I’ve been thinking and reading about influencer theory and influencer strategy a lot lately. Last week I read a post by Lisa Petrilli: Three smart reasons to empower instead of influence, that provides some very good arguments against pursuing an influencer strategy.
Attempts to regain control
Petrilli’s first reason (Influence is an expression of your power whereas empowerment invokes someone else’s power) sticks with me because this is in essence what the change in thinking company’s need is all about. The Cluetrain Manifesto described it over ten years ago and more recently Paul Greenberg described Social CRM as the company’s response to the Customer’s ownership of the conversation.
I think that actively pursuing a strategy designed to target influencers whom should influence the actual targets is just another attempt of companies to regain control over the conversation. I agree with Petrilli and think that any such attempt will fail to deliver sustainable value for both the Customer and the company because it fundamentally drives in the opposite direction of the only thing your Social CRM Strategy cannot do without: Customer empowerment.
Companies need to come to terms with the Social Customer
The mere fact that we are still seeing a lot of debate around this proves to me that not only companies but also many of the “Social” thought leaders have still not come to terms with the Social Customer.
Many believe or think that the Social Customer is all about new channels and toys (with mobile going social now being the new cool-aid, or just the I-pad as the embodiment of revolution). If that’s how you feel about the Social Customer, please (re-)read the Cluetrain Manifesto by following the link above. (I also like the whitepaper by Attensity, yet it is written from a Company’s perspective, not a Customer’s perspective, which makes the Cluetrain such a powerful manifesto).
Do influentials exist?
In her third reason Petrilli claims there is no proof that influentials even exists. She takes her cues from Steve Knox, CEO of Proctor and Gamble’s WOM Unit Tremor, who they have not been able – with 10 years of research – to find any proof that influentials exist. This actually fits with what Duncan Watts and Peter Dodds describe in their paper: Influentials, Networks, and Public Opinion Formation.
Watts and Dodds conclude their research saying: “Under most conditions that we consider, we find that large cascades of influence are driven not by influentials but by a critical mass of easily influenced individuals. Although our results do not exclude the possibility that influentials can be important, they suggest that the influentials hypothesis requires more careful specification and testing than it has received.”
I’m not convinced
I know that many smart people are doing research on this topic right now. One I’m following with specific interest and admiration for his work is Michael Wu who has recently written this Chapter on Influencers. I’m just not convinced yet, and I doubt I will be.
Although I will continue to follow the emerging research on the topic, I’m currently of the opinion that one could better focus their efforts on helping the Customer getting the job done, instead of helping yourself reaching the Customer, who prefers to find you when she needs you, not you to target her, when you want to.
What do you think?