I'm an influencer. People—mostly vendors in this industry—tell me so all the time. They point to my social media activity or my circle of friends and colleagues or my body of work, and say that I'm somebody whose opinion matters.
Well, duh! Of course I'm an influencer. So are you, and so's your mom too. Everybody is an influencer.
This is yet another thing on the list of what drives me crazy. It's a rather long list, and I'm beginning to suspect it's not so much cause-and-effect as it is data points supporting the theory that I'm nuts. But when we have a separate class of social media–savvy individuals who are considered influencers, we are missing part of the point of social media.
To be fair to myself and others like me, I do work hard at knowing my business. I'm not being self-congratulatory when I say that the work I've been doing since 2005 makes me qualified to consult on a professional level about my views on CRM, social media, and all the other stuff to which you've seen my name attached. There's a reason I get retweeted and asked to attend conferences, and I assume it's not because I'm such a snappy dresser.
But having a class of "influencers" takes the power away from ordinary folks—the ones who started the social media revolution in the first place. The influence of the common citizen–consumer is what most of us are after, even those of us who benefit from inside info and special treatment.
For a good couple of years, the apparent gold standard of Twitter influence was Ashton Kutcher. He had (and possibly still has) a following way out of proportion to what a rational being would expect, and it led to him becoming a trendsetter. Now everybody wants to marry and then divorce Demi Moore. They also want to listen to the music he likes, use the cameras he uses, and support the causes he does. Influence is power. But the preferences of one rich actor should not carry more weight than the experiences of 10 of my friends. He broadcasts preferences, and if any (or even most) of his gajillion fans disagree with him, he probably never notices.
Here's a more mundane example. My friend Brent Leary once related a story about a salesperson who mentioned on some social site or another that he'd made a big sale, and was going to have a nice steak to celebrate when his flight landed. This person was a regular customer and vocal fan of an upscale steakhouse, and one of the executives of said restaurant was a follower who caught wind of the message. A limousine and steak dinner were waiting for him at the airport. On the face of it, this is a great story of how influence can have its benefits for both sides. But the salesperson and the restaurant were already about as influential for one another as they could be, and this nice story ultimately has little effect.
Now imagine somebody who isn't a regular customer and vocal fan. She has a business success (or setback) and mentions to her social network that she wishes she could have a nice steak dinner to celebrate (or comfort herself). Imagine the restaurateur greeting her at the airport with a limo and a New York strip. Think of how much further that story would go. She would be a fan who would go to that eatery for every celebration, and her friends would likely do the same. The steakhouse would get a huge PR bump. Beef futures would be way up, boosting the stock market and helping the economy to rebound. Everybody wins, except maybe the cows.
That's the trick about influencers. We are what we are because we are in contact with a lot of people who listen to us. But we listen to them as well. If I express my passion for flying with a particular airline, but then I hear from my friends that they regularly get taken on ticket price and availability, amenities and service, or something else, I'm going to re-evaluate my support. Influencers are a shortcut to reaching a broad audience. Listen to that audience once you've reached it, because that's where your business is.
Marshall Lager is the founder and managing principal of Third Idea Consulting, a soapbox for pushing his views of social CRM on the world. Influence him at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.twitter.com/Lager.