The Influence Hierarchy

by Jason Keath on Apr 30, 2013
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Influence is like the Simpsons.

Meaning, whether you love it or hate it, influencer marketing is the social media topic that will never die.


Because it is a mythical, wonderful, tool that many of us view as a magical shortcut to dollars and cents.

Influence marketing is cool. It is fun. It is sexy.

The idea of tapping into this flowing river of fans that bloggers and youtubers and Twitter users have, just sitting there, ready to act, ready to buy, sounds amazing.

And there are some real opportunities there.

But at the end of the day influencer marketing runs smack into the wall we call reality or marketing fundamentals.

Like a lot of social media marketing, influencer marketing comes down to relationships. Relationships are a value exchange. And value, like all marketing, comes down to a cost of time or money. Usually both.

Breaking Down Influencer Marketing Into Easily Digested Bites

When I do training around influencer marketing, I like to remind people that influence is a really big ecosystem.



We are talking all media, all advertising, all cultural phenomenon, all friendships, all relationships, all passing interactions.

From billboards to movies to subway ads to celeb endorsements to conversations on front lawns across the world.

How we decide to buy is a massive database of sources that we trust to varying degrees.


But when it comes to social media and influencer marketing, we’re typically talking about one of two things that marketers quickly latch onto.

Blogger relations and customer advocates.

Here is where those two opportunities fall on a larger hierarchy of the folks who influence your customer.


Yes, that’s right, somewhere between mom and Bieber.

Mom, who has a ton of influence on your customer but a pretty narrow audience or “reach”.

And celebrities, who have tons of reach generally because we recognize them, but not necessarily a ton of direct influence on what we buy.

Bieber may help Samsung amp up awareness of their new TV to millions of folks, for instance. But your best friend with the latest LG Smart TV might convince you to buy because his influence on your buying decision is stronger. You trust him more than Bieber, for various reasons.

Your buddy is an advocate. He bought the product. He is a fan of the product. And he is advocating on its behalf. He is half of what I call the Influence Sweet Spot. As we already touched on, this is made up of bloggers and advocates.


Publishers and Fans.

Bloggers and Customers.

Influencers and Advocates.

It’s a lot of words, right?


It is important to remember that influence always exist on a scale of audience and relevance.

Both ends of that scale are very useful, but typically for different parts of the social sales funnel.

Invest where it makes sense for you. And don’t confuse the categories.

The above is one of the presentation decks I have used this concept in for reference to the larger conversation.

Post Author

CEO and founder of Social Fresh, the social media education company. Jason is a social media consultant, a social media speaker and industry analyst. He consults with corporations and agencies on social media strategy, building community, and influencer...

  • Good job to put this in visual data. Sharing it :)

  • Thanks @twitter-34009442:disqus. Glad you liked the slides!

  • This is awesome

  • LOVE this Jason, really helps to visualize the difference between reach and influence. The key element to also consider is the PASSION that a person has. At some point, the level of passion can make up for, or even surpass a small ‘reach’.

    This is why connecting with fans is so important, because fans have the incentive to promote you, and a passionate person with a small reach is often more valuable to your brand than a person with a large following, who is more or less indifferent to your brand.

    Will be tweeting this, thanks again!

  • Social Scouters

    I like the visual simplicity of this graphic. “Blogger” is a perfect example within the influencer category, but could also include anyone who is frequently in front of an “audience,” like teachers, speakers, trainers, bosses, authors, etc. Bonus points if they have a blog, but can also be influential in ways beyond a blog. Thanks for your great work!

  • Social Scouters

    p.s. Thanks Mack Collier. I saw you mentioned this post on your FB.

  • Very awesome read! Thanks!

  • Thanks @phillyberg:disqus

  • Thanks! Yes, anyone with a built in larger than normal audience could definitely fit into the publisher category. Very good point. This is how a lot of real influence happens, outside of social media.

  • Thanks Mack. Really appreciate your sharing and comment. The passion is a key piece for sure. Maybe I can make the graphic 3D and add that layer? =)

  • Thanks for stopping by.

  • Renee Hall

    This is an excellent breakdown Jason. We see businesses all the time getting lost in their efforts to apply influence marketing to their business to reap the biggest rewards. Your descriptions outline very well the relationships we track to identify and measure our customer’s influence in campaigns. We’re sharing this!

  • Thanks Renee. Glad to hear it was valuable and aligned with what you are already putting into practice. =)

  • Oh my i think we are over complicating this whole thing. Influence comes down to trust.. simples – it does not matter what level of the social scale you are on..if someone trusts you then you will have some influence (direct or indirect) on that person. No need to create another lingo or branch of marketing..let’s keep it simple. Trust comes down to people knowing you or knowing your story.

    As for reach that just depends on how much you are out there..of course if you are a celebrity then you get more publicity and will reach more people. For a marketer reach is all about leverage.

  • Understanding that trust creates influence is indeed simple. Figuring out who your customer trusts in relation to your product/service is not simple. Figuring out how to activate the people your customers trust for your cause is not simple.

    Since pretty much everything in our lives influences us on some level, the topic of influencer marketing is anything but simple. When we get it right, it looks simple. But, the basic distinction between advocates and bloggers, and their two very different motivations, is a concept this post addresses because we see most businesses and marketers missing that delineation every day.

  • If you want to ‘figure out’ what your customer wants – then just ask them. This works regardless of if you are an influencer or not.

  • I agree, but has nothing to do with influence.

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