In 1997, Sidney Frank once again relied on an influencer outreach program for Grey Goose vodka, a strategy that helped establish the superpremium liquor category. Today, the preferred method of influencer marketing, or reaching trendsetters, tastemakers or whatever in-crowd term you prefer, uses the leverage of social media.
E-fluentials and Trendsetters
The value of online influencers was described in a July 2000 Burson-Marsteller study, dubbed “E-fluentials,” which found that 8% of the internet population, or about 9 million users at the time, were “e-fluentials.” Projected onto the current U.S. internet population of 287 million, which in turn is based on a U.S. population of 325 million, the number of E-fluentials has more than doubled today to 23 million.
Several studies place the share of influentials slightly higher. The Burson-Marstellar report points to research conducted by Roper Starch since the 1940s, which found that “influential Americans” account for 10-12% of the general U.S. population, but have an impact twice as large as their population size.
That influencers have a disproportionate amount of political clout was detailed in a 2004 study, called “Communicating With Congress,” created for Blue Shield and Chevron (PDF), which describes their influence this way:
“A 2004 report by The George Washington University Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet (IPDI) found that people who use the Internet to become politically engaged are far more likely than average citizens to be ‘Influentials.’ Influentials — a term coined by the RoperASW market research firm — are people who ‘tell their neighbors what to buy, which politicians to support, and where to vacation.’ Influentials are thought leaders in their communities. They join organizations, attend meetings, try to persuade others of their points of view, and become engaged in political action. Typically, about 10% of the general public can be considered Influentials. Among Internet users, 13% can be considered Influentials.”2004 Communicating With Congress
RoperASW’s distinction between online and offline influencers is key because several online articles confuse the two. The 2004 RoperASW data, cited in the IPDI report, suggests that today’s offline influentials universe is 33 million (10%), who could influence as many as 66 million Americans.
The RoperASW online estimate of 13% results in an online influentials universe of 37 million, able to impact as many as 74 million Americans. Not only is the online influencer impact group larger than the offline group but let’s face it, if you’re not online today, you’re legally dead. 😜 That’s a market size that should satisfy just about any start-up or existing brand.
Another perspective on the avant-garde was provided in 1999 by Young Rubicam’s Brand Futures Group (BFG), which released a report that attempted to classify “the most open-minded, forward-thinking, and imaginative individuals, American Trendsetters.”
BFG, then headed by Marian Salzman, found that trendsetters were “typically independent, opinionated, self-employed, well-educated, and well paid, people who picked up on what’s happening before it happens — and, in so doing, make it more likely to happen.”
The BFG study also established the share of trendsetters at one-tenth of the population: “10% of the population are individuals who are self-assured, pointed to the future, interested, unconventional people, able to pick up the vibes of the time in which they live and, as a result, point to the future trend.”
BFG’s composition estimate matches that of earlier Roper Starch studies and the study conducted by its later namesake, RoperASW, mentioned in the George Washington University report. While an influencer and a trendsetter are not necessarily one and the same, and may also be mutually exclusive of another popular label today, “innovator,” a 1988 study by MTV points to many similarities, in particular, the “genuine revelation of self and others”:
“Three of the most prominent characteristics of trendsetters were their highly valued fragmentation and highly individualized tastes, their cynicism and skepticism towards the media, and their desire for genuine revelation of self and others.”1988 MTV /Youth Intelligence Trendsetters Study
Given that most social media influencers arrived at each medium early to build their sizable followings, one can safely assume that the social media influentials and trendsetters audiences largely mirror each other, due to the propensity of early adopters to gather at new digital water coolers like Instagram.
Facebook’s launch of its Open Graph protocol in April 2010 gave influencer outreach a big shot in the arm, allowing outside developers to access the rich profile data of Facebook members, something many refer to as the “social graph.”
Facebook popularized the term “social graph” at its F8 developers conference on May 24, 2007, when it was used to explain the benefits of the new “Facebook Platform.”
As Facebook put it, “the social graph offers a richer online experience by leveraging relationships between individuals.” Translation: we now offer customized advertising. While outlining the company’s ambitious plans to map people’s relationships and the things they care about, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called the third iteration of the Facebook Platform the “Open Graph.” The addition of “Open” reflects an expansion of the social graph to all internet users.
The value of the open or social graph is well documented. Social media users are not only more likely to recommend and buy brands, but their friends are also likely to follow suit. Nearly 68% of consumers say that a “positive referral from a Facebook friend makes them more likely to buy a specific product or visit a certain retailer,” reports Morpace.
Open Graph Evolution
|Facebook Platform||24-May-07||400,000 developers (06/08)||24,000 apps (06/08)|
|Facebook Connect||09-May-08||80,000 sites (04/10)||100.0M end-users 04/10|
|Facebook Open Graph||21-Apr-10||2.5 million sites (05/11)||2.0B likes/day (12/10)|
|21-Apr-10 CNET; Jun. 2008, Apr. 2011 Facebook; Dec. 2010 Simon Cross/Le Web Workshop; May 2011 SearchEngineLand|