A campfire in cyberspace

new influencers

The New Influencers: A Marketer’s Guide to the New Social Media
Paul Gillin.
Quill Driver Books, 2007. 236 pages.

Social media is PR’s turn to shine.

Why? The fact that people are downloading media and consuming it whenever and wherever they want has disrupted mainstream media. Social media have given people (and organizations) many ways to reshape the way they share information.

No profession stands to influence social media more than public relations because PR people intuitively understand the value of relationship marketing, says Paul Gillin in The New Influencers. Social media simply offers another way to build relationships. PR pros have jumped all over social media because it plays so naturally to their strengths as relationship managers.

Gillin has reported on the impacts of technology and media for 25 years. Now a consultant, he was the founding editor-in-chief of TechTarget.com and, prior to that, editor-in-chief of Computerworld magazine. He wrote The New Influencers “to help marketers understand the changes in influence patterns that social media is creating in their customer base.” That’s crucial because the next generation of customers will want to interact with businesses in very different ways.

Gillin borrows the idea for the title the 2003 book The Influentials, which argued that 10 percent of Americans determine what the other 90 percent buy. Influence the influentials, and your product or company can reach critical mass. The new influencers exert influence by aggregating the thoughts and opinions of others whom they trust.

Some examples:

  • Eric Schwartzman, who developed the podcast On the Record … Online. Its library of episodes averages more than 20,000 downloads a month and the series has heaped credibility in iPressroom, his website that posts press releases, audio clips, and video streams.
  • Steve Rubel, whose Micro Persuasion blog is consistently in the Technorati Top 100. It’s must reading for many PR professionals.
  • Stephen Powers, who invented the site Rightlook.com, which helps people get started in the auto reconditioning business.

The leading voices in the blogosphere are not corporations, not big companies, Gillin says. They are mostly individuals or small groups. As a rule, they have little or no administrative, marketing, sales, or circulation support. Their source of influence is links and comments.

A veteran magazine man and tech enthusiast, Gillin in a good position to point out the many things that distinguish new media from old. If you’re new to social media, this book will help you make sense of it all.

I like Gillin’s analogy of the campfire, probably the oldest social venue on the planet. “The top-down style of communication that has defined mass media for 150 years is artificial, but it was the best we could do given the limitations of technology,” Gillin says. “Now technology has changed the rules, and it becomes possible to recreate the campfire in cyberspace.”

If you’re a PR person or marketing person and you want to influence the influencers, you must find them and understand what’s relevant to them, Gillin says. But be aware that influence is not easy to measure. It doesn’t lend itself to a single number, and no single search engine can provide a definitive blogger ranking. You have to consider quantitative and qualitative measures.

Gillin’s New Influencers website provides multimedia and links to several of the people his book mentions. You can listen to audio interviews with several of them, including Dan Bricklin, coauthor of VisiCalc, podcasters Doug Kaye and Eric Schwartzman, and New Media PR man David Meerman Scott.

Gillin links to several kinds of new media sites, including link blogs, small business blogs, corporate blogs, opinion blogs, enthusiast blogs, and to podcasters.

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