Friday, April 13, 2012

Does social connectivity equal influence?

Last night I had the privilege of seeing @danielberkal present Project Butterfly – a study into the “effect learning about how sociable people interact in the real world has on the online space”. The purpose of this study is to help brands - and the agencies that work for them - understand “how highly sociable people work” and how “this knowledge can be used to build online social communities that act more naturally”.
All interesting stuff. I’m no market researcher, but the way this study has been conducted is groundbreaking and worthy of every award won to date.
My reason for being there was to understand the connection between sociability and influence, in particular:
-          Does real world influence translate to the digital world; and
-          Are those who are socially connected online, influential?
While the study wasn’t designed to answer these questions, it did offer some interesting and applicable insights.
In the real world Social Butterflies are those who can bend social conventions, but in a good way. They are experts at initiating friendships, but also at maintaining them. They’re interesting, interested and genuinely curious about everyone and everything.
We all know one: they’re the organizer, the one who keeps in touch even just to say Hi. They’re resourceful and will hook you up with anything you need. And they’re happiest when everyone around them is having a good time.
But are they influential? My guess is yes based on three findings from the study: Social Butterflies are early adopters, decisive and the kind of people you turn to for advice.
What they are not is digitally prolific. Their online presence is likely to be built around maintaining one-on-one connections rather than broadcasting clever one-liners to the world, making it near on impossible for brands to identify them using standard ‘connectedness’ metrics. And even if we could identify them, it seems unlikely they would use digital tools to exert their influence.
Instead brands have tended to consider those who are socially connected and highly vocal in the digital world as ‘influential’. Not anymore. According to this study these ‘hyperconnected’ people are delusional self-promoters who need external validation to make themselves whole. They crave attention and use the internet to overcome their social awkwardness.
While they initiate lots of connections, they have no interest in maintaining them. It’s a one way conversation – usually about themselves – which their audience soon loses interest in.
But are they influential? For me the jury is still out.
If the number of people losing interest is less than the number of new connections being made then surely they could maintain their influence – if indeed they had any in the first place.
And if I buy into their online persona by liking or following them because what they offer is interesting, entertaining or useful to me, then do I care who they really are IRL?
Heck, there are many celebrities out there with a million plus followers who don’t even write their own tweets so maybe it’s not just the highly connected that are living a fantasy life online….
So many unanswered questions, but as someone who works with brands seeking to influence in the digital space there were some definite learnings:
-          True influence is about quality and frequency, not quantity
-          Getting someone to tweet or post a status update on your behalf is not the same as influencing.
-          Brands who implement ‘influencer programs’ need to look beyond the digital world.
The Butterfly project is an utterly fascinating body of work, and I would encourage anyone who has the opportunity see this presented in person to grab it with both hands. Thank you @danielberkal for a truly thought-provoking evening.


  1. Excellent summary of a very interesting evening... I too was there, and I felt that the value of different types of people depends on the type of influence you're hoping to achieve... if you want influence that uses word of mouth to literally get people to buy or buy into your brand, then you clearly want the social butterflies, as he labels them (must say I have a problem with the butterfly part of that, which brings negative connotations of flitting from one sweet thing to another, but anyway....)

    However, if a brand is looking for someone to influence others as an intermediary, directing them or alerting them to something new or interesting, either a brand or product, or a message from a particular product, then I'd say you want the numbers, and that means you want people to spread it - ie. the hyperconnected (however socially inept they are IRL).

    To me it's about whether you want wide influence or deep influence... but mostly, it's about which have the best return on the money you spend getting it, and that MUST be measured.

  2. Absolutely agree. Brands can foster a number of deeper influencer relationships as a long term play (no different from managing celebrity endorsement and the like). But I do think relationships with the hyper connected have a role to play as well. As always it comes down to objectives and finding the most effective way to deliver on them.

  3. Polly - great recap. I just shared it on twitter (@ldillonschalk)

    I was fortunate to attend two @danielberkal sessions and his concept of interesting vs interested is being heard through our agency.

    My recap