The Commoner’s Guide to Using Social Influence

By Neicole Crepeau, Contributing {grow} Columnist

Love it or hate it, the topic of “who is an influencer” is hot, right now.  There are plenty of tools like Klout and PeerIndex to drive you crazy on this subject, but here is an important thought. How can we use this information to help our businessess?

The idea behind being an “influencer” is that you are at the top of the “Word of Mouth” foodchain. This is important because Word of Mouth can be the most powerful, inexpensive and effective promotion you will ever receive. The big brands are spending mega-bucks on this stuff. What about you and me? The little guys? How do you apply this idea to OUR world and get a piece of the action?  How do you even decide which of these influencers is most valuable to your particular business?

Here’s a framework I developed to help you determine which influencers to target for your commercial activities:

Influencer Categories and Activities

We need a way to categorize influencers. Here’s one take on it:

  • Opinion shaper—Influential in an area because of expertise, and therefore tends to shape people’s opinions with reviews, posts, comments. Think Walt Mossberg
  • Amplifier—Shares information or ideas widely, has broad reach.  Think Guy Kawasaki.
  • Thought leader—Develops new ideas and concepts that are widely recognized and well-regarded. Think Jeremiah Owyang.
  • Conversationalist—Interacts with large numbers of people in one-on-one or small-group conversations, perhaps through a blog or a social network. Think Gini Dietrich.

There could be additional categories. And I’m not saying this is THE categorization for influencers. It’s a proposal. Something to think about.

Next, we need to consider the activities that these influencers participate in. “Influencer” has become synonymous with blogger and social networking. People can be influential through other activities, as well. Here’s a list of the activities I thought of:

  • Creates content—Creates a lot of original text, video, podcasts or other content.
  • Speaker—Attends events and speaks at them.
  • Social networker—Participates regularly and very actively in online communities.
  • Consultant—Consults with businesses and makes recommendations.

Again, there may be others.

Create Profiles for Each Influencer

Now, create a profile for each influencer. Your profile lists the categories the influencer falls into, and the activities the influencer participates in, within each category. Also, do some research to identify the venues for each activity. For example, if the influencer is an Amplifier through Social networking activities, which social networks is he or she active in? Include information about each influencer’s reach, too. Your influencer profile might something like this (Kay is not a real person):

Kay Alexander

Type:

  • Opinion shaper
  • Amplifier

Activities:

  • Content creator
    • Blog (audience: 5,000/month)
    • Books (average sales: 20,000 per year)
  • Speaker
    • Social media conferences (40/year)
    • Content marketing conferences (10/year)
  • Consultant
    • Large organization (Fortune 1000 and up) in B2B (Number of clients: unknown)
  • Social networker
    • Facebook (12,000 fans)
    • Twitter (30,000 fans)

Once you have the profiles, you can start to filter down your list of influencer.

Determine the Types of Influencers that are Most Valuable

Based on your social media goals, you should have a good idea of which influencers are going to be most valuable to you.  For example, if you’re looking for brand awareness, then content sharing and brand mentions might be particularly valuable to you. In that case, you’re probably most interested in the influencer categories of Amplifier, and maybe Conversationalist. If you’re especially interested in brand reputation, then you are probably most interested in Opinion Shapers.

Brand awareness = Amplifier, Conversationalist

Brand reputation=Opinion shaper, Conversationalist, Thought leader

Word of mouth= Amplifier, Opinion shaper, Conversationalist

Website traffic= Amplifier, Opinion shaper, Thought leader

Compare the profiles with your audience analysis

I’m assuming that you’ve done an audience analysis to determine things like where your audience lives online (in what social networks and communities), what kinds of content they consume (videos, podcasts, blogs, etc.), demographic data, and so on.

Now, you should have a shorter list of potential influencers. So, compare the profiles with your audience data. If your audience isn’t on Twitter, you don’t need influencer’s whose primary activity is social networking on Twitter. If your audience doesn’t like videos, Opinion Shapers who primarily distribute content through video move down on your priority list.

