March 30th, 2011 By Jack Morton
Last week I was one of the 17,000 lucky geeks to attend SXSWi in Austin, Texas. I’ll be blogging my observations from the event in a multi-part series on the JackBlog, and I hope you follow along. Today’s topic: Influencers. Who really is one, who isn’t, and how to tell the difference.
Influencers got a lot of attention again this year, but the definition of who is and isn’t an influencer is seems to be changing a bit as social media overtakes other channels in its importance to our daily lives. One hotly contested ‘throwdown’ session about what defines an influencer pitted tweeters and online favorites Charlie Sheen against Ashton Kutcher. When influence was defined by meaningful action from followers, tiger’s blood did not win the day. While Adonis DNA supports the entertainment news industry and gives outlets like TMZ something to talk about, a loud voice doesn’t translate into influence.
While at SXSW, Mr. Demi Moore engaged his audience by using Twitter and his large bevvy of followers to create a roving Nikon party/demonstration. While the line between celebrity endorsement and meaningful influence seems to be a little blurry in these cases, the extent of the reach of an individual combined with their sincerity and the context of their message all combine to present meaningful influence. This type of influence can move your audience regardless of the channel used – online or offline. Ashton Kutcher tweeting to get you to attend a Nikon party may work for fans of one stripe, while an in-person recommendation from your camera-happy buddy, or Dennis Crowley (Foursquare) giving GroupMe a shout-out from the SXSW stage might be worth more to other folks.
Measuring influence was also a very hot topic, though there is no right answer on how to measure influence. Online tools like Facebook or Twitter can give us fantastic quantitative measures for those channels, but eyeballs don’t necessarily mean influence or sales. Qualitative tools, and aggregators like Klout (who hosted 2 panels) can give us more data, but they aren’t enough on their own, either. It takes a combination of tools and smart analysis of all of your channels to figure out the right influencers for your audience, how to use those influencers properly, and to figure out your end result. While this landscape is still quite complicated, it’s critical to understand and measure.