The Downside of Focusing on Influencers in Social Media for Public Policy

When it comes to companies and brands looking to engage in social media for marketing purposes, the emphasis is on people who have influence or authority…in other words; reach. If you’re a brand, you want to engage with someone who has an audience, that way if they something good about your brand, they reach a lot of people. That’s okay for marketing, but not so much when it comes to public diplomacy or policy issues. Even in marketing terms, it has a downside and here’s why.

Really valuable information, the kind of information that becomes intelligence (remember, it’s intelligence we use to make a decision, not information…and we’re not talking espionage type intelligence) may be a single “tweet” or blog post from someone who perhaps doesn’t have a very big audience. But the quality of their content is critical. In public policy terms, it may be a blog post that can play a critical role in shaping a policy through a suggested improvement or approach. In marketing terms, it may be a comment on a product feature/function the company had never thought of that provides for a whole new revenue stream.

Too often in our research projects (over 200 of them) into social and news media, we see public and private sector clients looking for the big “wow” or the thought leader they can then instantly form a rapport with – without a clear understanding as to “why” it has to be someone with a big audience. This can mean the most valuable of information gets completely overlooked. With so much industry news media and pundit “hype” over social media and size mattering more than substance, it is not the fault of the governments, NGO’s and corporations who fall prey to looking for big numbers over substance.

If you’re researching into digital media, in this case specifically social media, then be cautious about focusing on on just those who have a big audience; they often have different value to their content.