By the time you finish this process, you’ll have a good list of influencers to target. You should be pretty confident that these influencers are worth building a relationship with. Now, you just have to figure how to build that relationship!

Here are some resources to help you:

Stop the PR Madness By Ardath Albee

The Art and Science of Blogger Relations – Updated eBook by Brian Solis

Six Steps to Better Blogger Relations By Jen Zingsheim

 

Neicole Crepeau is a partner in Coherent Interactive, which specializes in web, mobile, and social media design and implementation for small and mid-size businesses. You can read more of her original material at her blog, Coherent Social Media or onTwitter where she is @neicolec.


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  •  Can’t beleive it… Just about a year ago we were analyzing websites and sorting them by PR, Alexa, Compete, MozRank, etc.
    These days we have started to analyze PEOPLE and sorting them by their influence!!….. 

    Welcome to the future! 🙂

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  • Jesse Noyes

    I like the idea of creating influencer profiles to help map your outreach strategy. That’s strikingly similar to how marketers construct “buyer personas.” It just goes to show that social media is actually adding a layer of planning even as it diminishes the time from thought to action.

    Great post.

    Jesse

  •  Neicole, this is a fantastic model you developed there. And just like @timsoulo:disqus mentioned below the age of starting to analyse people more is upon us and thankfully so. I think it will give the web a lot more structure and help to create and distribute content more targeted and in a more useful way. 

    Anyways, fantastic read and let me Buffer this one for sure 🙂 

  • Peter Zmijewski

    thanks for the great blogging.

  • Hi Neicole – nice methodology! I’d like to propose an additional category of influence style: “Connector,” aka the people who know just the right people/info resources to assist you in what you need to do. It’s not quite a networking function – it’s more like matchmaking; Conversationalists may also be Connectors, but they also may just be people who engage a lot without cross-referral to others. (FWIW, the image for your post came from a great illustrator, Leonard Leslie Brooke: http://bit.ly/l1kbiZ and http://bit.ly/m859K0)

  •  A side comment. The span of your knowledge is amazing.  You frighten me.

    Please don’t go away.  : )   What a great addition you are to the community!

  • Kelly

    Excellent blog! Very nice linear, organizational, deductive process. I’m working with a small client right now that is in a rather elusive market and I’ve been struggling to piece together how to hit their market using their “slim to none” budget.

    THANKS!!!

    -Kelly

  • Thanks. Hope this is helpful to your work with your client! 

  • Thanks, Lori. Mark added those terrific images. I love them!! Connectors sounds like an excellent category to add. A really valuable type of influencer, too. One piece I didn’t put in here, but thought about, was assessing where in the sales funnel the different influencers tend to have their impact. I would expect connnectors to be further down in the funnel, which would be really valuable. 

  • Thanks, Leo!  

  • Thanks! 

  • Neicole! Highly impressive thought went into presenting this theory on influence. I love this and it segues nicely on all the recent influence posts we’ve been writing and commenting on. As said many time, this topic is not going to stray from the limelight; many of use believe, Mr. Schaefer included, that this will catch on with businesses and those scores and indices will help shape categorization of individuals as thought leaders, professionals and experts (whether we like it or not). I am so loving the intensity of your writing. Where on earth are you finding the time to dive in so deeply? 

  • Thank you Neicole for sharing your creativity, your encouragement, your enthusiasm and your support.  I’ve bookmarked and plan to come back to this amazing “guide to using social influence” again and again!!! 

  • Wow Neicole… Like @soulati:disqus  I am very impressed at how much thought you’ve put into this. Very detailed, systematic approach to looking at influence. Talk on this is not going to go away because it’s relevant. There are  limits to marketing budgets, ergo strategically targeting the right influencers of the key audiences is the wiser investment. 

