“Try this,” said the first caveman to his friends. And so what we know as “social influence” came to be. In the mid-1950s, sociologists Paul Lazarsfeld and Elihu Katz published the book Personal Influence, introducing a two-step communication model which shows that ideas flow from mass media to opinion leaders, and from them to a wider population. The opinion leaders themselves gain their influence through more elite media, as opposed to mainstream mass media. Today’s social media fits this model precisely.
Online social influence is powerful
People trust other people more than they trust your marketing department, and way more than they trust your advertising. The social web is the equivalent of the town square, if the town square could exist in multiple dimensions at once and allow voices from all over the world to commingle. It’s immensely to your benefit to figure out who the influencers are in your industry – the thought leaders others look to and listen to – and find a positive way to connect with them.
Choose the right influencers
To be an effective influencer, the individual has to have a distinctive view in a specialty – without that, no one would pay attention to them in the first place. Tamsen Webster, Sr. VP at Boston-based agency Allen & Gerritsen has a presentation (Glasses, a Love Story) parked on SlideShare, in which she outlines four main types of influencers: Connected Catalysts, Passionate Publishers, Everyday Advocates, and Altruistic Activators.
- Connected Catalysts are celebrities and other recognizable figures. They gain massive exposure and generate immediate action.
- Passionate Publishers generate buzz at the scale of their size. They generally are magazines and other publications dedicated to the analysis of their respective fields.
- Everyday Advocates are customers who post reviews of products on websites such as Yelp and Consumer Reports. While their interactions with your company usually are limited to their experiences with your product or service, it’s important to monitor their reviews.
- Altruistic Activators are independent analysts whose opinions are valued by a large population of your target demographic. Because they are so trusted to deliver objective personal opinions in an informal setting, they can be effective promoters of your products and services.
The number of potential customers the influencer can reach should also affect your choice. Total numbers don’t count; consider only the ones in your target demographic.
Act-On’s new white paper, Best Practices in Social Influencer Marketing, covers these influencers in more detail, and includes strategies for:
- Attracting influencers to your product or service
- Incorporating social influencers into your greater social strategy using Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+
- Becoming an influencer yourself
It’s a very good idea to stay immersed in the social currents that include you; social influencers can raise awareness about your company, and engender trust. As with other forms of public relations, if you don’t actively manage your own image and messaging, you may find yourself playing catch-up to a competitor who’s used social influencers to grab mind-share that should be yours.