The Influencer Epidemic

My passion for social media is evident in many aspects of my life, but I still think the full potential of social media has yet to be tapped. Events like Twestival, meetups and u30pro are amazing examples of what social media can and has done, but I still think there’s more to come. With a federal election looming, I’m anxious to see how the candidates take to Web 2.0.
That being said, I think we are running into a huge problem with how we evaluate quality in the social media stream. I’m calling this the influencer epidemic.
I recently did an podcast with some awesome students from Centennial College’s Corporate Communications and Public Relations program. As an alumni of the program, I love going back to help current students with their assignments and networking. When I was approached to answer some questions about my experience as a new grad and social media, I jumped at the opportunity.
We started with some questions about social media and how it functions in my day to day life. Things were going great until we moved onto the topic of creating a personal brand in the online space and the importance of being “influential”. I was really shocked to see the stress on their faces when it came to creating a personal brand and being “influential” in the online space.
These poor PR students had been told that “being influential online” was the most important thing to securing a job. These poor stressed students sat there fearful of how they would create an online brand and be influential in the mere months before they graduate. How would they ever find jobs without it?
I’m here to argue that influence is arbitrary. The people who are influential to me are not the people others find influential, and while there are influencers in each respective professional community, there will always be someone who doesn’t think that person’s online musings merit their influence.
The bigger question is, how are we measuring influence? While there are some out there producing quality content and sharing information, there are others out there simply practicing online narcissism and using social media as a platform for their own self centered desires.
We need to rethink how we evaluate influencers. Having 2000 followers and tweeting about your lunch with your awesome friends and your awesome parties does not equal influence. Are you sharing information? Are you contributing to your professional community? Are you helping students? Has social media become a popularity contest in which those with the most followers wins?
The first step in defining who’s influential is defining what’s influential for you. The beauty of Web 2.0 is that it’s customizable. Your Google Reader is your own and your Delicious account is tailored for what you want. Don’t allow others to dictate “who’s important”.
Mastering social media tools for use in your own professional life is more important than sharing your party twitpics and having people marvel at the sparkle of your outfit. Maybe one day I’ll interview for a job where they will care about my Klout score. Until then, focus on the work you are doing and the relationships you are forging. Produce quality work first, and you’ll become influential in a way far more measurable than Klout.

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