    I think @twitter-135981308:disqus  had a FANTASTIC add on with Connector, lots of folks play matchmaker so it’s a part of influence. Question: I didn’t see ‘curation’ on here and I know I consider that something different than amplifying because 1) I curate selectively, strategically and 2) I try to ADD something to it, make it different or build on it so that it becomes more. IDK it’s why I stopped following Guy, he amplifies anything but I couldn’t figure out a rhyme or reason, no curation and he wasn’t really adding anything ‘new’ to it. Another I may add is a ‘lightning rod’ that person who can cross over and tip the scales, touch on all of these. Depending on what it’s about, Mark or Gini can be one, certainly someone like Chris Brogan can do it within these ‘social’ circles. I must say that because going back to influence… this “Kay” person is writing books and posts, speaking at content and social conferences, not sales and leads, not marketing, not CRM; so it’s a captive audience of people who are motivated, interested in these things and therefore subject to said ‘influence’ if that makes any sense. FWIW.

  • Yep, I am living proof that curiosity + a little time over a cup of coffee + Google + a fine arts background is a dangerous thing. No way am I going away, it’s too much fun here! 🙂

  • Hi Neicole! Well, your reply got me to thinking…(uh-oh, Mark)…is there really still a “sales funnel” in our highly-connected, decentralized-info-sourced new world? Or is it more a “sales/marketing loop,” where the marketing/sales function overlaps and runs into one another like a Moebius strip? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%B6bius_strip

    Maybe I’ll write on that topic and post to my marketing blog this weekend, unless y’all get to it first. 🙂

  •  Oh, it’s happening NOW! : )

  • Interesting read! What a great concept….

    I hate those scores, but apparently some take them quite seriously!

    Thanks for the ideas and references!

  • Yes, but decentralised in what respect? The consumer is still at the center of it all, exactly as in a sales funnel. Decentralised information sources? Multiple influencers / influences on the decision making criteria? The same as marketeers and sales guys account for in a funnel model.
     
    I actually think that social media and social peer influence is following the same process it did before. It’s just that today, rather than guessing, assuming or trying to understand it through research (which only gives you answers to questions you ask), we can observe, test and learn about the actual dynamics of decision making by consumers. It’s transparent.
     
    My one criticism of the model created by Neicole here is that it feels very early adopter orientated. Do the rest of the early and late majority have the same personality traits and characteristics as Early Adopters? (and social media is only just leaving the early adopter stage – don’t let global figures fool you into thinking it’s mass penetrated yet).
     

  • Anonymous

    Neicole

    Lots of food for thought I ditto @timsoulo:disqus ‘s sentiments!  Love the progression!

    Best,
    Rajka

  •  Neicole – I’ll 3rd (or is it 5th) the amazement at this model. Really well done. 

    I love the addition of connector, and not just because I play one during social media events. 🙂  

    One question – When you define opinion shapers, are you doing so on the basis of what they do or how they do it, or are you also taking into account the size of their audience or the platform from which they speak?

  • How can we use this information to help our businesses?

    We have to start somewhere.

    Time and attention are the new currency. Influence, and those who have it save us valuable time. In our businesses influence gives us advantages to shortcut the time it takes to search for Trust!
    This site is influential and therefore valuable, but how do you learn that? Who or what lets you see that before you explore the site?

    From the inside: You and I have to start somewhere!
    For the person who is tracking their connections you have put down a very good way to organize them into meaningful selected ranks.
    The rank determines you pursuit of this connection. Is this the beginning of a caste system?

    Example:
    I bought the Tao of Twitter based upon the influence that I saw in the post Mark put up when he addressed why the social elite ignored us.

    I am new to everything, so I am using these sort of new things like Klout, PeerIndex and mentionmap to decide who I follow and learn from, buy from and engage. Businesses that disdain this sort of thing will get passed for those who use them.

    Since I am paying with my attention first, I will gravitate to the influential first.

    From the outside: Customers have to start somewhere!

    The same will be going on with those people looking for someone like us.
    Only they will be using PeerIndex scores, Klout ranking, number of followers on twitter, badges on your sites that show an initial measure of influence and therefore a measure of trust.

    I can see a future that when a person goes on a search these indexes will show up besides our seo, google thingy’s and before we can get a chance to persuade our scores determine if we get looked at.

    For example:
    Mark has an Adage badge that lists how his blog ranks and that’s influence.
    Mark has a Grader rank of 100 and that’s influence.
    Mark has an offical rockstar blogger badge and that is influence.
    Mark has a PeerIndex yellow box that scores his status it’s a high number and that influences too.
    Imagine them placed beside a search for a business like his?

