Writing this blog on influence and taking the cycling industry as an example has been great. I was really impressed with the level of feedback from everyone which you can read on the blog or on LinkedIn. I feel that putting some clarity on the discussion which followed was important. It’s certainly applicable to other industries.
Here are a few things I’ve learned:
– Defining Influence: I was asked how I had defined influence in the context of this ranking. Influence in this day and age is crowd based (the crowd is a complex system of agents). I think no brand or agent should assume where influence is coming from or can be exercised from, except that each of us has a ‘home base’ — the blog — and using it as a base for influence is pretty fair. Bloggers who commented on this blog mostly see their influence directly tied with their readership and less a function of their relationship with other bloggers. We think that reference from other influencers is a very good benchmark. For many bloggers, blogging is an extension of their passion, more than a ‘business’ like a media outlet. Clearly most comments tended to agree that influence and topic specialty are very important. For most marketers, influence is solely what moves products into consumers hands. There is clearly a disconnect between both worlds which could be solved by the smarter brands. It’s a bit like both haven’t met each other yet… kinda.
– Communities: Like influence, ‘community’ is an overused word that means many things to many people. The cycling blogsphere is highly networked and therefore constitutes a community. Bloggers know, refer to and influence each other. Communities come in many shapes, and form wherever you can find come CUTE (Common Unit of Transferable Experience).
– The path of influence is not a straight line like marketers would like to believe. Web 2.0 has enabled the shift from Mass to Micro-influence to the disarray of the PR industry. Each of us and especially ‘creators’ of content, generate thought leadership according to our specialties. Traditional media used to be the middle man between marketers and consumers, but as we know, the internet tends to eliminate middlemen. The pipes used to be clear and choices were made for readers. It’s no longer this way and engaging the many layers of the community (consumers, industry groups, interests, influencers…) is the only way to gain mind share. Readers and consumers are now in the driving seat. Classic advertising is often too hard to measure
– Passion drives: Most bloggers are doing this for pure passion and are aware of their influence from a reader’s perspective. They are very aware of a dedicated readership and clearly most of them understand traffic and how much they move.
– Industry take: The discussions on LinkedIn were very interesting as well but here ‘influence’ was mostly understood as ‘how can it move product off the shelves’ vs. some thought leadership or experiential influence. Other thoughts were that some brands are actually pretty good at inbound marketing and community engagement. This was not taken into account in this study but very true and some clearly understand the power of ‘customer suction’ (Gregg Bagni) or what we refer as ‘Inbound Marketing’ when trying to explain brand’s social media strategy.
– Professionalism: No doubt all of them are professionals (even if some wouldn’t want that qualifier) at what they do but in general, their ‘own brand’ is unclear as they probably haven’t intended to be where they are today. Blogging is a way of life. On the Branding side, only ~35% are actually using their own URL (http://brand.com) and not a subdomain (http://brand.blogspot.com) which to me is branding 101. Increasing influence may start with thinking more like a brand less like an individual. Funny also that Blogger is definitely the platform of choice vs. WordPress. A few are clearly are seeing themselves as a new media outlet are doing it well and using a wide range of tools to become ‘micro-journals’.
– The changing media landscape: Some have jumped on Facebook but most haven’t. I agree that blogs are still more powerful than social platforms when it comes to moving traffic. For most cycling bloggers, it is both philosophical choice and mostly if they have the time to maintain another place for discussions. Some also are still confused about the difference between a ‘Personal page’ vs. a ‘Brand page’ (‘Like’) on Facebook, which makes sense since their personal brand is very close to the blog brand. Twitter on the other hand, is perfectly understood and used by most — it’s an extension of their blog.
All in all, I believe there is a great opportunity for more collaboration between the cycling industry and bloggers, as all pursue the same enjoyment for this industry. This is also an interesting blueprint for other communities we study.
What’s your take on influence? From Mass to Micro influence, where do you think we’re headed?