Is Social Media Only About Influence?

A few months back, I was discussing the use of social media in the enterprise with a group of marketers, when one of them asked “Isn’t social media just about influence?”  I was somewhat troubled about this overly simplistic view of social media but I dismissed it as wishful thinking. But recently, I’ve come across many “experts” who are advocating this uni-dimensional model that confines social media to a single function or purpose.

The “influence management” model is largely based on the assumption that leveraging a handful of influencers (typically from news media) to reach/influence a large audience is much more effective and efficient than trying to build 1:1 relationship with a large group of end users.

Although widely accepted, this idea is based on a traditional media hierarchy and falls short in the social media model where the level of influence constantly ebbs and flows. Everyone has the power to be an “influencer” in this new media age so no one can accurately predict where the next ground-breaking news or viral video is going to emerge and it could very well be from someone who doesn’t appear anywhere on your top influencer list.  

Influencers have their place in the marketing mix but smart companies choose not to be fixated on that one dimension of social media. They opt instead to build social media bridges to connect with their user base rather than outsource that responsibility to external influencers.

Many forward-thinking companies like Zappos (now part of Amazon) have done it very successfully by engaging the customer base directly through social media channels like Twitter and others like Ford who have empowered their users to spread their message through the use of social media-friendly content.

Social media is slowly emerging from the shadows of traditional marketing to become an integral part of every function in the organization from recruiting top talent and solving customer problems to driving innovation through internal collaboration.

That being said, every business makes it own decision on how to leverage social media so it remains to be seen as to how many companies are willing to embrace the full potential of social media and move beyond the comfort zone of traditional media mindset.