Rethinking “Influencers”

RipplesWho are the influencers in your market? Are they the top-of-mind attention grabbers, are they the lower-profile up-and-comers, or are they the long tail, the people with relatively few readers but who make up a good chunk of pages 2+ in Google’s search results and who, in time, could develop a sizeable following?

I ask because I’ve had a couple of conversations recently that have made me reconsider who I look at as “influencers” in client markets recently.

What’s an “influencer?”

I’ve always defined “influencers” quite narrowly. I’ve thought of them as the people who, when they speak on their key topic, make others sit up and take notice. I tend to define that group narrowly based on criteria like engagement, traffic, on-topic posts and so on.

I’ve started to wonder if I’m defining that group too narrowly. What about the people who have built up communities around their brand – people who are engaged in whatever that person writes about (for example Brogan who, despite his modesty, gets a lot of outreach because his voice online is LOUD)? What about the people who don’t have a large readership or engaged community yet, but who are starting out and may develop that in future? Do you consider them influencers in your market or not?

Finite resources

One concern with defining a list of influencers too widely is that your resources are finite. You can define a core group of 20 or 200 influencers, but as the group grows, so the attention you can devote to each one diminishes.

If you define your group too narrowly you risk getting lost in the ever increasing noise out there. If, however, you define it too broadly then you become incapable of building the relationships you need with those people. Where’s the line?

If you think strategically, the answer to those questions depends on your objectives. Your goals for your communications, and the measurements you use to define success, will affect how you define your audiences and, through that, your “influencers.” If your objectives change, so may your approach to defining that group.

Despite those in social media who may say otherwise, when you get back to basics it’s a numbers game – your client needs to generate a profit. You need to meet your targets, whatever they are. How you reach those numbers can differ – though relationships with a few key influencers or a network of quieter voices. Still, the numbers never go away.

What do you think? Have you tended to lean one way or the other on this spectrum? How have you approached this in the past?

Image credit: Oranje

7 Responses toRethinking “Influencers”

  • Pondering the nature of influence (and authority) is definitely of professional interest/necessity, but I find it also interesting from an anthropological/psychological standpoint, too.

    I think the more standard definition of “what he/she said resonated with me, sounded credible, and inclines me to believe him/her” makes sense, but I think it goes further.

    I think a more powerful idea of influence comes from “what he/she said made me start thinking my own stuff, have my own ideas, and catalyzed my analysis to come to my own beliefs”.

    It’s a kind of “give a man a fish/teach a man to fish” idea, I think.

  • IMO, people generally overrate the influence of traditional influencers – analysts, bloggers, pundits, gurus, etc. These types of folks tend to influence each other and early adopters more than mainstream consumers. A lot of consumer research I’ve seen suggest people are most influenced by “someone just like me”. They tend to be influenced most by trusted family, friends and acquaintances. This is the long tail of influence that perhaps is more powerful than the inner circle few.

  • Hey Dave,

    If I hadn’t kept a completely open mind to find my ever-growing list of influencers, I may not have found you. And since then, we have met in person and exchanged emails and calls with ideas. That is the core of building relationships.

    Before we can determine our list of influencers, we must first decide our expectations – and they may be different from relationship to relationship.

    The guy who plows my driveway and my dentist both offer value to my life. That is the same with those with which we work, listen to, read and exchange ideas.

    In my experience, the list is a living breathing entity because it is created by human beings. The price of admission is contribution from both sides of any relationship. You must decipher the value you give and receive in each case. My list has changed dramatically in just the last six months and will change again in the next six.

    Excellent question, you always make me think.


  • Agree with your thought that it all goes back to the goals/basics. Your goals will drive what influencers/niches you target.

    But, there’s some truth to what Don says above. In health care, we see this in spades. People trust people like “me.” So, let’s make this relevant for us in the PR/social media space. While I certainly follow and pay attention to the Chris Brogan’s and Peter Shankman’s of the world, I don’t necessarily run in the same “circles.” Great guys. Smart guys. But not necessarily someone I would “like me.”

    Now, on the other hand, David Mullen, Danny Brown, Allan Schoenberg, Rachel Kay. All those folks, and many others, I consider trusted colleagues and in some cases good friends. They are “me” and in every sense of the word, they are influencers. So, again, it goes back to your original point. The goals will drive your strategy. But, in some cases, I would agree the influencers aren’t always a rock star or celebrity per se.


  • I have to follow up now that Arik has personally called me out 😉

    We are constantly in the hunt for “influencers” although that label is a bit weak. I like to think of them at “trusted” or “credible” sources — because my customers trust them or believe in their credibility they become influential. With that said “influencers” make you think. You may not agree with them or their opinions, but they make you look at the subject in a different matter. There are dozens of examples of this but to be influential you must be trusted and credible. Maybe that’s a future post for you Dave — what factors make someone, or a brand like CME Group, or even a platform like Twitter influential. Like everything in life influencers change — new ones emerge and others fade away — so as a business we are constantly looking to mine for the next wave of influencers while maintaining our current group.

  • Good questions. The answers lie in reasreaching and ranking influencers, so that you can prioritise and at the end of the day it’s all about selling more and selling more quickly. I posted this a little while ago which may help.

    … and in terms of ranking these are some thoughts on criteria but before this it’s important to think through precisely influential on who and on what? Who’s influential in a marketplace on c-suite execs may well be very different to Influencers on operational management and similarly those influential on mid-market (SME) organisations will likely be different to those for large enterprises and may differ by vertical.

    Following initial research, we reduce the long list of ‘players’ to our eventual Top50. Our proprietary measurement criteria are:

    Market Reach: How well known, and well listened to, is the Player? Are they ubiquitous in the industry? What are the chances that a given potential customer would have heard that Player’s message?

    Frequency of Impact: The number of opportunities an individual has to influence buying decisions.

    Independence of Impact: Once the Player’s message has been heard by the potential customer, how impactful is it? Vendors don’t score too highly here, because their message is always considered biased, whereas independent Players automatically score better.

    Expertise: This criterion is self-explanatory, based on the Player’s number of years with relevant experience, and the seniority with which they have taken that experience.

    Persuasiveness: When some people provide recommendation advice to another, their advice can be either taken or ignored without penalty. Casual acquaintances often provide advice but without persuasion. The advice of regulators however usually needs to be taken extremely seriously, such that they exhibit high levels of ‘persuasiveness’.

    Thoroughness of Role: Some Players influence a decision throughout the decision-making lifecycle, from initial problem evaluation through to check-signing. Other Players maybe called in at one single micro-decision stage.

    Using these criteria makes it as scientific as possible and allows you to compare apples with oranges or rather the relative influence of a particular journalist with a consultant with an analyst with an academic etc…

    Cheers, Scott

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