Leverage the Difference Between Online Influence and Popularity to Your Advantage

Altimeter Group just released “The Rise of Digital Influence, A How-To Guide for Businesses to Spark Desirable Effects and Outcomes Through Social Media Influence.” This report by Principal Analyst Brian Solis caught my attention because of my focus on spotlighting the differences between online influence and online popularity. As my blog readers know, I always argue that popularity is not influence and vice versa.

Last year, Advertising Age’s Matthew Creamer posted an article called “Your Followers Are No Measure of Your Influence,” in which he argued that popularity is not the same as having the ability to drive behavior. Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher and Lady Gaga are all extremely popular online with followers waiting anxiously for their next Tweet, but can they influence those followers to do anything but attend a concert or movie?

As marketers, you understand that popularity is useless unless you can use it to motivate a desired action for your product or service — you want your followers to visit a website, make a purchase, or refer you to their friends.

How Does Social Media Figure Into Your Marketing Plans?

The Altimeter report on digital influence studies influence software vendors like Klout, Kred and PeerIndex. Solis evaluates these vendors based on three principles of influence:

  • Reach: does your influencer have the ability to reach large quantities of potential users for your product or service?
  • Resonance: will your message stick around for any length of time?
  • Relevance: does your message matter to this group of prospective customers?

If you’re trying to market a product or service by relying on social media influencers, you need to go beyond scores and understand which vendors can best help you find your influencers. While Klout may rate Justin Bieber as a 100 according to its standard of influence, I believe that is more indicative of his popularity. If your message has no relevance to people who like Justin Bieber’s music, then he is not an influencer for you.

I still believe that services like Klout and PeerIndex measure popularity over influence. Popularity is something that can be “gamed” by those who understand the system. When Ashton Kutcher conducts a campaign on national television to get one million Twitter followers, does that justify a high influencer rating? Do his one million followers actually care about whether he has a good or bad opinion of your product or service?

Turn That Influence Into Action

Your boss may be demanding a return on investment, but social media offers a return on influence. Solis offers examples of what can be achieved when you understand social media influence:

  • Build Brand Awareness: use social influencers to help build awareness for your brand
  • Stay Top-of-Mind: when influencers talk about your company, product or service on a regular basis, it keeps you ahead of your competitors
  • Generate Sales and Referrals: the ultimate goal for any marketer. Use your influencers to help you promote product features and benefits, special offers and product updates.
  • Shift Sentiment: ome software tools can help identify negative trends about your product or service. A restaurant or airline that is watching sentiment trends can identify when a negative item is working its way through the social atmosphere and use its influencers to turn that sentiment around.
  • Become a Thought Leader: the old saw is that people buy only from companies they “like, respect and trust,” so use influencers to become likeable, respectable and trustworthy.
  • Build Demand: wouldn’t it be great if everybody lined up to buy your product like they do for Apple? Use your influencers to build anticipation and curiosity, and you’ll build demand, too.


For more insights on Influence, plan to attend the American Marketing Association West Michigan's lunch program on Tuesday, April 10th, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Kent Country Club, 1600 College Ave. NE, Grand Rapids MI. I’ll be providing the keynote speech on how to create sources of online influence and make it work for you.

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