There’s no doubt that there’s lots of conflicting information about the influence of social media. As well, there’s no shortage of apps ready to evaluate your popularity and influence. And while separately, each of these can help you understand whom you’re reaching and what you’re saying. Together, what does it really mean?

Recently, the folks at Edelman published a presentation that commiserated the death of the social media influencer. Its premature demise gives way to the rise of a new influential.

Before we talk about what that is, let’s reflect back on the life of the social media influencer. Thanks to the likes of Justin Bieber, S*** My Dad Says and other niche personalities, being popular on social media was based on quantity, not quality. Reaching 1 million fans and followers was a strategic goal, not a byproduct of being good at something. As social media matures, influence isn’t so much about how many followers or fans you have, but rather how well they are served.

It’s what Edelman says is the difference between idea starters and amplification. Just as Forrester brought us the social technographics ladder that helped us better understand the behaviors of specific demographics, Edelman provides us with another ladder designed to outline the "topology of influence."

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The Rise of the Empowered Follower

Amplification may have once been the Holy Grail, but what happens once that message gets spread among your followers? When you think about how a conversation works, information flow doesn’t necessarily rely on who’s the most popular, but rather who is the most articulate or captivating. Being articulate or the most able to convey information doesn’t make you inherently popular -- in fact, you may not have many followers at all. Yet those who follow you may find themselves well-educated about topics and pass on the information to their followers.

This isn’t meant to start social warfare between important vs. popular vs. articulate people. It’s meant to turn the social media influencer’s formula on its head. Rather than relying on one person to filter information to the masses, you need to factor in the behaviors of those to whom information is passed.

Just like the empowered employee, followers and fans must also feel empowered to take action. We must not ignore our followers with fewer than 1 million/thousand/hundred followers. Frankly, we shouldn’t be ignoring anyone.

Influencing the Big Picture

What does this mean for marketers and customers alike? Marketers need to be focused on more than just the popular people in a brand’s circle. Popular people are still important, because they help amplify a message, but to turn amplification into action, you need idea starters, curators and consumers, not just voyeurs or collectors. As well, marketers need not be afraid of what fans do with their information. They can learn from it. 

For customers, they should feel more empowered to take charge of the messages they are fed. By sharing what it worth sharing, and ignoring what isn’t, they can effectively shape what information is brought to the forefront. It’s already working -- just like we saw with the recent Susan G. Koman/Planned Parenthood debacle.

After more five years of social media’s presence, we no longer need to rely on the "social media guru" to show us how it’s done. There is no magic formula that can be implemented across companies and industries. It must cultivated individually, like a patchwork quilt -- no two are the same and none have the same story to tell.