How to build communities of social media influence

As marketers and communicators, we have focused relentlessly on the single influencer. This is the megaphone, the broadcast personality who has the biggest reach, the biggest audience, the loudest voice. It’s why Kim Kardashian can command up to $10,000 a tweet (source: NY Mag). It’s why social media influence scores and top 100 social media lists seem to matter a great deal.

What if there were a better way to reach the audience you want? Assuming your product, service, or mission was worthy, what if you could start not only a conversation, but a movement? This is the essential idea behind communities of influence. We’ve talked about this in the past (as far back as 2012), but only now are the tools and methods for executing on communities of influence becoming available.

The theory is simple: identify the community at large around a topic, and then influence many members of the community together, rather than one influencer at a time. This synchronicity is important! By creating multiple touchpoints, you’re starting a fire with a series of matches, rather than pinning your hopes on one bigger match.

Let’s show how this might work. Say I’m opening up a new chain of sushi restaurants. I want to know what kinds of conversations are happening about sushi. By using monitoring tools (in this case Sysomos), I can visualize sushi conversations:


Above, the dots grow in relation to the size of that individual influencer’s audience and reach. In old influencer outreach programs, you’d reach out to the biggest individual dots and send them pitches. How do we think about communities of influence?

Take note of the different colors of dots. These represent different clusters of conversations. The blue cluster above are general media and influencers. The green dots are foodies. The red dots and the orange dots are different communities as well. In old influence marketing, the biggest dots we pitched tended to cluster in one or two communities, but we want our message to reach many different communities.

When we’re talking about communities of influence, we don’t care about whose dot is largest. We care whose dots connect to the most other dots, especially across different communities:


These people have conversations in more than one place. They are ambassadors of influence about sushi. They can help us create multiple touchpoints rapidly, and in more than one community, if our pitch is solid. These are the people I’d reach out to about my new sushi chain, in this example.

Change how you view influencers to be about the communities they participate in. Get away from the biggest mouth and focus on who’s connected the most, even if their individual profiles aren’t the loudest. You may find far more success with your outreach efforts!

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology


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