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The democratisation of influence – an interview with Mark Schaefer

Posted by Harry Cole on 24th April 2012

Last week I attended an event when Mark Schaefer, Adjunct Marketing Professor at Rutgers University, and author of a new book entitled Return On Influence was speaking.

Influencer marketing is something we put a lot of emphasis on for the tech PR campaigns we run so I was keen to catch up with Mark following the event to find out a bit more about his views:

Harry Cole: You opened your presentation by saying that the people attending the event were more than an audience. What did you mean by that?

Mark Schaefer: An audience traditionally is passive, simply listening. But today, an audience is a channel. My words and ideas are being tweeted and posted in real-time, spreading not to just the audience but the audience of the audience!

HC: As a tech PR agency we sometimes focus on very specific areas of technology. If you are working in a small industry with very few key influencers, what would your advice be in approaching these key influencers?

MS: I think many of the fundamentals of PR are universal, whether it is online or off. A lot of it gets down to common sense and respect. If you were an important influencer being approached by a company wanting your help and support, what would you want? What would create excitement and passionate advocacy? This is what PR pros do well for a living.

HC: You put a focus on individuals and brands having an influencer score, what can companies and individuals do to improve their influencer score?

MS: There are three main steps I describe in great detail in the book — surrounding yourself with an audience who cares about you, creating compelling content and actively engaging in an authentically helpful way.  This is sound advice for anyone trying to have an effective social media presence and it is the right strategy to increase online influence, too.

HC: In the presentation you stated that badges of social proof can now be more important than real life achievement. That’s both terrifying and remarkable. Would you be able to explain in more detail what badges of social proof are?

MS: I’m sure more people know how many Twitter followers I have than what I have accomplished in my career. In an information-dense world, people look for these short-cuts (or badges) to determine truth, at least in the short-term. They are particularly powerful in the online world when it might be the only information we have in some cases.

HC: My interpretation of the talk was that individuals and brands should connect with the things that they like and love, is that good advice for building a stronger influence socially and professionally?

MS: I think this is just natural behavior. What do people talk about these days when they are online? The stuff they buy and love! The difference is now that companies like Klout and detect, quantify and reward those influential conversations. The dialogue is out there — we just need to tap into it.

HC: “Influence has been democratised”, could you tell us a little more about what this statement means? Do you go into more detail in your book?

MS: That is a fundamental theme of the book. “Influence” is no longer the exclusive territory of celebrities, elite athletes and the wealthy. Anybody can gain influence through their voice, their online content. This is revolutionary. It only could have happened now, with our widespread access to high-speed internet and free, easy to use publishing tools like Twitter and blogs.

HC: What do you see is the future for the influencer and their role in marketing?

MS: I actually have an entire chapter in the book devoted to the future of social scoring. There will be many exciting and rapid developments. I think an important one is that Klout is developing a mobile app so these influencer benefits can follow you anywhere you may be. Soon, these trends will be driven down to a very local level.

HC: It is better to reward an influencer than to pay them, how can we reward you for taking the time to complete this interview?

MS: Oh no. It is always better to pay them — that’s my style any way! : )  It was reward enough being part of a great event. Thanks for connecting with me on this interview!

HC: Thanks Mark