    All of these indicators matter to the person who is looking for authority, influence and a person they can trust. If we are looking for how all of this helps our business surely this must rank right up there as a strategy to be going on with!

    From the outside customers perspective.
    Their time and attention is just as valuable to them as ours is to us. So they need something that lets them qualify people they don’t yet know. They possibly don’t belong to a community yet!, but they want to buy something from a source that they can trust: ranking proves something to them at the outset at least. I know it did for me, and still does.

    I notice that although a lot of people are somewhat disdainful of the ideas of the ranking and scoring they are using them! Look at twitter and you see the little yellow box with the number beside it. I see this little box attached to people’s names popping up all over the web. So disdainful of them or not, they are signing up to use them to influence.

    Have you noticed that you tend towards the higher numbered names to be influenced by their tweets? I do. You realize who has been at this a while and who is new by this scoring. That is you being influenced is it not?

    The influencing Index that was promoted in the post.

    Determine the type of Influencers that are most valuable?

    As others have pointed out there are other areas they think should be included. Time will eventually sort out a very distinctive map. I look forward to all of that. Even if it means a social caste in influencing our customers. I think it exists already, but that’s another topic.

    Another interesting site that I often go to and learn about a persons influence is mentionmap. You can see who is talking and or listening to whom and from that visually track the influencer and their connections.

    One thing stands out like a bowling ball in a bathtub is that like it or not these things are going to be the biggest influencers of them all; and without a plan to use them for and by your business you will stand to become irrelevant to those who you want to pay with their attention to you.

    So without a structure, strategy and tactics to influence people about your business that includes these scores, ranks and badges of placement you won’t matter.

    So word of mouth and word of mouse are each important.

    This has been my biggest ever post, and sorry if it is too big, but I see this seed change and these are my thought on it.

    Billy

  • Thanks, Davina. I love noodling around ideas like this, and trying to figure out best practices and such. Interesting that you think of Amplifiers and Curators as different. I was thinking of them as the same thing, but I agree with you regarding Guy. It kind of amazes me that he can have as much influence as he does when he isn’t selective. So, maybe they should be separate categories. Although, how would we define Amplifiers, exactly. Just massively spreading the word? Whereas Curators are more a combination of Amplifiers and Thought Leaders? 

  • Anonymous

     I can’t do this article justice with a comment just yet, but now that people (job seekers AND employers) are now beginning to see Klout as a reference in resumes: http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/getting-your-klout-out-131629?page=1 I think we’d better find a way to draw their attention to your model. 

    I’ll be back later, but I’m extremely gratified to see this outline–thank you, Neicole.

  • I think the sales funnel still exists as a process that buyers go through when making a decision, though I agree it has a Moebius strip kind of effect through customer service influence on decision-making. It seems to me that there are just a lot more points of intersection in that funnel. But, I’d be very interested to see your post arguing differently, Lori.

    I’m not sure what you mean, Brant, about the early adopter issue. Do you mean the categories would/will be different for influencers coming up through the ranks now? I expect there will be differences, as new technologies evolve and new ways of using social media. But do you see some now that I’ve not accounted for?

  • Like I said, the creative idea part is what I enjoy the most. When we’re doing websites, the discovery and design part is what I like best: figuring out the problems and how to solve them. I guess I really am a geek, huh? Thanks, Jayme!

  • Thanks!! 

  • Yes, well, and advertisers have been analyzing us for years. This is just a different aspect. 

  •  Well, you should turn it into a blog post Billy!

    Here’s what I like about your comment. No defensiveness. No fear. No cynicism.

    I love that you are an eager learner, trying to figure this all out and connect the dots. I admire that a lot in you!

    I also think it is the only approach to take. I see people getting so emotional about this stuff. Why? It is what it is.  Let’s get through the emotion and deal with it dispassionately as business professionals. I like that about Neicole’s post and I love it about your thoughtful comment!

    I also am fascinated with this idea of influence ending up in personal search terms on Google. Why not? Will probably happen. It is already influencing other search results.

