Making Sense Of The Mess

Posted by

When are we going to learn that millions of followers does not always equal influence?

It’s a mass media lie that was perpetuated by the original Marketing and Advertising executives as a way to strong-arm brands into coughing up their dollars to line the pockets of the advertisers and media companies. It’s a game (err… business) that worked well until the proper analytics and platforms were put in place (thank you, technology… and yes, thank you, Social Media) for us to see – in living color – a semblance of a truth.

The truth is new. The truth will change.

Today, Mark W. Schaefer over on the Grow Blog has a post titled, On Twitter, No One Can Hear You Scream. Mark (who I frequently debate on the Six Pixels of Separation Podcast) believes that there is little influence happening on Twitter and that, "real influence is taking place in the smaller, stronger groups found in passionate blog communities." I don’t disagree with his position, but I don’t fully agree with it either (which I’m sure will put a smile on Mark’s face as the next topic we can debate). Mark’s right, smaller, stronger groups are where influence lies, but there is no correlation between that and a specific media channel.

Howard Stern vs. Charlie Sheen.

Howard Stern has millions of listeners daily to his satellite radio show (and I am one of them). Charlie Sheen has millions of followers on Twitter (and I am one of them). Howard Stern has tremendous influence over his audience. Charlie Sheen does not. Radio is not more influential than Twitter. It’s all about the individual, their message and the ability to truly connect it with a caring audience. Nothing more. Nothing less. Howard Stern is not less influential than Charlie Sheen on Twitter just because he has fewer followers (Howard has over 400,000 followers compared to Sheen who has over 2.3 million followers). My guess is that if Stern asked his followers to do something, the conversion rate percentage would trump Sheen’s request by a large multiple. Furthermore, someone with a semblance of a following who sends out a tweet with a call-to-action that doesn’t convert should not imply that this individual has little influence. It simply means that this message didn’t resonate with that audience at this particular moment in time. Remember, for every Egypt there are thousands of movements that never take hold or that fizzle out.

Why brands have trouble with influence.

The brands that are winning "true influence" (and I’m using quote marks here on purpose because there is no agreed upon definition for "true influence" – this is my own/personal interpretation) are winning (as opposed to #winning) because they have people who are having real interactions with other real human beings (and those interactions are truly meaningful). While there are a handful of brands that have influence over and above that (brands like Apple, Starbucks, etc…), it is much more practical/realistic for businesses to think about using these opportunities to connect and have a sincere engagement instead of trying to rack up their numbers.

"Who?" instead of "How Many?"

It’s an argument I made in my book, Six Pixels of Separation, and it’s an argument I made for years on this Blog prior to publishing the book last September. A brand’s ability to have it’s message put in front of millions of people begins and ends with that impression. No influence comes from it alone. We (as a public) seem to believe that the influence comes from the sheer volume of impressions and connections that we have in the marketplace (i.e. if we beat a message into people’s heads through repetition, that is influence). It doesn’t. True influence comes from connecting to the individuals, nurturing those relationships, adding real value to the other person’s lives and doing anything and everything to serve them, so that when the time comes for you to make an ask, there is someone there to lend a hand. Worry less about how many people you are connected to and worry a whole lot more about who you are connected to, who they are and what you are doing to value and honor them. It would also serve us well to not confuse an ad campaign with a marketing strategy around building influence and engagement. They are not one and the same.

Perhaps we need to stop using traditional metrics based on the movement of masses and start looking at newer analytics models. Perhaps then we can more clearly define words like "influence" and "engagement." What do you think?

(between us, I’m a little depressed with the fact that I even mentioned Charlie Sheen).


  1. Beautiful. Just as I have been saying – we often confuse influence with reach. Charlie Sheen (yikes, I am disappointed I mentioned him as well) could get a million people to take action, but does would it really change behavior? That’s influence — and something few have the ability to do.

  2. Or, as the Dean in an E.M. Forster novel said, “you’re confusing ‘impressive’ with ‘important’.” To me, that’s what the difference is.
    Personally, I’m feeling great that this is starting to be talked about more along with some stats to back it up.
    The other thing is, even if there were a ton of clicks through from someone with a lot of followers, if it doesn’t translate into sales or if it doesn’t create anything beyond making some stats look good on a website for one day, what’s its point?

