Whereas before, we intuitively knew that some people were more influential than others, now we undeniably know it.
The introduction of the term "social graph" underlines the fact that those people with an increased ability to connect have distinct advantages on the social web. LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman calls them light alliances. Guy Kawasaki considers twitter a weapon given his ability to connect to millions of people through his followers (at the time of this writing he had 155,000 of them) and his digital footprint is undeniably large.
There is nothing malicious here. It doesn't mean these influencers are better humans, or perhaps smarter or even appropriate for all types of project involvement, but it's irrefutable the impact an influencer can have on a company's prospects.
Here are the quick stats that bring the "law of the few" into light:
- the top 1% of Wikipedia editors constitute 70% of the content
- the top 10% of Twitterers constitute 90% of the tweets
- the average amount of Facebook friends is 120, less than 1% have more than 1000 friends
The influencer naysayers have it right in one respect - "might" does not always right. These highly connected could be spammers, shameless self promoters, gamers or pay-per-friend members - a simple view of their content and reputation will cess this out quickly.
But "might" combined with real influence - the ability to produce interesting content, build a reputation, have leading persuasive expertise and connect to other influencers with genuine relationships is an extremely influential combination.
So why then do people want to deny the fact that a person that produces more content, posts more photos, shoots more video and links to more friends has more online influence than one who doesn't.
There seems to be an ideologial strain borne out of the "open source" movement thats blinded to the reality that some people know more, connect more, prodduce more and infuence more than others. I read a post by my friend Sean Howard called F*^k Influencers that casts doubt on the existence of a group of opinion leaders and shapers and I must respectfully disagree on three counts:
a) influence is tightly concentrated online - just try to start a movement with 10 friends or one great post - it won't happen - a very small percentage of people get the ball rolling on big and small movements - these don't have to be elites - some have magnetic personalities, some are unbelievably passionate, some are very engaged with their communities - in social media, you get very few influential that like to sit on their gold thrones
b) the term "influencers" gets people shorts in a bunch - although there can be general omnipotent influencer traits, there are different performers by category and their ability rests not only in their ability to spread messages but also to feedback insight, produce content, change perception, offer expert solutions - when performed best, influencer-based strategies are not merely transactional and mercenary as Sean identifies
c) influence by its very nature have deep and wide networks - one without the other has obvious limitations - the more connections you have, mathematically, the more chances you have weak ties in those networks that engage in different communities of interest - whether these are nodes of influence, at some point, you need to engage and identify the difference makers that are making those communities tick if you want to activate interest into organizational value.
In the open world's hope of being egalitarian and open to all, they are ignorant to the fact when given the open opportunity, a small percentage of people take a big bite out of the apple, while others merely shine and buff that same Granny Smith.
My belief is that smart innovators will start building more, not less private communities of people online that engage a distinct pool of influencers in the ways that Gmail, Apple, TED and others have effectively done in the past.
Most top performing community and social media-driven companies understand and tap into this phenomenon ...Mozilla calls it their meritocratic hierarchy, Microsoft calls them MVPs, eBay calls them Powersellers. Zappos have introduced a VIP program.
And in a culture that rewards work ethic and intellect, there is nothing unethical or undemocratic about giving more access, more rewards, more influence on decisions or more priviledged information to the more passionate, more engaged and quite frankly, more valuable members, customers, users and stakeholders.
With that in mind, Agent Wildfire is relaunching The Influencers and building a companion network of digital influencers called The Influencers in the Know for September - more about these in August...stay tuned. In the interim, all you trendsetters, tastemakers, opinion leaders, mavens, experts and social ringleaders, feel free to join our Twitter page.