Winning fans and influencing people

Ever since Dale Carnegie’s 1937 groundbreaking book, How To Win Friends and Influence People appeared, people have been trying to understand the nature of Influence and how to persuade people to act or think in certain ways.  With new Social Media tools, there are changes in the new influence model.

Two new examinations about influence recently appeared, including a joint study conducted by Vocus and the Influencer 10 Conference. Together these two events have us thinking about changes in the Influential Model and the implications for PR.

In a nutshell, while Social Media is an accelerator for people to build influence, influence is not determined only by the size of their audience. The most important attribute is the quality of the information shared; valuable ideas and creative thinking are more important than popularity to build or evaluate influence.

The relationship between influence and the quality of information is not entirely new. In the early days of tech PR, the influentials were easy to identify for most markets: it all started with an industry analyst. Analysts were thoughtful experts who had a deep understanding of the issues in their industries. The PR influence model assumed layers of expanding influentials, like ripples in a pond or rings in a slice of onion, leading out from the analysts at the core. Trade press, vertical press, hobbyist media and mainstream media were all influenced and, in turn, influential to the next layer.  We called it the onion model of influence, and no strategy was complete without starting with the deep-thinking analysts.

In those days, the media were considered to be the most effective influentials. Reporters had a large audience of readers, and they relied on analysts, other reporters and sometimes PR people and their clients to inform their own deep understanding of topics and stories. Reporters were influential because they had an audience, and they were perceived to be a filter for information that would be valuable for their readers. PR people used to tout studies that proclaimed how much more credible media was perceived to be by the public than other means of corporate communication.

The internet changed everything. In the late 90s the first knowledgeable influential could reside anywhere in the layers of the onion. While reporters and analysts were still important, the influential world became less focused on role and more on intrinsic knowledge and reach. During this period, word-of-mouth marketing grew, and people began to report that they were more influenced by people in their own networks than by “outside” influencers. Soon after that time, books like The Influentials: One American in Ten Tells the Other Nine How to Vote, Where to Eat, and What to Buy, and later The New Influencers tried to identify the attributes, roles and ways to tap into a less orderly — and potentially more powerful model.

The last few years have seen a change in the influence model, and also a change in the credibility of many members of the mainstream media.  Those surveys that PR people used to tout which pointed to the credibility of the media now show that media influence has slipped for all but some business press.

The new influence model puts expertise front and center. For PR, this means that clients and PR people can become directly influential, if they create and share information that is valuable. This means:

  • Thought and effort is required to rise above the “noise”
  • Simply re-tweeting the information that others create is not likely to build real influence (though thoughtful curation can be)
  • That always protecting “intellectual property” may backfire in the long run

Of course, reporters and analysts can still be influential. Their influential capacity can be evaluated by the quality of the information they create.

Jody Peake, OnPR – Portland

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