  3. I think we take influence too seriously, having said that there is no one factor to determining influence, often times we forget the basics of who, what, where, when, how.
    Where: Where did they mention it? Howard stern easily influence someone on radio than on twitter. If charlie sheen appeared on tv, he could easily be more influential than Howard stern. Where could be physical or online. On twitter, if Charlie keeps screaming, people will just tune out or miss it. Nothing much to reply actually.
    What: what is their message? Looking at charlies tweet, I am confused.
    Who: Who are they telling it to? are they telling it to people who follow because he is a celebrity? or are they following him because they like him? or just following the pack. Like you mentioned, its who, not how many.
    When: Did they say it? During the oscars? maybe more will tune in to him then. We’re not tune in 24/7 unless there is a special occasion. Take blogchat for an example. I tune in more when its Sunday night. (monday morning for me)
    How: How are they telling it?
    Of course they are other factors to consider into that influences influence. Though to measure influence just by numbers.
    Just my 2cents, I think like twitter, facebook, or blogs are all able to build deep connections, depends on the individual. Doesn’t have to be small like Mark mention. Just passionate. Look at biebers fans, look at #usguys or #blogchat. Everyone is passionate in their own way.
    Look at err… #dickbar…

  4. Volume of follower is the equivalent of ad impressions. For both followers and ad impressions, it doesn’t matter how many ads you serve, if they are displaying to the wrong people you won’t make a sale. I have clients all the time that think that increasing impressions will also directly increase sales. It only increases sales when the ads are relevant to the people who are seeing them. Followers is more a measure of reach, but even that’s a stretch.

  5. There’s more than one kind of influence. Howard Stern influences people with rational debate and because he’s extremely clever, not just because of his anti-establishment stance. He has a lot of integrity and his fans love that.
    Charlie Sheen is a maniac shouting from the rooftops, but he also has influence. His influence is one of example: he is the crazy, anti-establishment, it’s-ok-to-do-drugs voice in the celebrity wilderness, and people connect with that.
    Having said that, Charlie Sheen is bound to jump the shark once people realise he’s a one-trick pony, so I would say his influence is short-term (let’s call it ‘promotional’) whereas Howard Stern’s is more permanent (let’s call it ‘brand building’).
    If you want to advertise a prize draw or a money-off voucher, you go with Charlie Sheen and just shout loudly. If you want to build a brand and start a serious CRM campaign, you go with a Howard Stern model of integrity and genuine connection with your audience.

  6. In a sentence: don’t kill the messenger.
    My radio career spanned 20+ years in Montreal. While it never came even close to reaching the influence of Howard Stern’s, I did alright.
    Yes, working mid-days on any Adult Contemporary radio station guaranteed me a large wedge of the listeners that advertisers wanted, though it didn’t always guarantee the impact they desired. “At-work-tuners” were busy doing something else…working.
    Knowing that however, taught me how important creating a connection on an emotional level is.
    It’s about emotion…not about incentive (50% off…2 for 1, etc.).
    If you can communicate your message on an emotional level you’ll be far ahead of the “Charlie Sheens”.

  7. It’s the kind of lesson you can really hardly understand with just Tweeting compared to owning a blog or managing a community. Watching people gather around what you say, in your blog for example, interacting with them and discussing your opinions with them, those are very good ways to see how influence works. You recognize familiar faces, faces who come back for advices and generally to give their views on what you say, without anyone asking explicitly.
    I don’t really know what’s the perfect strategy to be more influential, but I do know that treating others like people more than just numbers, even if extremely cliche, is still a pretty good way to start.

  8. Part of it is likely due to the fact that Howard Stern has a history of interaction with listeners. He has had time to build a relationship with his fans…even if not with each one of them. While Sheen has been out there, he sort of burst onto the social scene with the attitude of, “Hey, I’m popular over there, so I should be popular over here. Right, guys?!”
    I’m sure that he can get there if he wants to be dedicated to it, but it will take time and effort, and hiring a #tigerbloodintern probably is not the way to go about it.

  9. Yes, part of Howard Stern’s success is the relationship he’s built with his audience but it’s the form of his message, from an emotional level, that has helped him BUILD that audience.
    Let me clarify, when I say ’emotional’ I’m not talking about a “Hallmark Moment”. Anger is an emotion. Frustration is an emotion. So are joy, trust, fear, surprise, anticipation…
    What most marketers have failed to understand is the we are emotional beings…not incentive driven mammals. And that they need to craft their message accordingly.

  10. I entirely agree (see above) and, as someone who works in digital advertising, this is my biggest crusade. The problem is that emotional things are difficult to measure and therefore assign a monetary value to. I can come up with an incredible, creative, fun, engaging concept to build a brand and help it connect with its fans at an unprecedented level, but the client who will let you do this without demanding a corresponding up-tick in sales or Facebook Likes is pretty rare. Most people are judged on the numbers they produce internally, and brand equity is extremely hard to quantify, especially down to the level of a single campaign.

  11. Rome wasn’t built in a day…and neither is brand equity. Howard Stern took years to build his brand and has spent decades sustaining it.
    Social media is not a quick fix to a brand equity issue and clients who are led to believe that will be sorely disappointed. The same rules apply to online marketing as they do to offline marketing.

