Within our "Priority" planning pillar, we here at Mythology think a lot in terms of how to profile and reach the elusive "influencer" in a given marketing scenario. The theory being that if you can isolate the few who influence the others, your marketing can become more targeted and generate better ROI by using narrowcasting vs. broadcasting programs.
This is easier said than done and one of the reasons that mass media isn't going to go away completely. In order to form a relationship with a consumer, they have to be aware of you. If they aren't aware of you, it's still very tempting to try and force them to hear about you through interruptive marketing tactics (ie, old school).
One of the interesting developments in identifying who influencers really are and what their power is comes from the study of user generated content (UGC) on social networks. Again, the theory is that people who tend to have the expertise and desire to influence others tend to be folks who take the time to write a blog, post on a message board, or upload a video. They have an inherent desire to connect with others through these mechanisms, while others are more consumers of that influence.
However, the gap is closing between those who generate content and those who simply view it. eMarketer recently provided some statistics on the growth of UGC in relation to UGC viewers.In 2008 there are projected to be over 75 million user content creators, and 81 million consumers of UGC.
John Horrigan of the Pew Internet & American Life Project said in a Clickz interview, "[The Web is] shifting now to user-generated content; it shows people engaging with the Internet in a number of different ways in their lives. It shows that people are pretty interested in using the technology to put something of themselves on the Internet, not just pull down information from the Internet."
So simply identifying someone as an active UGC contributor is less useful in building an overall profile of an influencer. However, we can begin digging deeper into finding out what kind of content a consumer contributes and how many people read it, thereby isolating their passions and - most likely - their areas of influence.
For a while now you've been able to sign up for alert services that notify you when conversations about your company are posted. Some data-mining companies are developing some amazing new services that will allow marketers to monitor the public conversations in aggregate on the Internet regarding their company or product. It's a massive data project, but imagine the potential of knowing on any given day what the all-up net impact of the chatter about your company really is - positive, negative, trends, volume, etc. And yes, you will be able to identify those UGC contributors who are most active and most influential.