The idea of "influence" fascinates me. I have written about Granovetter’s strength of weak ties, the importance of curiosity over influence and the democracy of action — and each time I wonder how influence does, or should relate to social media. As I explained previously:
The findings of Mark Granovetter’s research into social networks demonstrated that it is the WEAK ties that lead to action. If this is the case, then influence may only play an important role in the very early stages of branding efforts — to facilitate AWARENESS. But as consumers begin to engage with the brand messaging and various forms of communication, it appears that the power of the social network lies not in the level of influence of any select group but in the susceptibility of the audience to contagion.
I think this is where social media, and blogging in particular are interesting. While we spend quite some time and effort talking about the way in which social media is "changing the game", we also tend to rely on the measurements on which "traditional" advertising has been built. And the influencer as a new media "celebrity" is a case in point. Where the actual change in game has occurred is in the balance of power — marketing is no longer about B2C or B2B but about Brands-to-Community.
… we cannot solely BUY people’s attention anymore. We have to earn it. That’s the shift. And the problem is we keep applying a linear thought process that is based in mass advertising instead of looking at a networked marketing model that is both embracive of mass as well as interactive media (and pays homage to those differences rather than attempting to utilize the same strategies and tools for each).
To survive and prosper in this new environment, brands have to begin to employ their ENTIRE ecosystems — the networks of supply, demand (consumers), partnership and collaborators — in such a way as they fulfil the need of a single person. This still can be done on a mass scale, but the nuance is different. The marketing is transformative. The delivery is personal. And the experience is unique. And while this may take brands some time to rethink the business processes which deliver this experience, it is not impossible nor unattainable. Review, for example, this great explanation from RichardatDell on the way in which Dell are seriously rethinking and re-engaging with their communities.
Another way to consider this, is in terms of blogging. Think about the blogs that you read, comment on or subscribe to. Think about whether you would personally consider them to be influential. I may be wrong, but my sense of "influence" is that it belongs "out there" — where there is no relationship; where the connection is faceless, impersonal, removed.
As our personal and professional networks become increasingly more visible the concept of influence will fade. And in our socially networked world, reputation rather than influence will become a far more important measure of value.