Tom Webster, writing and speaking

Influence From The Bottom Up

Added on by Tom Webster.

I look forward to the yearly release of Edelman's Trust Barometer - particularly for its global perspective, which helps me provide context for my own international clients. This year's report is chock full of insights, and some remarkable shifts. Some of the changes from 2011 can be attributed to a bit of a change in the methodology of the research, but (as a researcher myself) I appreciate the transparency in reporting those changes, which I believe make the data richer. David Armano has a nice piece here on the shift in trust from organizations to individuals which merits a read, but what also struck me was the juxtaposition of two findings in particular:

First, about the only thing that showed an increase in trust was media - and in particular, social media, which showed a rise in trust from 8% to 14%. Again, methodology changes explain some of this, but not all of it, and it is clear from the data that as some of the institutions we have formerly trusted appear to crumble around us, we are, as a society, engaging in a "flight to comfort" by relying more and more on our social networks (online and offline) for our daily inputs.

Second, with the global decline in trust towards most institutions comes an axiomatic rise in skepticism (and, for some, cynicism). Nearly two thirds of those surveyed in the Trust Barometer indicated that they need to hear something at least three times before they believe it - with 28% saying four or five times. Repetition and trust go hand in hand - and, as some other data I have seen corroborates, repetition itself has a hand in creating trust.

These two facts, taken together, illustrate a very powerful concept regarding influence. While the purveyors of online influence measures (Klout, PeerIndex, Kred, et al) focus our attention on top-down measures of influence (the "top 10" in a given topic is often all you see), we are all influencers, as Tamsen McMahon often says. Identifying "influencers" is merely step one in a more vital process - getting people to do the things you want them to do. Using online influence measures is potentially a useful first step, but it does focus you on "elephant hunting," and sometimes those elephants net you a little noise, but nothing more.

The Edelman data suggests an alternative approach - the bottom-up approach. Hearing a message from a top-scoring "influencer" might make me read, or retweet a message - but seeing it repeated by five people I actually know, like and/or trust makes it law, regardless of the measured "influence" of those people. And getting the attention of those people, where the noise level is a little lower, is a pretty straightforward process with some time-honored components: sampling, trial, acknowledgement, recognition, reward and testimonial.

I realize I'm not saying anything too earth-shattering here; rather, I am simply suggesting that reframing your thinking about influencer outreach - flipping the funnel, as it were, from top-down elephant hunting to bottom up empowerment - might yield some fresh, new ideas, and get you thinking differently.

Which is my only real goal here at BrandSavant.

Here is the Trust Barometer summary report - well worth your time.