Chasing Social Media Influence

    January 18, 2008

The concept of opinion leadership – that 90 percent of the world is influenced by the other 10 percent – came out of a study conducted by Lazarsfeld, Berelson and Gaudet.back in 1944. 

Chasing the Influencers is the search for that 10% and has long been a part of a PR and marketing.

In that early study opinion leaders are defined as people who are more influential within their social networks than others. Isn’t that interesting – within their social networks. The more things change the more they stay the same.

They consider themselves experts in a specific area of interest and are asked for advice in this area. (Katz and Lazarsfeld 1955.) Now that sounds familiar – did I see a recent study that showed that word of mouth and peer reveiws are the top influencers prior to decision or purchase?

Opinion leaders select information in these areas and then pass it on to others. In the process of reporting to others they more or less consciously modify the items of information they transmit.

A study conducted at Hamburg University looked into what opinion leaders really know and if they have the competence to influence others. Their view? 

There might be different types of opinion leaders: those, who know a lot, influence others and are asked for advice; and opinion leaders with comparably low levels of information, but good communicative skills to compensate.

In Edelmans’ whitepaper on measuring social media influence they speak about "meme starters" and "meme spreaders".

So what makes someone an influencer today?.

  1. Knowledge – and that has not changed.
  2. Good communication skills. Look at the Forrester Social Technographics Scale and you’ll see that only 13 percent are creators of content online.  
  3. A platform and an audience.  The Internet has made it possible for everyone to have the power of voice, but some rise to the top.But we’ve moved from ‘how many’ to ‘who.’  The size of your readership does matter, but in many cases who you are reaching and how much they trust you matters more 
  4. Good content is still the attraction.
  5. Who links to you. Google pays attention to this and so does Technorati. And it is one measure of influence.
  6. Activity in Social Networks. Search Engine Land has a post about social  media success that made me weary just reading it. Being an influencer takes a lot of work.

And there is one big caveat for PR and marketers in all this research – the Internet has changed what we know and how we access information. We are no longer willing to sit pasaively by and be fed marketing messages. Individuals who speak from the heart might be influencing their audience. It’s not likely to be done by a corporation.