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

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.