Lee Odden

The Fallacy of Influence

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, Social Media

influenceHow important is influence with online marketing? Most professionals would say influence is pretty important, especially when it comes to social media. The notion is that a few key people can spread an idea to their audiences and networks, causing a brand’s content to “go viral” or at least gain more substantial distribution than if the content were promoted to the every day social media Joe and Jane.

Pursuing the “big influencers” alone, is probably one of the biggest fallacies on the web.

Put aside the challenges how to find influencers and consider what “influencer” means. To me, it’s someone that has earned ongoing attention of an audience or community and the ability to motivate others to action. There’s often a disconnect between the appearance of influence and those in a position to act on it.

Mass influence exists, but it’s often confused with popularity. They’re not the same thing.

Influencers with mass appeal are easy to find and get found often. They get pummeled with requests by others to do things: share this, promote that. Some of them take up those offers and lose credibility by over-promoting. While they have a significant community watching and listening to them, the ability to inspire action is often lost.

Maybe niche influence is what companies should be considering for influencer marketing. Rather that just going after the big fish, target those that have closer, more intimate and meaningful connections with their networks.  Say goodbye to the idea that if you could just get that one famous person to say something positive about your software on Twitter, or Facebook or on a blog, then things are going to happen.  They probably won’t.

Go after a quantity of quality. Go after many different niche influencers. Not just the big fish.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Avatar Ron Coachman says

    Not sure influencers exist in internet marketing. As far as i am concerned i judge characters by the value of their content and a ongoing basis. That said, one should test ideas even if presented by a ‘guru’.

    • Good point Ron, testing is essential, especially if you have the ability to test. Not a lot of brands do. That’s why consulting agencies who run test environments for online marketing tactics can be so useful. I test things here all the time and it’s been a great help to provide clients with actual, actionable data vs. all social media theory. 

      • Avatar Ron Coachman says

        Generally speaking, on a landing page for example, would you say the headline is the first thing you would test or do you start with something else usually Lee?

        • Landing page optimization is another topic entirely. It depends on the page. I’d look at the “hero” image, bullets, color and placement of the call to action as well as the page title. 

  2. I agree completely! One of my clients had a very popular movie/tv celebrity tweet about their product. While we had a temporary pop in web traffic we received no sales and no long term (i.e. more than four days!) benefit. Now I have them focused on targeted bloggers who really connect with their network and reach their key demographic. 

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  8. You are absolutely correct.

  9. I agree completely! One of my clients had a very popular movie/tv


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  10. That’s a good example of the role media attention can get. My post draws attention to the overemphasis on “influencers” but I absolutely believe a combination of mass exposure plus targeted exposure is great approach. Only going after major influencers is like gambling and getting a payoff some of the time in funny money.

  11. I agree Cmvlegaspi, creating value is something that stands out amongst all the social media chest beating and can pay off quite nicely. That is, as long as it’s in alignment with some kind of purpose, goal and outcome.

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  13. Avatar pierreloic says

    Amen to this, Lee! As you know, we (Traackr) have been huge advocates of this approach. There are really 2 driving factors why engaging the ‘right’ people (aka niche influencers) most often works better:
    1- Your ability to connect and peak their interest is much higher because they genuinely care about the topic/industry. All you need is a compelling story and personalized pitch.
    2- THEIR ability to truly impact your business is also much higher very much for the same reason: they built an audience and trust around your topic. We have tons of customer case studies that show the same thing over and over again: influencers with smaller targeted audiences yield much greater results than the ‘celebrity’ influencer (large audience).

    The cult of ‘celebrity influencer’ cult is comfortable among marketers because it feels like home (a 21st century version of mass media) but some (me) would call it lipstick on a pig…

    • Ha ha, lipstick on a very shiny pig! Actually, I think a mix makes sense because mass market exposure plus niche connections have worked great with our efforts. But one or the other, especially putting to much emphasis on “starfish” can lead to disappointment.

      It think it’s worth noting that often times people come to the conclusion because their outreach efforts simply suck. Engaging with mass market influencers is a very different animal and can still be effective as part of a mix.

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