We continue to struggle within the influencer industry with vanity metrics and high numbers. I’ve been critical of the industry since its inception in social media that most metrics and platforms don’t actually measure influence, they just measure the size of the network, audience, or community.
I personally have a very large network… so much so that it’s often unruly and I have a difficult time fostering good connections with many people that I respect. Over time, people and companies tend to drift in and out of attention as we turn our attention to the business at hand. Sometimes we reconnect purposefully as I seek them out as a trusted resource on a topic I lack expertise on. Other times, I may simply be at a conference or event and they happen to be there and we re-ignite our relationship.
Within my network, I sometimes influence purchase decisions for some people that connect or follow me… but that number is actually quite low. I have a handful of clients who trust me implicitly and I may even make the decision for them. I have other people in my network who have reached out and said that I assisted in moving forward with a platform and strategy without engaging personally. And then, still, I have some lurkers who I’ve influenced but haven’t shared that publicly and I’m unaware of the influence altogether. I regularly hear from solutions I’ve written about who thanked me and said that it led to some awareness building or even a great client. If they didn’t tell me, I honestly wouldn’t know about it, though.
More often than influencing a purchase decision, I connect people in my network with people of influence. Yesterday, for example, I met with a platform who I’m putting in touch with an influencer in the social media advertising industry. I’m trusted both by the influencer and I’m confident in the platform, so it’s a great connection to make. I’m certain it will lead to building awareness and additional revenue.
So, am I an influencer or a connector? While I have influenced some purchase decisions, I believe I’m more of a connector. I know the platforms, I know the people, I understand the processes… so I’m able to connect the right prospects to the right people to help them make their purchase decision.
The problem with that, of course, is that there’s no tangible attribution for this in relationship databases or from any influencer platform. I know my value is significant – one connection I made resulted in the direct acquisition of a company. I’ve also been involved with more than a billion dollars of investment and acquisitions in the Martech industry. I’ve also helped dozens of clients with their vendor selection… which influenced hundreds of millions of dollars in direct revenue.
I’m not saying this to brag… I’m often one of dozens of people on these teams helping to drive the purchase decision. And I’ve been doing this for a couple of decades so I’ve been around the block a few times and know what I’m doing. I’m a great connector.
Connectors versus Influencers
Let me get to the point. We absolutely confuse influence with connectivity and it raises two distinct challenges:
- Influencers are sometimes really connectors – there are companies that seek out people like myself with a significant following in an industry or region. Sometimes it’s influence, other times its seen as micro-influence (if the numbers are smaller and the topic is niche). But perhaps they’re not influencing the purchase decision… they’re just an incredible connector. Companies are often disappointed in these investments…since they may not yield the direct revenue results that were expected.
- Connectors have incredible value as well – there are individuals with sizable networks online that are fantastic resources to help connect the dots – from investors, to platforms, to clients – but there’s little means of attributing any value to those connections. If, for example, I introduced your company to an influencer and you invested in that relationship… that could lead to successful growth… and any revenue would be (rightly) attributed to that influencer. However, without the connection it would have never happened.
As someone who makes my business off of the knowledge of my industry and has made a significant investment in my network, I struggle with fully monetizing this strength that I have. How do you monetize being a connector? Some of my clients recognize the value after we’ve had long-standing relationships and they’ve realized the downstream results.
Many more platforms approach me looking for instantaneous results. I set expectations the best I can that selling their product or service isn’t the most valuable asset that I bring… and they often drop out of initiating any engagement with me. Seeing the potential, it’s disappointing… but I understand the pressure they’re under and the difficulty in attributing value to the relationship.
When you see big numbers, you may be tempted to hire the person with those numbers as an influencer. Just keep in mind that the value those big numbers bring may not be limited to selling your products or services… it may be the connections they bring you.