    Wonderful addition to the dialogue Billy!

  • Thanks. This is only a strawman. Would love to see others help evolve this. 

  • You should make it a blog post, Billy! And, like Mark, I find that idea of influence indicators in search results very interesting. I bet you’re right on that one. 

  • I was thinking that Opinion Shapers are people whose opinion is influential on a topic. If someone says “This is a great tool,” or “This is a great tool for x, but not for y” and that tends to carry weight in their niche, then they are an opinion shaper. I know there are people who I connect with socially, but I don’t necessarily value their opinions as much as others whom I don’t connect with as much socially. 

    As far as what how they spread those opinions and their audience size, I think it’s best to keep those factors separate from the influencer category. Makes it easier to slice and dice. That’s what I was thinking.

  • Thanks! 

  • I have to say, I hate influencer scores, too. Who likes being graded on their popularity? Only the popular!

  • Dominiq

    Hi Neicole, Very interesting post.

    Two comments.

    The Forrester model gives a simpler way to look at influence with just two categories: mass maven and mass influencers (http://blogs.forrester.com/augie_ray/10-04-20-peer_influence_analysis_what_it_how_marketers_use_it), i.e the one that create the content and the one that distribute it. Interestingly there is a huge overlap between these two groups.

    One other aspect that you need to factor in is the scope of influence. One cannot be influential in each/every community/vertical/circle. We do provide influencer lists based in different “tribes”: socialgps.ecairn.com
    We do this by first finding the relevant maven and then looking at how they interconnect.

    Best

  • Hi Brant – thanks for the feedback!

    I need to work the idea out more, but the way I’ve understood “funnel,” the starting point is a targeted segment, it’s a process of progression through a sequence of marketing and sales touches, and the “end result” is a won deal/customer.

    Looking at “funnel” diagrams, it’s clear (at least, clear to me) that the consumer is not at the center of the funnel – the consumer is the output, or product, of the conversion from target to prospect to customer.

    It seems to me that the funnel describes a linear conversion process, and that model made more sense when there were fewer influence and impact points on a sale. Now that we’re living in an a time/place when influencer ecosystems (weak ties, strong ties, ratings and references) are pervasive and easy to access, IMO it’s conceptually half-a-bubble-off to describe the process as a funnel (single entry point, controlled messaging via a few media channels throughout, the end output a sale).

  •  Ah-MAY-Zing! Love this post @twitter-29827578:disqus .  I struggle so with the Klout situation and find it ironic that it is used as widely as it is to measure influence, when it is so limited in it’s applications.  I love this approach and use of types and goals and matching those up to ascertain relative use in your own situation.  

    @davinabrewer:disqus  brings up a good point about the art of curation.  I would say that by doing that, one becomes an opinion shaper and an amplifier, depending on the thread or content that is created.  This is one crazy world we’re playing in now and to figure out how to best use it for own goals is an art; to add to the discussion so that everyone can do that? That’s very Influential!

    And might I add that “Kay” is one busy lady!

  •  Neicole, this is brilliant as always. I love the idea of being sure you’re finding the correct type of influencer. It doesn’t matter if you find a great Twitterer if your core consumers are all on Facebook!

    The one layer I would add is something about context or situational influence. I will click on weird news from Guy Kawasaki all day long, but if he tries to recommend a new hair straightener, I’m never going to believe him. Maybe that’s the third layer? About which topics are they influential or seen as a thought leader?

  • Thanks for the debate, good to see you guys are active.

    Yes, I expect the characteristic profiled behaviour of Early Adopters is very different to the ”average consumer” – Early / Late Majority. Social media has so far been modelled on the observed and researched behaviour of this former segment. For example, the first people to actively become Fans of brands are the fanatics / brand advocates – now who they are differs with each brand – but essentially the role they take with each brand defines a certain characteristic that is not applicable across the entire market. So yes, I think there are other roles out there.

