That's how Josh Bernoff of Forrester and Groundswell  co-authoring acclaim, describes the shift in attention  that brands have to make now that social media is becoming more and more mainstream and, according to the latest research, growing faster than any other medium.
While I don't think that brands have to worry about "one individual with a microphone called a blog" (that would be just way too time-consuming even for companies that have the resources to throw around), I do believe that Bernoff's comments do, possibly inadvertently, make a case for brands needing to know exactly who their infleuncers are -- and more importantly who they are NOT. This is what's known as influencer identification and engagement.
You see, it's really easy to get swept away with social media, trying to make nice with every begrudged person who woke up on the wrong side of the bed with your brand in their face. And, many companies do make that mistake. It's like a dog chasing it's tail...somewhat. You spend so much time trying to influence the folks who are not influencers that you have no focus and energy left for people who ARE in a position to influence how, why, when and where your brand is consumed.
How can you tell a true influencer from a poser? Easy. Tap into your internal B.S.-o-meter.
You know how when you meet someone at a networking event, you can immediately tell if they are full of it or not? Same deal here.
Take a look at that person's or organization's blog/podcast page and then ask yourself the following questions:
- When was the last time they posted/released an episode? If the last post was more than a week ago, forget it, they're probably not influencers because real influencers know that the first rule of influence is regular, consistent contact - especially in this age of microwave attention spans.
- How many comments do they get? There are a few successful blogs/podcasts that don't get many comments, but there should be some. The reality is, if they are engaged with whomever is consuming their material, their audience should be engaged in return. If you don't see any signs of life, bail on that ghost town.
- Can you subscribe to their blog/podcast via RSS and email? Do they have a substantial blogroll? How many categories/topic do they cover? If there are no signs of strategic marketing in place, they're either too clueless to communicate effectively with their audience or the communication that is release is spotty at best. Solid influencers know that the more ways they attract people to their content, the wider net they can cast in terms of building a community of "followers".
- How long have they been blogging? Sure, very experienced people start new blogs everyday. But, take a look at their archives, if they haven't been blogging for at least a year, that should send up a warning flag for you that this organization or person is a poser and you shouldn't waste your time. If you want to give yourself some peace of mind on this one, you might want to search for their name or the name of their organization on Technorati to see what their authority is over there. High authority = high street cred. Low authority = head out to Mickey D's for a sundae.
There really are no rules that are set in stone for identifying influencers, but you might want to take the time to figure out who people are before you give away the farm trying to make someone happy.
This does NOT mean that you should ignore people who have genuine complaints -- just use your judgment before going overboard. It's almost like knowing which at table the restaurant critic is seated. You wouldnt give anyone poor service, certainly, but you do want to make sure the critic walks away a happy camper.