The New Influencers

In an age where everyone is a publisher and broadcaster, identifying influencers and measuring their value is harder than ever.

A few years back the marketing team for a big tech firm asked me to come in and talk to them about my role as a blogger and TV/radio commentator. They wanted to better understand how to reach and – let’s be frank – influence people like me.

It got me thinking about the changing nature of influencers and how to categorise the people I increasingly met at trade shows and launch parties, and in green rooms waiting to go on air. Bloggers but also ‘experts’ and contributors, in the broadcast vernacular, who were even less easily comparable to journalists or industry analysts.

I pulled together a training session I called ‘The New Influencers’ and I’ve since delivered versions of it for various PR agencies and for the PR course at Bournemouth University.

Now one of the original team who asked me to prepare the session has asked me to deliver it for her new employer, and I’m thinking afresh about the whole issue.

I have a long history with the subject of influencers – at least relative to the total length of my career. My boss in my first (and only) ‘proper’ job after university was Nick Hayes, founder of Influencer50 and co-author of Influencer Marketing. I was involved in many early applications of his principles of influencer marketing in campaigns for large tech firms in the early to mid noughties.

So it was that I turned to Nick’s blog looking for inspiration and alternative perspectives.There I found this quote from Ogilvy chairman Christopher Graves, originally from a PR Week interview:

“The very word ‘influence’ is being thrown around in many contexts and some completely abuse the real meaning or conflate it with popularity.

Real influence means to convince someone to choose to do something on their own—without threatening them or bribing them—which they would not otherwise have done. That’s much tougher to come by. It is earned through sustained relationships, and not fleeting or dependent on compensation.

Influence is a demonstrable chain of persuasion from person to person leading to new attitudes and behaviour. Having a large audience does not necessarily mean wielding influence. Views and likes are not measures of influence though they may correlate or be coincidental.”

His point about sustained relationships is an interesting one. In this age of increasing diversity – one of our five ‘Vectors of Change’ (read the manifesto for more information) – you can find people who are experts in every niche, however small. If these people have a talent for communication, they can build up a following, whatever their communications media. That following may be relatively small but if they trust the expert and have a consistent relationship with them, then that expert’s influence can be disproportionately large.

That influence is also highly variable depending on context.

When brands call me up pitching stories or tech products for me to review, they are inevitably hoping that I’ll mention their brand or product on TV or national radio. But I think they’re often missing a much more powerful opportunity.

I know this isn’t a scientific measure but I think Twitter interactions are a pretty good benchmark for how many people are really engaged with what you’re saying.

If I’m on BBC Breakfast, I might notionally reach seven million people. And yet I’ll get maybe 10 interactions on Twitter – at most. People are busy, eating breakfast, getting their kids off to school and themselves off to work. They’re not really paying that much attention and I’m only on screen for five minutes.

If I stand in front of an audience of 200 people, not only will I get more Twitter interactions, I get live face-to-face, high-bandwidth engagement. I’m there for an hour. I can make a strong narrative argument – usually more than one. And often the conversations begun in that room continue long afterwards.

What I’m really saying is that reach is often given disproportionate weight when trying to measure influence. Better measures need a much more nuanced assessment of the impact that an influencer has and a much richer understanding of the audience they’re reaching.

In the new presentation I’m also covering issues of frequency and control: not just how independent an influencer is but how much their message to the audience is shaped by other people involved in the production of their communications media.

If you’d be interested in having me deliver this session for your company or agency, drop me a line. It’s available as a one-hour lunch session or a half day interactive workshop.

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