What’s the difference between popularity and influence? Is it important? Brian Solis has an insightful article that highlights the differences and why we should be interested.
It’s easy to get bogged down in numbers. How many followers do I have? Is your Klout score more important than your Twinfluence? How many clicks did I get on URLs that I tweeted?
Just to clarify for those that have trouble wrapping their head around the concepts(I do!): You can be very popular (a lot of people know you) but have low influence (they don’t care too much what you have to say). Or your popularity can be low (few people know you), but you can have strong influence (they listen to what you say and act upon it). For example, Tim Berners Lee, who invented the Web has undoubtedly had a huge influence, but hardly anyone knows who he is. Practically everyone on the planet has heard of Muhammad Ali, but his influence is not very strong.
So where do numbers fit in? Let’s look at an example. On Twitter Brian Solis has about 62,000 followers, whereas Guy Kawasaki has about 265,000 followers. So Guy is more popular than Brian. But I have never commented on articles tweeted by Guy whereas I’ve commented a few times on Brian’s articles. So for me, Brian is more influential (using his definition).
Personally, popularity has never particularly interested me. So after three years on Twitter I still have only 945 followers. But I hope that among those that know me, I have some influence — so that a good proportion of my Tweets are RT’d, for example.
My baseline is simple: to provide value (to my Friends, Followers, clients, whoever). By providing value one’s influence will grow, and presumably popularity.
For social marketers, the next step is to evaluate the motives and needs of different users to categorize them as influencers or popular users (let’s call them celebrities).
For example, a business that wants to increase brand awareness might want to target celebrities. The business is not necessarily interested in a call to action so being known among celebrities with a large audience is likely to achieve goals faster than being known among influencers who have a smaller audience.
But say the business has a campaign to promote a special. They have a call to action (e.g. “buy my widget”). Now they will want to connect with influencers whose followers or friends will likely act.
My guess is that we will see a refining of user definitions and categories based on data. The influencer/celebrity dichotomy is too simplistic for targeted social marketing. We will want more sophisticated models that incorporate the various dimensions of user online behavior to ensure our messages have the greatest impact.