An Influence Throwdown at SXSW

PR Updates

An Influence Throwdown at SXSW

Mar 21, 2011 | PR Updates

An Influence Throwdown at SXSW

Mar 21, 2011 | PR Updates

We’ll be sharing notes from some of the most useful South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference sessions I attended, so you can live and learn vicariously – and save yourself the big price tag!

One of the more thought-provoking panels at SXSW was titled, “Influencer Throwdown: Proving Influence Once and for All.”

Saul Colt, of Freshbooks, noted that influence is “being able to inspire action.”

It’s not:

  • popularity
  • achieved on a single site (like Twitter)
  • the biggest numbers
  • determined by a single site (like Klout)
  • unrelated to sentiment

Klout, he said, connects lazy marketers to influencers.

Krista Neher, of Boot Camp Digital, pointed out the difference between influence and voice. Using the Charlie Sheen example, Krista explained that voice is when people are interested in what you have to say, but influence means you can incite others to act (you might follow Charlie’s tweets, but are you going to trust his advice?) When it comes to finding influencers, Krista’s advice was to simply ask the people in your audience who they find influential.

She also suggested finding those who already care about your organization, and then identify ways to motivate these influencers further.

On finding influencers, David Binkowski, of Lippe Taylor, explained that identifying those who talk (or blog, or tweet, or post) the most is fairly easy, but these are not the people who can have the most influence on your brand and your audience. Rather, he noted that it’s those who aren’t talking who can potentially have the greatest influence. “Look at the stats for your website and see where they come from – and keep in mind we’re early adopters, but people are still using yahoo mail, IMs, etc.” David suggests running an offer or promotion online and sharing it across channels, then tracking where the success comes from, in order to unearth the truly influential people.

Kevin Dugan, of Empower Media Marketing, noted the difference between branding and building your online influence. He stressed that while brand voice is a uniform, crafted brand identity, social voice should be living and breathing humans. He also noted that you need “both man and machine” to find influencers – relationship aren’t just transactional anymore.

Though several audience members asked questions post-panel, one that sparked an interesting discussion was around Fast Company’s much-maligned, click-based Influence Project (a discussion made juicier by the participation of one of the project’s editors, who was in the audience).

Some noted that the project was disappointing and a wasted opportunity, because participants simply needed people to click a link in order for them to move up in the ranks, versus something more substantive.

As Krista explained, the project rewarded those who were most willing to spam their audience with “vote for me” requests. These people, Krista said, want to be known. They are not actually influential. David added that the project was done in the wrong context and in the wrong place. He explained that a Twitter stream where every 9 out of 10 tweets are purely promotional is just plain spam. From David’s point of view, it was about reach vs. relevancy.

What do you think about influence, and the importance of finding influencers online? Have you found any useful strategies and tactics to succeed in this area?

Thanks to Jennifer Spivak for contributing to this post.

Update: The excellent Kevin Dugan has posted some additional information and background related to this session. Check it out!

Written By Kellye Crane
Kellye Crane is the founder of Solo PR Pro, which provides the tools, education, advocacy and community resources needed for indies to succeed and grow. She's a veteran and award-winning communicator with more than 20 years of experience - 19 of them solo.


  1. Thank you for providing a recap of other conversations on influence at SxSWi. I don't know if you had the opportunity to sit in the conversation we had about influence over customers, and communities as VIPs for businesses. In it, we explored “why is influence”? As a more appropriate question vs. who has it.

  2. Hi Valeria- I did see your excellent session on influence during SXSW, and plan to run a post based on my notes from that session later this week. Stay tuned!