  •  Hmm… active debate indeed! The funnel visualisation maybe a more linear model but it is about mapping connections to the consumer along a cycle of influence / motivation points that have been mapped out, and continually evolving, from customer observation and interaction. As you say, touchpoints, and what are they touching? The consumer. I don’t know what funnels you’ve been looking at, but if they don’t have customers or consumers in them, they’re not much use.

    Now, not all social media activity is linked to the sales process (but 80% is…in the end, by connecting to brand advocates and facilitating their passion, who then influence others). For example, customer forums, where customers help themselves, are not counted as direct sales influences, but customer retention actions. Which is about delivering brand equity or loyalty (although that term is misused massively from its original definition).

  • Thanks! The Forrester link didn’t work for me. But offhand, I think that model is a little too simple to be helpful to a company trying to decide where to spend its efforts. I’ll have to check out your product, though. That looks useful.

  • That makes sense. I have to say, I see the “advocates” as such a small minority, that I am always reluctant to base a whole strategy on enlisting them. 

  • I would really love to see a blog post on this, Lori. If you do one, please let me know! 

  • Yes, I actually see that as the first step. We cut it, because it was a little much to put at the beginning  of the post, but I had a list of prerequisites, including defining your goals, determining your audience, doing and audience analysis, and coming up with an inital list of influencers based on topic or niche. So, all of the above assumes that you have already narrowed your first list down to people who are relevant to your topic. Totally, totally agree. People are only influential in certain areas. Can’t think of anyone who is influential in every area. 

  • Kay is awfully typical of some of the big names in social media, though, isn’t she? 

  • That makes sense! That’s a whole separate post in and of itself, huh?

    Well then I just love your theory and ways of separating out the influencers based on HOW they influence. Rock on. 🙂 

  • Thanks for the encouragement. I feel safe enough here to say what I have to say without being guarded. If it was too long, the ref to a post, I can say I won’t do it again. Didn’t mean to suck up the pixels.
    As for wanting to learn, yes I do. Commenting here lets me do that, thanks!
    Billy

  • Thanks for replying. If I was being kindly admonished about its size sorry…. 🙂
    From listening to other posters I see that they really don’t like what’s coming; but it won’t be going away.
    Billy

  •  Now why don’t you comment on MY posts any more? : (  Where have you been young lady??

  •  I don’t see admonishment in any form.  Only encouragement!

  •  Oh yeah. Thanks for reminding me. I pay for my pixels by the yard : )

  • I’ve been reading every day! Usually through my email, though, and by the time I see the post everyone else says what I’m thinking….

    I’ll comment more. 🙂 

  • I do think it’s a combo and trust is part of it. Some bloggers I follow put out weekly curated lists that I know have been cultivated by reading them, I see those bloggers comment on them and I’ve read the posts that aren’t automated links, they put time into explaining why they picked these posts. That selective approach helps make them a Thought Leader to me I guess. 

  • Loved the long comment Billy. I too have been questioning the influence of measures of influence, never mind how those ‘influence measurements’ are calculated and to whom exactly they really matter. To me it’s about WHY and motivation, interest… qualitative X-factors harder to rank and score by number. And “word of mouse” is made of win, love that line. 

  •  Just wanted to let you know I’m paying attention!

  • Will do, for sure – and will keep coming back. 😉

  • Thanks!

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  • I finally made it back and I am in awe, with Jayme and Davina, that you put so much thought into this. It’s the second step to Altimeter’s social ladder. You should create a visual to go along with this and you’ll reach fame tomorrow. In all seriousness, this is super valuable and it should be used by every business that is using the web to connect with its influencers.

    As for the compliment to me…thank you!

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  • Helpful guide, saved.

    http://www.batteries-company.com/ – Quality Battery Supplier

  • Anonymous

    Hi Neicole – just posted a two-part expansion of my thinking here: http://hauntedbymarketing.posterous.com/

    Thanks again for helping inspire me!

  • Anonymous

    Hey Mark – finally got the time to bake out some of my thoughts on alternatives to the old marketing and sales funnel. If you get a sec, I’d be interested in hearing what you think! http://hauntedbymarketing.posterous.com/

  • that is all good, but I search if disqus influence alexa backlink and there is no article on that, can you help?

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