How Social Media has Changed Influence


Right before SXSW I was chatting with Gene Kim (@RealGeneKim) about the idea of influencers in the IT security market. He pointed out to me that we need to clearly understand what we are talking about. People who have a ton of followers or people who are creating original thoughts into the conversation. Since that conversation I have been thinking about that a ton and talked with many folks about this at SXSW. It would seem to be a wildly important concept for any company to understand and has become one that I am very interested in. I want to understand how the dynamics work and what roles they play.

I recently read a blog post by Tamar Weinberg (@tamar) over at Techipedia where she wrote a recent post entitled How to Get an Influencer's Attention. I looked at the list and did not think everyone on there met my definition of an influencer. Some of them where merely amplifiers in my mind. But this is probably more of a matter of how people define an influencer. Each person is going to look at influencers different because influence is also a matter of personal context.

Now, influencers are nothing new. They have always been around but the internet, and especially social media tools, give everyone a voice as long as they have an internet connection. Anyone can get ahold of one of those somewhere thus anyone has a voice. This has changed the world forever in a very positive way but I think that over time people are going to see that they have a new job they didn't have before. You need to develop your own filter. In the past this was the job of an editor or publisher. Now you would think that the masses would weed out most of the crap but I'm not so sure.

There are a few buckets of people but I want to understand (maybe more):

  1. The Thought Leaders - these are the people that are putting original thoughts into the conversation that have value. They are driving the edges of the conversation. My assumption here is that most of these types are very interested in the problem and how to solve it. Not many are interested in having 1,000,000 followers. In fact they are probably very much the opposite.
  2. The Amplifiers - these are the people that are connected to tons of people and don't really say anything of importance but they share a bunch of stuff they find interesting to their mass of followers. They can massively explode a message out but this does not mean that they people that get the message will be driven to do anything about it.
  3. The Influencers - Influencers gets tossed around a bunch but I'm not sure people really all mean the same thing. Influence can mean the amplifier but I want a term that means someone who is a Thought Leader + Amplifier. What is a better term for this? Anyone? These are the people that are driving the conversation and they know how to get the message out and they drive people to take action.

Social media can make anyone an amplifier. There are tons of people out there who know how to game the system to get tens of thousands of Twitter followers, which gives them a platform to blast their message as much as they want. From what I have observed social media is allowing people that would have not otherwise risen to the top of their fields to appear as though they have. And if the top means a bunch of people look at you as though you are the lord of the flies, then well, I guess you are. I believe that as the wild west of social media calms down, and more people embrace the daily use of these tools, the true thought leaders will rise to the top again.

I had a chance to talk with Brian Solis (@briansolis) at SXSW and picked up his new book, Engage: The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web . I am trying to get a slide he presented where he talks about this subject and made a great point about how it is really important to know what is driving someone so that you can engage with them in the proper way. I could not agree more and is something that I am exploring better ways to identify and plan engagement around understanding how people fit into the ecosystem.

The more people I talk with this is a hot topic that many people care about. What do you think? Please leave a comment here to extend this conversation about what defines influence and has social media changed this?