commoners guide to using social influence Neicole Crepeau {grow} Randy GiustoA few weeks back, I had the opportunity to converse with Neicole Crepeau at Coherant Interactive and a contributing columnist over at {grow} as part of the weekly #socialmedia twittercast over at Neicole was working on a post entitled “The Commoner’s Guide to Using Social Influence” at the time. It just so happened that the May 17 topic on #SM111 was the role of influencers. As an industry analyst I’ve been branded an influencer for many years by many brands, but I’ve also seen the role of the industry analyst and traditional market research companies change dramatically since 2008, as social media has taken off.

I spent most of 2009 and 2010 studying various social media platforms, the growth of the medium, and how the view of influence and social acceptance was changing within companies and major brands. After our exchange that day on #sm111, Neicole pointed us to her work and commented —

“@randygiusto @NealWiser Would be great if you guys took what I have and did a revision on your blogs to improve it. #sm111”

At the time, I had some other suggestions for the segments of influencers that Neicole was proposing. She was definitely spot on to state that — “the topic of ‘who is an influencer?’ is hot, right now.” I’ve played with tools such as Klout and PeerIndex, and they were discussed during the twittercast, but I haven’t felt socially fulfilled by them. You have to be part of their algorithm in order to be plotted, and I’ve always been wary of systems that require you to be a member to get measured.

These days I’m focusing a lot more on measuring marketing messaging specific to concept and idea testing for major brands. Included in those measurements is the capability of a new product or service to generate organic “word of mouth” marketing dynamics. Influencers traditionally tended to be at the top of that food chain, depending on who they were. and more importantly, whom they were influencing. But today, increasingly, those influencers are turning out to be early adopters of that product, service, or brand.

For years, traditional technology industry analysts at many of the brand name firms were thought to be influencers because they influenced IT hardware and software deals specifically. But surprisingly, only about 20% of all analysts are actually involved with companies at this level.

The rise of the Web and social media has led to an increase in the number of analyst boutiques who either focus on regurgitating news while attempting to come up with industry forecasts out of thin air, or try to measure online dynamics via analytics or social media tracking tools. The later are clearly more interesting. Even bigger research firms are influencing less and less these days, especially the F1000 and major brands with the rise of the über bloggers and disruptive business and market intelligence firms. Analysts used to influence also via the business and technology press, but the rise of blogging has stunted much of that ability.

The role of influencer has truly shifted in scope over the three years, and brands increasingly look towards their customers rather than firms they used to pay thousands if not millions of dollars to in order to monitor the market. During the economic downturn, organic word of mouth marketing and the measurement of it became increasingly important as brands realized that their most important influencers were actual customers, rather than consultants and pundits. Not only was word of mouth measurement more practical with social media, but it was relatively inexpensive as well. As social media grew, so did the new tools to measure social reach, volume, and impact as did their price tags. Today, brands are spending big dollars on social brand monitoring.

As Neicole succinctly pointed out, new types of influencers have arrived on the scene over the last few years and the challenge is how to “determine which influencers to target for your commercial activities.” And so she developed a framework to identify certain influencer categories and their activities that I’d like to share with you, and with her permission, build a little bit off of:

Influencer Categories

Opinion shapers — People who are influential in an area because of their expertise, and therefore tend to shape people’s opinions with their reviews, posts, and comments. Think Walt Mossberg.

Amplifiers—People who share information or their ideas widely, and have an extremely broad reach. Think Guy Kawasaki.

Thought leaders — People who develop new ideas and concepts that become widely recognized and well regarded by well-known brands. Think Jeremiah Owyang.

Conversationalists — Individuals who interact with large numbers of people in one-on-one or within small-group settings, particularly through blogs or social networks. Think Gini Dietrich.

I’ve thought of a few more types of influencers that I mentioned that day on #sm11 that I’d like to add to Neicole’s list:

Dealmakers — These are individuals who connect people and organizations that lead to deals, including partnerships, future funding and investments, and acquisitions. Think Mark Andreesen.

Facilitators — These people are a step down from dealmakers in that they focus on connecting people because one of the parties has a need. They originate the introduction that may lead to a new relationship. Think of anyone in LinkedIn that you’ve asked to help make a connection for you.

Fundraisers — People who focus on seeking out people with finds and the act of actually raising funds for social or developmental causes. Think Causes.

The people above are all influential in their own way, through a series of activities. Neicole pointed out in “The Commoner’s Guide to Using Social Influence,” a list of activities that any of the influencer types can be involved with.

Influencer Activities

Creating Content — The influencer creates a lot of original text, video, podcasts or other types of content that gets sources around the Web. Think bloggers creating original content.

Speaking — Influencers who attends industry events, targeted professional events, or possibly events specific to their geographical area and speaks at them. Think panelists at CES.

Social Networking — This includes participating regularly and very actively in online communities on either a broad or narrow range of topics. Think #sm111.

Consulting — Consults with businesses and makes recommendations, either strategic, tactical, or organizational.

And to Neicole’s list I would add —

Value-added Aggregation — Influencers who collect content from other locations and built off of that content by adding value to it, or to keep the conversation flowing. Think AllTop.

Tummeling — Influencers who create social engagement and conversation instead of just presenting to a crowd.  Requires learning how to create the best space and conditions to really have socially interactive conversations. Think Heather Gold.

Social Alteration — This goes beyond social networking in twittercasts, presenting, and even tummeling. It’s about bringing a unique experience, perspective, or accomplishment to a group of individuals that has led to some type of social change. Think Yi-Tan.

Neicole Crepeau {grow} Coherant InteractiveNeicole in her “The Commoner’s Guide to Using Social Influence” post went on to explore how to create profiles for influencers and measure their value, and I would highly encourage you to read it, and get involved in the discussions around her posts over at {grow} and Coherant Interactive, and with her on Twitter at @neicolec.

Social influence has changed dramatically just over the last few years. Understanding who is an influencer, what they do, and how they can add value to what you focus on is crucial if you are building a brand, leading a cause, or just trying to create social change.

– Randy Giusto