social media influencerThere is a lot of talk in the tech business about influence — how to get it, how to wield it, and who to use it on.  Many business owners and entrepreneurs assume (correctly, it turns out) that there is a lot of sense behind trying grab the influencers, the thought leaders, the industry gurus . . . in other words, if you want to get your product (or your service, or your brand, or your vision, you get the idea) into the public consciousness, you have to craft your message to target certain groups of readers, the people who are making the decisions in your marketplace. As a student of communication, I’ve started to theorize that a lot of what goes on in marketing is really based upon theories put forward in communication research, by those researchers, professors, and scholars who work in the field.  If I may use an analogy, it has always seemed to me that marketing represents the “application” side of the research produced in communication studies, much like high-level mathematics informs engineering, or computer science informs programming.

Thought Leaders often appear as gigantic, red exclamation points.

The idea of influencing people through communication can be traced to several theories. One of them — called “Two Step Flow” — has been around for decades. Two-step Flow theory was originally proposed by Paul Lazarsfeld in 1944, and was later expanded by him and Elihu Katz in 1955.  This theory attempts to explain the way that that media can influence behaviors and beliefs in the audience.  Originally applied to the process by which people formed political opinions, this theory has eventually expanded to include things like marketing and mass-media effects.   In essence, Two-step Flow theory states that the media does not generally effect the mass public in a direct manner.  Instead, media is most often used to inform opinion leaders, also known today as “thought leaders” or “influencers.”  These opinion leaders then help to inform the public at large.  As you can see, this is where we get the two-steps in “Two Step Flow.” Another interesting theory in communication that seems relevant to our discipline is Diffusion of Innovations.  This theory was orginially posited by Everett Rogers in 1962, in an attempt to explain how and why certain innovations seem to spread through the population. In this work, he discusses the four main aspects that can determine whether an innovation is successfully adopted: the innovation itself, the communication channels used to talk about it, the amount of time passed, and the existing social system. So immediately, a few things should stick out here.  First, “communication channels” and “social system” should have everyone thinking “Social Media!”  But the more interesting aspect to Rogers’ theory is how immediately applicable it is to what many of us in communications do — because no matter which company or industry we work in, we all want to get our message out.  Whether we are selling a product directly to the public, or consulting in a highly specialized industry, we all need to capture the attention of the thought leaders, the opinion makers.  And after we get their attention, we need to drive our innovations forward by understanding how the process works. In most cases, business intelligence solutions are not being sold to the general public, so catching the ear of the thought leaders and industry professionals is a crucial task in being successful.  A carefully crafted message is therefore vital to this effort — and understanding the science behind some of it will be a great help!  What are some ways your business targets thought leaders and influencers? Newsletter5