  12. I think you misunderstand clients. Or we’re talking at cross-purposes. What makes Howard Stern connect with his listeners is no secret. It’s long-term integrity, honesty and understanding.
    Unfortunately most clients are low-level within their large organisation and care more about their end of financial year numbers than the gradual build up of brand equity into something that is genuinely respected and liked for what it does.
    I’m not talking about faking it, or assuming it can be delivered with a few banners on
    Facebook. That’s the opposite of what I’m talking about.
    Really what it comes down to is short term financial results vs long term brand integrity. It’s short-sighted business marketing vs a genuine attempt to make a brand stand for something and really mean it.

  13. You’re right I did smile. Laughed out loud at that intro actually : )
    First, thanks for adding your thoughts to this discussion!
    There are a few things jumbled around here. You state that Howard Stern has influence and that Charlie Sheen doesn’t. How do you know that? You see in the next paragraph you state that we don;t even really know how to define influence, and I agree. That is a core issue.
    I also agree that the issues we discuss here extend beyond the boundaries of social media. Absolutely. The main point in my originla post was, all the attention is on Twitter — why is nobody looking at the amount of meaningful, powerful engagement on blogs as a proxy for influence?
    I think we agree on that issue. The other aspect is that i don;t think blog communities can be gamed like Klout! Last week on my blog I gave an example where a Justin Bieber bot account had a Klout score of 72!! You don’t even have to be real to be influential I guess : )
    At the end of the day, I think influence comes from emotional connection + trust, whether it is a person, a company, a celebrity or a brand. To the extent that we can connect with people on this level, we will have influence. And historically, emotional connection and trust are pretty hard to quantify on an Excel spreadsheet or Klout algorithm.
    So in general, I think we are in violent agreement : )
    Wonderful post and thanks for including me. This subject would definitely make a good podcast!

  14. If Howard Stern was cancelled/fired people would take the streets. When Charlie Sheen got cancelled/fired, people just followed him on Twitter to watch him self-implode.
    If Charlie Sheen had true influence, he would be able to influence his audience to take action.
    I think you’re right: there are no finalized definitions for influence, but it seems like you and I are dancing to the same tune.

  15. The only people worrying about influence are the ones trying to game it for whatever needs they have at a given time.
    You pretty much find that the true “influencers” are ones that don’t try and prove they have any; they just get on with what they’re doing, either for themselves or their clients/constituents.
    Besides, influence is all down to relevance, and you’re only as influential as your audience allows you to be. So the true influencer isn’t you – it’s the people who hold you up.
    Something too many seem to forget.

  16. I think our clients are different Richard. I’m a small business marketing coach and typically deal with the owner/chief decision maker. My clients are people who are passionately connected with their product.

  17. Sheen also had 700,000 viewers to his ustram webcast, during a live show. This can soon catch up to stern if the content is good and there is entertainment value to it. Sheen may be exploring online media as his new channel -How do you measure total influence by twitter or radio or television? Look at the movies and re-runs that sheen is in vs. stern.

  18. The type of measurement and the tools used to measure them should be dependant on what type of outcome the brand is looking for… brand awareness, direct response, loyalty, customer acquisition, etc…

  19. Simply superb observation Danny.
    And while I agree we cannot worry about “influence scores” as individuals, I think we should keep an eye on them as marketers. When companies like Disney and Nike are part of the Klout inner circle, it has my attention. Maybe it will pass. A better guess is that the measures will continue to be refined along statistically-valid psychological standards to the point where they are more robust and meaningful.
    We can’t lose sight of the fact that defining and measuring an “influencer” is a Holy Grail of marketing. I don’t think this will go away quietly!
    Great points as always!

  20. Adam – not to sound like a prick, but the best tool to use? Your head. No amount of automation can truly define influence as it’s all subject (as mentioned above).

  21. I quite agree, that volume doesn’t necessarily translate to power over influence. What matters most is the core message and the reliability of the brand or person over what they’re saying, that makes people take a chance on their suggested actions or products.

  22. I would love to see a blog post on what you talked about at the very end of this post. That is, that an ad campaign is not the same as a marketing strategy around building influence.
    (love your posts … still read them religously)

  23. Mitch,
    What immediately comes to mind for me is that “yes, it’s a numbers game” – and here’s the rub as long as the number is ONE and by that I mean the right ONE person is consuming my content today. Sure, sometimes that ONE is multiplied by 20, 100, 1000 and on a lucky day 100,000.
    For me it’s about creating content with one person in mind and then hoping that content connects with the one right person on that day. Everything else is a bonus.
    Make sense?

Comments are closed.