By Ovetta Sampson
A few weeks ago, I received a small candle-sized cardboard box in the mail. In it were four Red Bulls. I have never purchased Red Bull. I donât consume it, and I certainly donât have it on my grocery list. Yet, I got this present in the mail because of my Klout score.
Brands such as Cadillac, Red Bull, Home Run Inn, believe I am like some Internet imp, sprinkling virtual fairy dust transforming followers into sheep to buy their products. They dubbed me a social media influencer. Such a moniker should make me feel somewhat majestic, like some kind of ROI royalty until I realized one salient thought: the Social Media Influencer, as itâs billed today, is a myth.
The Rise of the Digital Influence Industry
Yes I know, an entire industryâthe Digital Influence industry to be exactâhas cropped up around this mystical creature known as the social media influencer. Klout is now the leader in a crowded field which includes:
- Tellagenceâwhich purports to find the âright combination of Twitter users,â to engage brand audiences.
- The Mark Cuban-backed Little Birdâa Portland company which commands up to $2,500 per month for connecting you with âexperts that other experts trust.
- PeerIndexâa sort of vanity project for social media users which âmeasures interactions across the web to help you understand your impact in social media.â
These companies throw around words like âinfluence,â âimpact,â and âsocial reach,â like lollipops in a candy store. Yet few of these actually measure any of these terms.
Defining Social Media Influence?
As social media expert Jure Klepic says, âMarketers already have plenty of tools at their disposal that claim to measure online influence, but all these tools really do is measure awareness.â
What is social media influence? Well hereâs what it isnât: popularity, followers, or likes. A true social influencer is someone who can change behavior. Itâs making Coke drinker switch to Pepsi. Itâs wooing Nike fans to become Converse lovers. Itâs pushing folks from Allstate to State Farm. A real social media influencer engages his or her audience over time and convinces them to do what the data says they wouldnât normally do. A social media influencer must be seen by its audience as:
There is no doubt that digital influence exists. One million people donât just like a Coke commercial on a whim. But the whyâs, howâs and more importantly the âhow can we replicate that lighting strike,â is more the future of social media marketing than the present. The jury is still out on that omnipotent, product pusher who commands millions of minions to buy in droves.
Instead, the research says influence spreads through social networks through a bunch of close, intimate relationship circles that connect via social media and influence each other to see a movie, pick up a Red Bull or beta test a new shoe-buying app. Letâs delve deeper:
MYTH: One Social Media Guru Affects Thousands
âThere is little data to support so-called influencer behavior in social marketing.â – Jack Krawczyk, StumbleUpon and Jon Steinberg BuzzFeed
âNo one has any real data on real influence.â – Mike Wu, Ph.D. data scientist at Lithium
ââ¦itâs not clear whether, when, and to what extent different behaviors are truly âcontagious.â – Sinan Aral, Ph.D., MIT-trained technology professor at NYU
Okay. There. Now, I donât have to convince you that the social media influencer is a myth. These guys, much smarter than I, have done it for me.
In an AdAge article about content sharing, Krawczyk and Steingberg put the kibosh on the myth of the all-affecting social medial influencer.
âOur data show that online sharing, even at viral scale, takes place through many small groups, not via the single status post or tweet of a few influencers. While influential people may be able to reach a wide audience, their impact is short-lived. Content goes viral when it spreads beyond a particular sphere of influence and spreads across the social web via ordinarily people sharing with their friends.â â Steinberg & Krawczyk
FACT: Social Media Influencers More like Sewing Circles than Celebrity Gurus
So are these smart guys saying there is no such thing as a social media influencer? Well, not exactly. What theyâre really saying is that social media influence is real but we havenât figured out how to measure it just yet.
In his blog post, âWhy Brands Still Donât Understand Digital Influence,â Wu explains that no algorithm in the world can compute the complex psychology that goes into human decision-making. Sure, they can identify a person with a large social network, they can even determine if anyone listens to that person. But the idea that math has cracked the behavioral database is fictionâas of now.
âOne of the reasons brands donât understand digital influence is because they donât seem to realize that nobody actually has âdataâ on influence (i.e. data that says precisely who influenced who, when, where, how, etc.)â¦â Wu says.
What the data has shown is that influence is a personal, intimate and very small circle kindaâ of thing. Itâs not one social guru casting a net of thousands. It is 10 social gurus casting a net of four or five. Buzzfeed reviewed content shared on Facebook since 2007. StumbledUpon looked at 5.5 million shares over 45 days. Here are some of their findings:
- Sharing among friends outnumbered large broadcast sharing (sharing by a person with a large following) by 2 to 1.
- The median ratio for sharing a piece of Facebook content was 9. That means for every piece of content shared, basically only NINE people saw that content when it was shared, and Twitter was 5 to 1. News sharing sites such as Reddit had a median of 36.
- Viral content is created not by one person broadcasting to millions of followers but thousands of small networks broadcasting to their own intimate networks.
So what does this all mean for you? Well, when youâre promoting your content you might want to stop star gazing or even ego-baiting gurus to get shares. Concentrate on making your content more authentic that will have that âwater cooler,â quality prompting co-workers, families and friends to share it. So experiment with:
Creating resonating content â personal content that connects with content consumers in a way they feel personally obligated to share it.
Match your influencers and content. Donât just share your content to influencers with large mass audiences but with audiences who have relevancy to your subject matter.
Deeper, not just longer, content gets shared. So experiment with longer videos and blog posts that are rich content.
So what do you think? Are you still stuck on finding the Social Media Influencer?