Who’s influencing the influencers?

February 5, 2009

Ok, so social media has given us all new vehicles to voice and distribute our opinions…like I’m doing here. While many of these opinions voiced through blogs, Twitter, communities, Digg, etc. are interesting and valid for sure, there sure is a lot of noise out there. At first it was novel to know what your friends and family were doing at dinner time, on their ride to work, or at their kids’ soccer game. It was equally novel to post ruminations about the stars, favorite books and artists on blogs. These ruminations and seemingly banal thoughts are interesting, but when looking at these types of social media outlets through a business lens, the novelty has turned into noise.

My dilemma is, as a communications pro, determining how to most effectively navigate the noise and utilize these new social media tools (blogs, micro messaging and communities) to impact perceptions and perhaps even buying behaviors. To do that, I think, one needs to find a way to map the influencer landscape. We know who the online celebrities are (thanks Forbes!), and we know they are very visible and very opinionated…and generally very interesting. However, who are they turning to for insights? Who’s in their top 5 of must visit blogs/communities? Who bubbles up to their top 10 influencers on Twitter?

Acknowledging that it may be elementary to ask these thought leaders and influence peddlers “who do you see as influential”, but I really want to know. I want to know where Scoble goes for his news to help shape his opinion on a given product or topic. He’s a unique example because he seems to be everywhere at once, so perhaps the fact that he’s so connected he doesn’t need to turn to other sources of influence – he’s it!

What about Kawasaki? O’Reilly? Shel Israel? Peter Kim? Cashmore? These guys and many others like them are massively connected, but I have to believe that they have specific resources they turn to that helps shape the opinions we see and love on Twitter, Friendfeed, and the like. Maybe their influence/inspiration comes from their families? Maybe their coworkers? Maybe pundits at trade shows? Perhaps they turn to the developer community or academics? Or, maybe they’re tapping into the traditional influencers at Forrester, Burton and Gartner? I really don’t know, but inquiring minds would like to find out!

There are many ways to map the connections these A-listers have by friending them on Facebook or following them on Twitter, but that’s just giving you a glimpse of their world. It doesn’t really tell you who they see as influential. You can look at their blog rolls to see who they’re linking to for some deeper insight, but are they links they visit regularly or just a reciprocity link? Short of asking them, this is probably the best avenue to pursue to understand who top influencers see as influential.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on how you go about mapping the influence landscape. In the meantime, I think I’m going to start a conversation with the folks I see as influential and simply ask the question: “who influences you?” I’m not holding my breath, but it’s worth a try!