Do you listen more to strangers or to friends?  When it comes to social media and the influencer who wins – those you know but aren’t experts or those you don’t know who are? Digg has changed it’s social networking strategy from spotlighting key influencers who “digg” a lot of articles to collect followers (crowd gatherers) to news from your friends. The savvy Public Relations social media advocate is planning campaigns based around our mates, not celebrity Twitterati/Bloggerati, as we go through this societal shift, no?

Of course, there’s a whole other blog post on how “stranger” influencers become our friends – especially as we follow them on Facebook and Twitter and “get to know them”. Cos that’s a friend no? Someone who was a stranger that we got to know?

The Digg Situation

Digg is a “citizen editor” site – you find (not write) a cool article, bookmark it on the site and the community votes for it to go on the front page. Usually you need a lot of votes and a big following to break through But changes are afoot. Here’s a quote:

Since last Wednesday, when Digg underwent a major overhaul and became Digg v4, the grievance against the site has been that it’s sold its user base out to big publishers and advertisers. Whereas Digg content used to be driven by user submissions, now, publishers automatically submit articles via RSS feed, from whence they get Diggs up — the unit of social currency that determines what content makes it to the site’s front page — primarily from their “followers,” the users who subscribe to their feeds. The new Digg looks, therefore, like a mix of Facebook, Twitter, and RSS.

and

“Power users will hardly be on the out, they will merely look and act differently. They need the most active friends as possible, so expect people who currently are, or want to be, power users to be more social from day one. Also, some people who were moot on Digg are about to become giants. Given that Digg prompts people to follow people on Digg that they follow on Twitter and Facebook, people who were social, but never on Digg, are about to pick up handfuls of new followers.” (from posts like this one)

Problem is, this paragraph is hard to interpret into Marketing-speak i.e. everyday English for business use. So allow me to rephrase it:

We are reducing the influence of a small group that have gained power by growing mass networks and moving it down to niche, friends-you-know type of distribution of News. Now your articles will be stuff your mates find (mates that share your interests and know you) and less stuff from Diggerati.

Watch out Twitterati!

Ok, lets go into the background of why this shift is important with regards to how influencers are effective in online communities.

Stranger Influencers

In a post on 15 types of social media Influencers, I didn’t include one: People you know. I thought I would redress that balance – and show that actually the most influential of your influencers are your mates.  But here’s a recap of strangers that influence you:

  • Academics
  • Authors
  • Politicians
  • Traditional Media
  • Celebrities
  • Charismatics
  • Corporate (CEO)
  • Visionaryies (The “Engineers”)
  • Old Timers (Elders)
  • Award winners (Gold Medallists)
  • Crowd Gatherers (“Curators”)
  • Movers and Shakers (Machiavellians )
  • Practioner
  • Vox Pop (Voice of a Generation)

Strangely enough, the one that the Press go on about – The Complete Stranger – doesn’t make it on the list. I don’t know you, but not many of us accept at face value every blog post, tweet and random bits of junk we come across on the ‘net as gospel. We are more likely to believe incorrect information from an influencer listed above or a friend.

Friend Influencers

There are no correct answers to this little pop quiz.

  • Do you take relationship advice from columnists in Cleo and New Idea or from your mates whose own love lives are definitely tragic?
  • Do David and Margaret on SBS TV influence your movie viewing or will you allow your boyfriend to drag you along to a Jason Stratham action flick? (N.B.: I will go along to see anything with Jason Stratham in it, as long as it’s kickass, car chase movie).
  • Will you go to a restaurant recommended by the guys at work, or do you check Urban Spoon on your iPhone.
  • Do you discuss the ups and downs of your footy team with blokes you went to school with and have a beer with on Saturdays, or rush home to view it all on the telly with expert commentary?

By the way, “friends” include

  • your mum,
  • old school friends you haven’t seen for yonks,
  • your sister in law that annoys you but you don’t know why,
  • the woman serving bread at the local Bakery who can talk the hind leg off a horse,
  • the next door Neighbour who can’t park a car to save his life but has generous BBQs,
  • work colleagues, even the ones with bad ties and zero people skills
  • and maybe The Cabbie. But I’m not sure that cabbies shouldn’t be elevated to the Super Influencer bracket 😛

Conferred Influence

Occasionally a sports star will support a product that is not a sports shoe or a breakfast cereal and I often think: why would I be influenced by  someone who focusses on running or swimming down a white line for more hours a day than is sane, and buy that car (or whatever). What makes Angry Anderson an influencer when it comes to politics (International readers: old Aussie rocknroller did an ad during our election). That would be like putting another  old rocknroller in the job of, oh I don’t know, Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and Arts…

But I’m being flip. We do of course extend influence from the niche the expert works in, often to well outside of their boundary of expertise.  Humaninity assumes that if someone is successful once, then they are successful at two things: 1) the thing they were successful in and 2) at being successful. Actually it’s not completely a fallacy: success does tend to follow a formula but if I went into 10,000 hours of practice, ability to cultivate influential supporters etc, this would turn into a self help book.

Basically know that an influencer who has made it can have other influence conferred upon them by society.

Context is King

Our mates on the other hand come with two keys that unlock the puzzle of “should I be influenced by them or no”. The keys are:

  • They know me
  • I know them

Simple no? But don’t underestimate it. They know you really well. They know what you like and what you don’t. They know about your allergies to peanuts, hayfever and girls with too much makeup. They know you need cheering up, sobering up, wising up. They know you prefer Italian food, Blockbuster movies, shoe shopping and car cleaning but only on Saturday after payday. And while personalisation autobot services are going to know a whole lot more about us sooner rather than later, at the moment it’s only our mates that can read our mood.

And you know them. When Jim says he wants to go see a movie again as it’s “fantastic, great, the best movie ever made” you know it’s going to be Avatar again. If Jan says “lets grab a bite”, it will be literally that cos she’s on another crazy diet so you had better book a place with salads. If you ask Google for a “cheap dentist”, Google will return 2,540,000 results.  But if you tweet or Facebook it to your friends, they know you work on the Northside and have lunch there during the week but you live on the South side and have Friday afternoons at home. Your suggestions will be tailored to what you know about your friends and what they know about you.

Friend vs Stranger Networks

It’s probably worth highlighting something here: not all networks are created equal in the friends vs strangers stake. For example, open public broadcasting sites like YouTube rarely get cries of “OMG My Privacy!” unlike friend networks like Facebook. There are also networks where you absolutely don’t want to see your parents siblings or workmates – RSVP and other dating sites for example. After all if your “friends” were any good at finding you a date, then you wouldn’t have to go to “strangers” for help, now would you? Heh.
From Private to Public social networks
More on From Private to Public.

Who wins: Friends or Strangers?

Good question! Thank you for asking me that 😛 Who do you think wins? And if a friend recommends a movie to you, who recommended it to them? David and Margaret from The Movie Show on the telly, or another friend? And can you trust your friend’s friend?

The answer is probably both. But mostly friends. If we still thought that News from stranger influencers (traditional journalists, formal newspapers) was important, we wouldn’t bother forwarding stuff to our friends (facebook, twitter).

But the “social space” we want to live in, is with friends. We retreat from the hurly burly of vicious forums into the sanctity of Facebook and Twitter where our values are understood and tolerated. I reckon Friends will win.

I also reckon Digg needs to do this change from Diggerati to our mates. But I also reckon once they’ve changed, they will be so “almost Facebook but not Facebook” so wannabe Facebook, that they will become more irrelevant by not providing a unique alternative.  What say you?