There is a great post by Jeff Jarvis and a lively discussion of this topic in the BuzzMachine blog. To shed more light on the topic, I would like to offer some data based on the purchase behavior of over 100 million consumers that Pursway has analyzed in our work with some of the largest consumer organizations worldwide.

    1. 1. Real influence is indeed in the tail and not in the head.

 

In every social group, 7-15% of the people are the influencers for any specific subject. These are what we call Everyday Influencers or Purswayers. On average, each influencer has 3-10 followers in their immediate circle of influence.

    1. 2. Influence is specific to a subject.

 

There are no super influencers. One person can be an influencer for fashion, while the other would be an influencer for gadgets.

    1. 3. Influence does drive behavior.

 

We have conducted over one hundred campaigns which clearly show that the influencers drive a good portion of the purchasing decisions of their followers. Depending on the subject, the influencers can drive 50-70% of all purchasing decisions in any given customer base.

    1. 4. Online relationships are mostly superficial.

 

When measured by buying behavior, there is very little actual influence in social media. Most online friends and followers are neither friends nor followers when it comes to the real world. Real social connections and influence relationships are largely unknown even to the influencers and their followers. Having 10,000 Twitter followers, blog readers, or Facebook friends doesnt make one more of an influencer than the person next door. Interestingly enough, other social network researchers came to very similar conclusions when studying social influence in other areas such as health-related habits.

As rightly pointed out in many of the comments, there are two key elements to leveraging influence for marketing:

Key #1: Identifying the influencers. Just like finding real influence cannot rely on social media links, finding 100,000 or 10,000,000 influencers cannot be done using any conventional methods. It requires a breakthrough technology to be scalable and cost effective so it can deliver the ROI (which can be huge).

Key #2: Turning the influencers into advocates for your brand is not trivial. Influence is driven by trust, and marketers that try to bribe the influencers can in effect strip them from any influence power they had. But through rigorous experiments and the ability to measure real results, we can find ways which serve the influencers, their followers, and the marketer. Only such win-win-win proposition can survive in the long term.

Last but not least: Influence and relationships are not mutually exclusive. Marketers have to realize that they cannot create influence or manipulate it. But when influence can be recognized, measured, and incorporated into the companys customer relationship management strategy, it can be a game changer. Marketers that choose to ignore the power of influence risk dire consequences if their competitors get a leg up in leveraging this power.

What do you think?