It’s About Influence, Not About Influencers.

Steven Van Belleghem Inspirator, B-Conversational

Posted on January 9th 2013

It’s About Influence, Not About Influencers.

Over the years, a lot of attention has been spent on influencers marketing. Since the arrival of the social web, many marketers look for influencers and target them with specific messages or even free product samples. Their hope is to win the heart of the influencer and by doing so, release a large amount of positive word-of-mouth.  This approach sounds logical, but it is also a narrow-minded approach. Isn’t it strange that one person can have influence on about almost anything? The truth is that every individual has influence. Managing ‘influence’ will have a bigger impact in the long run than managing influencers. This post gives a few guidelines to manage influence.

Everybody has influence

Of course, some people have more influence than others depending on the size of their network, their drive to influence others and the type of conversations they have.  And still, the biggest impact for a brand comes from a large group of people that recommend your brand, not from a select group of so called influencers. Yahoo’s Duncan Watts spent two months analyzing influencers on Twitter and found that a large group of people who influence an extremely small group are a more effective (and cheaper) way to share a message than enlisting a celebrity Twitterer. So instead of focussing on 10 people that can influence the rest of the world, it is better to have 100.000 people that try to influence their own personal environment.

Of course, there are influencers as well

This point of view does not mean that there are no influencers in the world. It is clear that every sector or topic has a few opinion leaders. These people set the tone and lead the conversation. Their impact within their field can be very big. As a marketer you should know the opinion makers in your category. Working together with them, may certainly help. It is however important to leave them in their own domain. An influencer of the financial industry will not be impactful in promoting a new lifestyle magazine, for instance.

5 ways to manage ‘influence’

There are a lot of articles and blog posts about influencers marketing. Everybody knows the tools and ways to find the influencers in a country or about a specific topic. There are not that many strategies to manage influence. These 5 approaches will get your started.

1. Create positive symbols in your customer experience

Make sure that you have a few symbols of great customer experience. The 365 day return policy of Zappos or the laser show on board of the Tomorrowland planes are just two examples. A symbol is a statement that you are serious about customer satisfaction. Symbols should be very visible and very conversation-worthy. These conversation-worthy symbols make it easy for the average consumer to talk about your company and to use their influence in their own environment. Be aware: symbols only work if the basics of your customer processes are in line with customer expectations.

2. Avoid service schizophrenia

Offer the same service level to all of your clients. It sounds logical, but reality is often different. Many companies tend to answer faster and better to online complaints compared to their offline service channels. Some even give faster and better answers to people with a lot of followers than to people with a smaller network. That is service schizophrenia. Only by offering the same service levels to everyone will the influence of every individual be optimized. If not, you are still thinking that the world of a few influencers exists.

3. Capture data

Try to capture as much data as possible from your customer and prospects. Once they have shown their interest in your company, try to keep the relationship going. Managing influence is about getting targeted content to the right people. If you know the interests of your audience, you can send them very relevant content that they can use and share. Without data, it is very difficult to use content in your influence program.

4. Make everything shareable

Make sure that everyone can use and share your content and knowledge. By putting as much knowledge and information online as possible, the chance that someone will use it to convince others increases. You need to help your audience to use their influence on their environment. Giving them something to share is an important pillar to succeed.

5. Listen to everyone

Show the world that you are listening to everyone. Listening to a few individuals will never create the same perception as listening to everyone with an opinion. Every customer has an interesting story to share, so as a company we need to be open to all these conversations.

The moment you understand the importance of the influence every individual has, you start to manage the conversation with a different mindset. Feel free to let me know what your thoughts are and how you look at managing influence.


Steven Van Belleghem

Inspirator, B-Conversational

Steven Van Belleghem is inspirator at B-Conversational. He is an inspirator, a coach and gives strategic advice to help companies better understand the world of conversations, social media and digital marketing. In 2010, he published his first book The Conversation Manager, which became a management literature bestseller and was awarded with the Marketing Literature Prize. In 2012, The Conversation Company was published. Steven is also part time Marketing Professor at the Vlerick Management School. He is a former managing partner of the innovative research agency InSites Consulting.

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Posted on January 10th 2013 at 11:35PM

What we should be looking for are advocates. Influencers ultimately affect reach, but don't pack a punch when it comes to calling people to action--because they don't. Influencers typically don't have as much affinity for a brand as they do for their followers. Here's an infographic that Jay Baer posted not too long ago about the difference between the two. It's worth a look:

Posted on February 7th 2013 at 4:50PM

Hello Steven,

Loved the article and I totally agree with the 5 steps towards influencing the many. In the end it's all about giving people (positive) reasons to talk about you and making it easy for them to do it in the online/social environment. 

As Chris pointed out in the previous comment, people have the tendency to trust people they know over online oppinion makers. Following this stream of thought, do you think that it could be easier (or possibly a first step?) to enable and activate your own employees to act like brand advocates? Afterall, most, employees are proud of the work they do and the products/services their company is offering, so, why not enable them to talk about the company and have their voices heard in their personal online networks? 

From the studies I have conducted, even though individual employees don't have very big social audiences, aggregate, they can add up to having more followers then a company's corporate accounts. Furthermore, when employees talk about their company, they tend to generate on average around 6 times more engagement than corporate accounts do (and in some cases, up to 100 times more).

Therefore, I believe that employees can be great influencers and help successfully spread the company message in their networks.  

Disclaimer: I work on an analytics tool that helps companies enable their employees on Twitter to become brand advocates (