It’s another day, which means we are seeing another influencer report outlining key professionals we need to be aware of.

We are seeing many professionals (and even professors and students that matter) getting wrapped up in the concept of being an “influencer” and have the opportunities for these high priced speaking engagements, huge audiences at social media conferences around the nation and around the world, glowing tagging your brand partnerships on social media and giving them S/Os for the many swag items they send your way, and other amazing opportunities that look glamorous at the fingertips of your phone while you see the content being shared on Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook.

Unfortunately, we are seeing a lot of “smoke screens” to make the appearance people are super influential and “celebrities” in their industry when they may not be. People want to vlog and create content like Gary Vaynerchuk. People want to get partnerships like Casey Neistat and his work with Samsung. People want to be invited to give a keynote for conferences like SXSW or Social Media Marketing World. It takes hard work, but also takes the notion you have to have the right people know who you are and what you have to offer. Sometimes this is easier said than done.

As a society – especially those who are practicing and in the field of social media – we are seeing a rise of these trends more often than not. And it is creating a crisis in the industry where we are all fighting for follows, likes, views, and these social media lists.

This was actually the subject (social media influencers) for my very first published article back in 2011. We have seen a significant growth of talks, white papers, and studies all on this subject. While back in 2011, I had a chance to explore some great professionals who not only were influential, but walked the walk as well.

I have seen an escalated rise of chatter on my various networks along the way, especially among my social media colleagues with a report that came out from Brand 24. They created a list of the top 100 marketing influencers and professionals on social media.

To be honest, I have lost track on how many lists of influencers to follow I have seen come out from brands, blogs, individuals, and agencies over the years. It’s pretty much the same professionals listed – some warranted of course for their great work and contribution to the field.  They are the real deal for sure. There are others however, where I feel their “vanity numbers” do not tell the true story of their personal brand.

I had a chance to check out this report, and like the others I have seen, I was surprised to see some who were not listed who I felt needed to be given credit. I was trying to figure out the actual way in which Brand24 was calculating their rankings. What I found was they were looking at total mentions, reach, and interactions – and that was it.

Okay, well – thanks to many chat bots and services that allow you to buy followers, likes, RTs, and other ways to create the actual appearance of “engagement” online, this seems a little off to me. These appear to be somewhat surface level metrics in my opinion – where further investigation (and further behavioral research and analysis) might be needed to explore this concept to determine who are the audiences really engaging online. There needed to be further investigations into the network, connections, community health, and overall ecosytem of social media as well to confidently talk about who are people that are truly influential.

This is where having collaboration with researchers to help bridge the gap in social media practitioners could be very beneficial in the future.

As I mentioned previously, this report generated a lot of discussion online among friends of mine on FB, including Brian Solis. I remember following Brian back in 2008 when I first was getting into social media as an area of research of mine, and I do feel his post on this subject is both enlightening (I had suspicions on some of these items on social media, but this helped me validate them a bit more) and I think it was refreshing to see someone take a stand on this topic.

This is a very honest conversation I have with my students. I tell them there are some “cardinal social media rules” I try to encourage them to follow, and one is pretty simple: Don’t buy followers. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Be yourself and be authentic. It may be tempting to see people have over 100K followers, but it’s not worth it. It is very easy to detect the real ones versus the fake ones.

The definition of influence is simply put: The ability to persuade others to take action or initiate a certain behavior. That’s it. What “action” are you taking if you are having bots post, share, and engage with you and how does this equal being influential? In my book, that’s digital fraud and misleading audiences.

While people may say that social media is becoming more established and mainstream in terms of how businesses, organizations, and agencies are using it. However, in the area of influence, it is still the Wild, Wild West in my book. Unless there is a set consistent standard where influence – and other measures of authority, authenticity, and personal branding – are evaluated on a thorough and balanced way, we are going to see more of these trends and reports popping up.

What can we do about this?

  • Academia needs to explore this as a research line in itself. The ethics and possible implications this has on businesses, perceptions, and relationships between organizations and their publics are all impacted by influencers. As more brands are going this route and investing millions of dollars into influencer marketing, this is definitely a needed area to explore. We need to explore what are these implications, and what are some best practices and guides we can advice others to note when they are hiring or working with influencers for campaigns and initiatives.
  • Call out those who are doing the things that are misleading people. Yes, this could be somewhat challenging and even intimidating. You may be called out yourself – but if you have ethical principles that you stand by and feel passionate about when it comes to this – you need to feel confident in doing this. I have shared the fact with many of my colleagues and fellow professionals the fact there are just some professionals I will not follow or even engage with based on 1) how they interact with others online, 2) how they treat people in person and how that is vastly different from what they do online, and 3) they do not take the time to mentor the future generation.
  • (Really) Mentor the future generation. Exactly stating my last point. We see a lot of these influencers who preach they want to make a difference, they are an educator, and they want to help people. Some who say these things are the first ones to say they feel college does not prepare students for social media positions. My question for these influencers would be: When was the last time you approached a professor or school about doing a guest lecture? Speaking to students via Skype or other conference call apps? I have had the chance to have some amazing speakers who took time out of their busy schedule to speak to my students – where others did not want to because of the fact they were students. Here’s something to keep in mind: students grow up, get jobs, and they remember who took the time to chat with them, and who did not. They eventually could be on the other side of the table making the choice whether or not to advocate for you as a partner for an influencer campaign.
  • Change things up a bit with what reports to cover on the subject. We see reports of influencers to follow – what about the do’s and don’ts of influencers? What are some things that need to be acknowledged publicly that you do not want to do? This may be something that the brands or others may have to be the leaders on for this part.
  • Other influencers (who are the ones who really do make an impact) need to respond and talk about this more. Some of them are using their own platforms to come together, but there needs to be perhaps a summit or group where there is a consistent measurement with both researchers and practitioners to come together and come up with a measurement guide on how to determine what influence is. While these metrics will change as each platform evolves, this is where we have to look at social media as an ongoing ecosystem of channels and communities and respond accordingly with the evaluation tools used for influence.

At least the conversation is starting to turn where we are questioning some of these metrics and see what we can do about it as an industry. More discussions and integrated partnerships with practice and academia on this subject are sorely needed.

In summary, I think what Brand24 did in their report had good intentions, but it did make some people happy with the result they were on the list very highly ranked, and then there were others that were not. I hope they (and other similar companies and agencies who have created similar reports) are willing to start a conversation on how we can all move forward on this topic. I am willing and ready – as a social media professor and researcher – to help out on this.

Anyway, let me know what you think about this and if you are also seeing this trend as well. Let’s keep the conversation (and possible research and collaboration projects) going.

Have a great day!

Best Wishes,