The Emergence of Social Media Influencers
Twenty-five years after the advent of the World Wide Web, the Internet, and social media are omnipresent in our society. They influence how we operate and our behaviors in most aspects of our daily lives; from home to school, work to personal relationships and leisure. There’s a transfer of power and influence in favor of users, and it requires organizations to react. One way of understanding this new world is through the social media influence ladder concept.
The accessibility of information, combined with the diffusive power of technology, is changing our cognitive approach to knowledge and favoring the expression of users. The influence of P2P recommendations and the impact of WOM have definitely downgraded traditional consumer advertising. The web and social media have become the main source of information and communication for the new generation of connected consumers.
Today, with new aggregation, curation and publishing tools, any user can produce and distribute content. Through the various social platforms, some users stand out and become influencers in their community. Companies and organizations can reap many benefits by building lasting and equitable relationships with these leaders.
Digital Learning and Climbing the Social Media Influence Ladder Pyramid
I have adapted the theory of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid to the adoption curve and maturity of social media users. This original pyramid earned several thousand shares (in both French and English) and will be seen in March in the pan-Canadian magazine Education Canada, from the Canadian Association of Education.
Even today, the theory is valid. It fits perfectly with the 5 steps of the hierarchy of needs. This new pyramid makes it easier to identify what level influencers begin to stand out and expand their influence. On one side, we can observe the evolution of users across the various social platforms, and see at what point in the learning curve that ambassadors emerge and at what level ¨influenceratis¨ and celebrities begin to exercise their influence. While on the other side, one can follow the different levels climbed by influencers and opinion leaders to the top of the pyramid. (Read also: The Pyramid of Influence on Social Media)
This learning pyramid and influence on social media also helps us to better understand when and on what platforms relationships develop between the different types of influencers we want to address. The SaaS firm AUGURE further developed the concept of the pyramid and adapted it to relationships with influencers. (Read also: The Pyramid of Relationships with Social Media Influencers)
Obviously, depending on the type of influencers, the level of influence is not necessarily the same, and its impact differs from one community to another. They do not reach the same customers and are not active on the same platforms.
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The 3 Main Types of Influencers
As seen in this study, and at the risk of repeating myself, social media influencers can be grouped into 3 main categories that are positioned in climbing the social media influence ladder of the pyramid of influence.
- The influencers and opinion leaders: They represent less than 10% of social media influencers, but produce and disseminate relevant content through their communities which will then be amplified. These are the experts who express their ideas, and who maintain conversations and exchanges on social networks, sharing their knowledge. It’s also the opinion leaders of different interest communities that have developed recognized expertise in their sector. They influence important audiences and the reach of their message is often significant. Their contribution and cooperation generally depend on the quality of their relationships with the organizations that use them, and their impact will be longer-term.
- Celebrities and ¨influenceratis¨: The celebrities of social media are usually stars and media personalities, who benefit from large audiences already acquired via traditional channels. These are also the new ¨influenceratis¨ found on the exchange platforms and blogs with large audiences in targeted niches. Although they represent approximately 25% of social media influencers, the viral impact of their message is very large, and rapidly creates the illusion of a majority. However, their participation is usually limited to sponsorship or as a spokesperson, which is similar to traditional advertising. Relationships with celebrities and ¨influenceratis¨ are commercial, and their impact is ultimately limited in time.
- Ambassadors and connected consumers: They will emerge from the other 65% of users, and are found among both consumers and employees (staff and partners). They join small targeted communities, and their influence is organic, and often difficult to reverse. They exchange content and naturally share their comments in their community, and become either the best ambassadors or worst critics for companies and organizations. Because they often find themselves on the front line, the impact of their recommendations is crucial for organizations.
The 5 Levels of Learning and Influence
As I mentioned previously, the 5 phases of digital learning and influence in social media correspond to the theory of Maslow’s needs and fit very well in the pyramid of influence.
1 – Learning to navigate a new ecosystem (discovery)
Digital learning begins at the first step of the social media pyramid of influence. Initially, all users (including influencers and opinion leaders) should become familiar and learn to navigate safely in this new ecosystem of the Web and social networks, where every action, type of fingerprint, where each word uttered contributes to its digital DNA.
2 – Secure digital identity (security)
During this initial phase, the main challenge for companies and organizations remains to secure their digital identity. This is the basis of the reputation we create on social networks. At this stage, professionals define the use of different platforms and applications, and policies and structure further their web and social media presence.
3 – Develop community (sharing)
This is the 3rd level of the pyramid and influencers are beginning to stand out among professionals and affirm their leadership and brand image. They engage in conversation in chat rooms and discussion forums, and they share comments and content relevant to their community. This content is amplified through their blogs and various social platforms and their social capital can be measured.
4 – Establish its networking (estimated)
At this stage, companies and organizations seek more influencers to participate in presentations, training workshops or coaching. The influencers work is widely published online, and they offer webinars on different platforms. Community leaders are now exploiting new tools for exchange, aggregation, and distribution of content, and begin to exert an influence. That’s when the ¨influenceratis¨ and celebrity news platforms emerge.
5 – Confirming its leadership and influence (realization)
In the last step of the pyramid, influencers further confirm their leadership, collaborating on businesses and organizations projects, and present lectures in corporate and institutional events. Their works are often studied in business schools. While celebrities and ¨influenceratis¨ reap the short term fruits of glory with companies.
Digital and Social Transformation of Organizations
Digital and social transformation of organizations are essential learning of tool of the Web and social media. No one escapes, not even influencers, regardless of the type, and they must climb the social media influence ladder one by one.
The opinion leader who embarks on social media for the first time will have to become familiar with the use of these new tools before they can claim leadership in this new ecosystem. Before exercising some influence on their community, ¨influenceratis¨ will also have built a large network and have developed a strong personal brand that is worth the viral impact they achieve.
The company ambassadors and influencers among consumers emerge unexpectedly in the adoption curve of social media, depending on the context of the situation. Even though they’re unpredictable, they remain the pillars of influencer marketing in social media. In fact, they should be at the center of priorities. A lack of cooperation or support can cause a real disaster for marketing campaigns on the web and social media.
What do you think of this concept of the social media influence ladder? Do you believe that the ambassadors and users – consumers must be a priority for companies and brands, celebrities or new social media? Where do you find opinion leaders in your strategy for web / social media? Share your opinion with our readers and add comments.