Fifteen Minutes of [online] Influence

I'm willing to bet that the word “influencer” has been used more often during the last few years than at any point in human history.

Everyone is creating influencer lists these days. Top 25 here, Top 100 there . . . someone has probably published a top 10 list of top influencer lists! And the software to identify influencers is endless: Klout, PeerIndex, Kred, plus many more. While these lists are certainly great visibility tools for the publishers who create them, their value to marketing and PR professionals is questionable and most certainly overblown.

For starters, many of these lists are out of date soon after they appear. As John Sumser (who not only ranks on top influencer lists but publishes his own) says, "the Internet is the ultimate ‘what have you done for me lately’ media form."   

These lists oversimplify the landscape. Many marketers who plan online social campaigns mistakenly assume that they only need to focus on people who make these top lists. As a result, they miss opportunities by ignoring others who may actually care more about their information, and who are more likely to engage with them. Let’s face it -- the dance cards of most top influencers are full. 

As an example, I did a little experiment. Using HRmarketer's information databases that include thousands of journalists and social voices in the HR and related sectors, I created two separate lists of:

(1) Journalists
(2) Social Voices (analysts, consultants, HR professionals, vendors and others who aren’t employed by a traditional media outlet)

Everyone on these lists "publishes" online content and information about a variety of human resource topics via blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. After I created these lists I used SocialEars to obtain each person's "influence" scores from services like Klout and Peerindex. I then averaged them all together to come up with one single "influence" score for each person. Then I combined the two lists and sorted from high to low based on these scores.

What I found was interesting.

Every single person in the top 20 was a Social Voice. Not a single journalist made the top 20. The list of these top 20 Social Voices was a mix of prominent HR speakers, CEOs, consultants, analysts, recruiters, entrepreneurs and HR practitioners.

I'm willing to bet these people are not on most vendors’ radar.

So the first takeaway from this little experiment is that media relations has changed big-time in our social world. You can no longer rely entirely on a traditional distribution list of journalists. This was the focus of a recent HRmarketer white paper titled: “Social Influence: Thriving in a New World of Media Relations” (download PDF). 

But be careful: this doesn’t mean you should ignore the journalists in your PR and social outreach! Although no journalist made the list, most writers and editors are constantly creating content for their publications -- some with big circulations -- and that content gets shared on social channels. Maybe Joe Journalist at Big Industry Trade magazine doesn't do social, but his content gets tweeted. So, yes, you still need to pursue traditional media opportunities, but that alone is not enough -- and that's the point. 

The next part of my experiment was to pick a few trending HR topics. I chose “cloud computing,” “phased retirement” and “workplace bullying.” Again, using SocialEars I generated a list of people who have been actively authoring and curating content on these topics -- as they relate to HR -- within the last few weeks.

What I found was, again, interesting.

Nearly everyone who made these list had not shown up on my earlier list of top HR influencers -- and most have never appeared on any other Top HR list that I've seen. Yet, virtually everyone on my list is an influencer – as defined by thousands of Twitter followers, LinkedIn networks of 250-plus and prolific authors and curators of HR content. 

Our takeaway? The definition of an “influencer” is always in flux, and the top names are always changing. Depending on the topic(s) you care about -- and when you care about them --, you can almost always discover new names (people not on your immediate radar) who may already be influencing specific topics and audiences. 

So instead of relying on one traditional (read: stale) media list, shake things up: build several small lists that focus on media, analysts, bloggers, HR practitioners, and online personalities at the time you want to share news. Think of each list as a work in progress and refresh them as often as you can.

Remember, influence is a moving target.

Post by HRmarketer / SocialEars Founder and CEO Mark Willaman. Join Mark on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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