Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Evolution of Social Influence

Increasingly, social media sites are investing in ways to list, rank, and categorize participants. Twitter’s new list feature is the most recent incarnation of this. The challenge that is being tackled is simple; individuals do not have the same influence on their peers in all categories. This is clear just by looking at our own personal lives; a person we might turn to for advice on audio visual equipment might not be the same person we’d get local restaurant recommendations from, and we might turn to a third friend for guidance on the best travel deals.
Basic metrics like the number of “friends” or “followers” don’t allow that level of detail to be captured, as one person may be widely followed for his opinions on cars, but that should not necessarily grant him any extra credibility when he chooses to share an opinion on wines. Lists, however, begin to break down this influence by categories. If this person is listed by many of his followers in lists pertaining to cars (or related synonyms) and none related to wine, then his influence on car-related topics should be seen to be much higher than his influence on wine-related topics.

This becomes vital when we begin to use social criteria to govern search results. A link that is shared by 10 wine experts should receive a much higher social ranking than a link that is shared by many more people if those people do not have a social graph that shows that they are respected by their peers on wine-related topics.

The credibility and authority we granted to the major publishing institutions, based mainly on their overall audience size, is now being parceled out to an infinitely broader publishing audience. Whereas an advertisement in a major topical publication may have been the best way of reaching that audience historically, now that access is through social means. If the key influencers in your topic area see a piece of content or a viewpoint as being relevant and correct, it will become discoverable to those who are interested in that topic area within a much broader network.

As B2B marketers, this will have a profound effect on us in the coming years. If we want our audiences to discover us, either directly through search, or through a variety of Amazon-like recommendation means that are likely to appear in the coming few years, we need to ensure that the world sees us as credible experts in the field that we hope to influence. This effect will be relevant all the way through our buyers' entire buying process, as the information they need, and dicsover as buyers, will be presented to them based on their peers and influencers.

There is no easy way to “short-cut” this process. Instead, to be seen as an expert, and included in the various lists, groups, and categories that will be seen as defining this expertise by the search engines, we need to continue to create great content that is read, shared, and referenced. As we do that, we will begin to find ourselves listed as experts in the categories in question, and the social influence we garner will be reflected by the search results of tomorrow.

Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
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