Is the Concept of Online Influence Overrated?

If you’ve been following me around the Interwebs lately (why would you? That’s called stalking. Unless you’re a marketer of course) then you would know that the subject of online influence really gets me going.

Wanna know how I’m obsessed?

It all started when I had to create a class blog on online influence.

I called it The New Influential.

I thought (still do think) it was brilliant.

So brilliant that I had to make it my Twitter handle. And now I obsess over Klout scores and PeerIndex scores, and like a drug fiend, I zip through my Google Reader, trying to get the latest fix on online influence.

But today Tom Webster wrote a post on Social Media Today titled, “The Limits of Online Influence”. Webster discusses how he enlisted the support of A-List influencers like Chris Brogan and Ed Shahzade to help raise awareness for the earthquake disaster in New Zealand.

He wanted people to create a simple 20 second message, and hoped that his influential friends, which have hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers, would cause an outpouring of 20 second messages.

With a little help from his friends, Webster’s message had a combined reach of 308,000, and generated over 400,000 impressions.

Those might seem like big numbers, except when you consider that only 389 people clicked on the actual link, and only 10 left a message.

Wow. Talk about disappointing.

So does this mean that the idea of online influence is overrated? Webster would think so:

“What this experience suggests to me, however, is that if you thought online influence has been a bit oversold, you are wrong. It’s been exponentially oversold.”

I would say yes and no.

First of all, how we define influence as it pertains to the web is still ongoing. Is influence the same as popularity? Is Lady Gaga influential because she is popular?

Well, it depends.

When it comes to music, definitely.

But when it comes to online marketing, probably not.

It also depends how much work, planning, and preparation is put into making an influencer outreach program work. In his post, Webster talks about his good friend Matt Riding, who rattled off three things that Webster could have done differently to engage more people.

I guess it served as a wake up call to me because I figured you could just rely on the inherent potential Twitter and Facebook to carry your message and influence the masses.

Apparently not.

Lastly, I think it’s important to say that we are just beginning to live in the digital age. Remember 6 years ago when services like Facebook and Twitter did not exist, and blogging was not for moms?

I do.

Society is still not at a point where social media is absolutely essential. I mean c’mon, most companies still haven’t figured out how to get a ROI from social media. How are they supposed to know how to run influencer campaigns?

I believe that as society grows more comfortable with these new tools marketers can then create more effective influencer campaigns. There will be more data available, and better tools for collecting and analyzing that data so that a formula is established.

So to say that the concept of online influence is overrated is shortsighted.

A service like Klout might be pretty meaningless to Joe the Plumber in 2011, but what about in 2025, when there will be billions of people connected to the internet?

Just something to chew on.

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About Ssunmonu

Sam Sunmonu is a Duke University Senior majoring in History with a minor in Political Science. He is interested in the marketing industry with a strong online tilt. You can catch him blogging at Sam Sunmonu's Blog, or follow him @NewInfluential. View all posts by Ssunmonu

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