smartest around), says the movement to measure and control top-down influence misses the mark. That is, it emphasizes the idea that one person alone is influential or â€œon top.â€ She says focusing on top, individual influencers to talk about your product is actually counterproductive. It relies on rather flimsy theory.
Olivier Blanchard of BrandBuilder Marketing thinks likewise but goes further, questioning the very foundation that â€œinfluencing the influencerâ€ theory is based on. He agrees Kim Kardashian, Leighton Meester and Justin Bieber help sell whatever they get photographed wearing. Drew Barrymore and Queen Latifah sell makeup. Leonardo DiCaprio sells Tag Heuer watches.Â Yes, â€œtop-downâ€ or â€œmassâ€ influencers are real.Â And how â€œtop-downâ€ influence works is scientifically documented and relevant in the world of big advertising and Madison Avenue.
â€œBut this type of influence is now a) increasingly limited and narrow in scope, and b) not immediately relevant when applied to complex, real-time, laterally-driven social networks,â€ concludes Blanchard.Â He believes influencers can be found within the massesâ€”not just at the top of their respective subcultural family trees. And he backs up the assertion that influence is not a â€œtop-downâ€ phenomenon.
â€œUrban fashions didnâ€™t start on a runway in New York or Milan,â€ says Blanchard who agrees with Happe and says influence starts at the bottom, not the top.
â€œ’Gangsta’ culture wasnâ€™t designed in a Soho creative studio and then packaged and sold to rap superstars.Â It came from the street and was then commercialized,â€ says Blanchard.
Influence is Complex
â€œThere are so many discussions lately of what makes a person and influencer and a lot of people and brands are swarming around the people they have determined to be influential,â€ says Happe.Â â€œAnd it’s not completely wrong but influence is so much more complex than that.â€
Happe says the social media industry is over-simplifying by pushing the theory of a single, ultra-influential person having significant affect on behavior of others in their network. And I’m thinking the same rings true in the affiliate marketing industryâ€”especially when we’re measuring quantitatively (trivial behavior), not qualitatively (meaningful outcomes). Fundamentally, the idea is this: a single, ultra-influential person has significant affect on behavior of others in their network. We’re told this is true because we “see it” in the data.
â€œThat is rarely the case,â€ she says. â€œWhen making a judgment about something… people rarely hear about it from one (influential) person and then go buy or consume it.Â The process is more like this: they become aware of it through a whole variety of waysâ€”media, friends, advertisementsâ€”and then they might hear a friend mention it. Then they hear someone else talking about it. Then they take a closer look. Then they ask someone and do some research. Then they might not do anything for a bit. Then a need arises and they go do something about it. Now, tell me who was the ‘influencer’ that caused them to take action? The truth is, it was no one person alone.â€
A Flow of Influence
Instead, Happe suggests it may take â€œa network and a flow of influenceâ€ to create action. Of course, it will be hard to tell which part of that flow has the most influence on the individual taking action. But she says there’s another paradox: the more one individual influencer pushes something, the more their recommendation gets called in to question.Â Because it often looks (and is) biased in some way.
â€œSo pushing individual influencers to talk about your thing more is actually counterproductive,â€ Happe warns.
She says if you are trying to get a customer or prospect to take action, you should prompt behavior among the entire network of inputs that surround them. It is just as important to get the â€œsecond, third and fourth-tier peopleâ€ that are â€œaroundâ€ someone to recommend a product as it is to get one person to do so.Â By prompting dense sub-networks of individuals to take an action you can affect behavior more than by targeting hubs of multiple networks.
â€œAfter all, the popular girls are only popular if they have a posse,â€ says Happe. â€œThe posse matters a lot. Without their support, there would be no popular girls.Â Followers matter as much as leaders… we just forget that.â€
â€œWe should be thinking about creating networks and flows of influence,â€ advises Happe.Â â€œNot piling on to already overwhelmed ‘influencers.’â€
But how do we create networks and flows of influence, practically speaking? And with all this controversy over the origins of influenceâ€”and how to put it to work for our businessesâ€”is â€œinfluencing the influencersâ€ worth it?Â Or is it a big time-waster practically speaking… a trap?
Photo credit: iamos
About Jeff Molander
Jeff Molander is the authority on making social media sell and corporate trainer to small businesses and global corporations like IBM and Brazilâ€™s energy company, Petrobras. Heâ€™s an accomplished entrepreneur, having co-founded what is today the Google Affiliate Network. Heâ€™s adjunct digital marketing professor at Loyola Universityâ€™s school of business and author of Off the Hook Marketing: How to Make Social Media Sell for You.
Blog: Off the Hook Blog
You can find Jeff on Twitter @jeffreymolander.