I have nothing against Ashton Kutcher. I’m not even upset with him about his latest Popchips campaign. Everyone makes a mistake. But the latest research and trends are showing that celebrities like Ashton may not be the most effective “influencers” for social messages and creating meaningful change.
A few weeks ago I attended the 4As PR Conference in New York. Tom Gensemer, managing partner at Blue State Digital, spoke at the opening session and talked about re-defining what an influencer really is. He suggested the reverse influencer model. Basically, if you want to have the greatest impact, your way in should be more about finding those evangelists who are passionate about your issue, those personal stories and real people who you would never think to have on your influencer outreach list. And, if you can identify those influencers, eventually the masses will pay attention and it will have the potential to “go viral.” The good news is these influencers are easier to reach and they don’t need or want incentives. It’s a bottom to top approach. It’s not about looking at who has the highest Klout score and getting a re-tweet.
Tom cited Blue State’s work on the Obama campaign in 2008 and how the videos with the most views didn’t feature the President, they featured real stories, like this one starring an 80-year old man named Charles from Boulder, CO.
And look at It Gets Better. The videos that received the most views and attention weren’t the celebrities and the politicians. It was the unknown teens sharing personal stories. And they truly moved people.
Tom also talked about how you really need to watch closely to identify those influencers. Some could be what he called “wacktivists,” people who do extreme things in support of your brand or cause. For example, during the Obama campaign a man decided to creatively paint his barn in support of the campaign. He called his local campaign office to request the proper pantone colors for the Obama logo. The team recognized the opportunity and decided to make it a challenge (Barns for Obama). Ultimately, 1,400 barns were painted nationwide.
Check out this blog post from Edelman VP Michael Brito. He talks about how, while an influencer may initially have greater reach, the collective reach of all your advocates will be much wider and things can grow exponentially. And influence is contextual. It depends very much on the issue/brand.
So, basically, we need to spend more time identifying and nurturing relationships with those advocates who have an emotional bond to our cause or brand.
Here are a few resources that can help identify key influencers/advocates:
Many people confuse having influence with being popular, or being a celebrity, when it’s really more about being well-respected for having knowledge and trust. The influencers you need to pay attention to often don’t have significant social capital—they’re simply passionate about your cause and they want to talk about it. While celebrities like Oprah or Ashton can influence certain types of behaviors it’s much more important to look for those who genuinely want to get involved.