Influence comes in all forms and from a variety of different sources. But, in the digital age, is the nature of influence changing? And how might it change further over the next few years?
What does influence look like in your life? Who are the main influencers? Depending on a great number of factors, including your values, norms, gender, race and age (amongst many others), the people who have influenced your life to this point represent a very diverse cross-section of society. And it’s likely that these influencers will change over the course of your lifetime.
How people find and consume information has changed drastically in the past decade. The relentless growth of social media and digital channels for data, news and opinion has provided new sources for people to use. This has, in turn, led to the growth of digital and social media ‘influencers’, all of whom offer something slightly different and command a different audience.
In this series of articles, I’ll look at what influence is and who the influencers are in the digital age and why this might seem paradoxical. I’ll cover the notion that the power of influencers may be on the wane, before concluding by looking at the divergence of this versus procurement influencers, and how procurement can leverage this thinking to grow influence in the right places.
There has been plenty written about influence in the past (including articles here on Procurious), including looking at how individuals can measure and increase their own. To provide a bit of context for the whole series, first we need to provide some definitions on our key terms.
The Cambridge English dictionary defines ‘influence’ as, “the power to have an effect on people or things, or a person or thing that is able to do this”. When we consider influence in our lives, what does this look like? It could be things we read, see and engage with on a day-to-day basis, or something that resonates with us.
Influences are usually delivered or underpinned by an ‘influencer’ – “someone who affects or changes the way that other people behave”. In our lives, this could be anyone from parents, family and friends, to colleagues, peers, celebrities and/or global figures.
It could be argued that this definition is more traditional, yet not necessarily outdated. In the digital age, the term might be better defined as, “a person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media”. We might not all be consuming a product, but the influence is there nonetheless.
What does this mean for individual people and how they are influenced? Is it changing the nature of influence? This is still up for debate.
The Changing Influence Environment
Consider the public’s consumption of information 50 years ago. This is long before the advent of the Internet and 24/7 connectivity and long before social media was even first considered. There was the print media and the original three channels on the TV. What seemed like a broad spectrum at the time now looks very narrow.
Influencers at this time would probably have been local or national, rather than international. The range would have been limited to those people who were well-known, who appeared on TV or radio frequently and were considered as experts in their fields. We’re talking here about politicians, celebrities, businesspeople or personalities.
In 2020, we have a world of information at our fingertips all hours of the day and night. We can connect with individuals in all walks of life, discussing and sharing about more topics than we could think of. These new influencers are freely accessed on social media and can create a large-scale, global audience fairly easily (comparatively to 50 years ago anyway).
News, Media & Video
The changing nature of how we consume media and content has enabled more individuals to gain traction in the social media environment. YouTube is a massively popular platform for the new generation of influencers. Ad sales alone in 2019 generated $4.7 billion (£3.62 billion) for parent company Alphabet.
It’s easy to see why when research shows that two-thirds of Millennials prefer YouTube to traditional television, and that there are over 1 billion hours of online content viewed daily. For an individual to get started, all they need is a computer, a social media account, a camera and/or microphone, some basic editing skills and a ‘hook’.
It better be a good ‘hook’ though – 20 per cent of social media users admit that they will stop watching a video if it hasn’t hooked them in the first 10 seconds.
For influencers this means that they need to know how to attract and retain their audience, but also produce quality content. For some, it will be enough to share their knowledge. Others will only gain a small audience, or a larger audience over a longer period. But a minority will gain thousands of followers quickly, and become recognisable ‘influencers’.
Social Media – Gen Z’s World?
Which brings us to our individuals and influencers-to-be. On social media, they are categorised in three groups:
- Micro influencers – offer authority on a specific and narrow niche, generally with smaller audiences (10,000 people or less). They can be a useful group for marketers as they are more affordable and have higher levels of engagement.
- Power middle influencers – have audiences ranging for 10,000-250,000 people and likely already have experience working with brands.
- Macro influencers – these are the digital celebrities on social media, with an audience of over 250,000 people. Their potential reach is huge, but they are more costly for marketers and have a lower engagement rate.
If celebrities make up a large percentage of the ‘macro’ influencers, then we can consider the ‘power middle’ as the new generation of influencers. And this new generation is largely made up of younger Millennials or Gen Z (those born since 1997). In 2018, the top 10 highest earners on YouTube were all, apart from 2, under 30.
The highest earner was Ryan Kaji, who stars in the ‘Ryan’s World’ channel, with earnings of $22 million. He’s 8 years old. It’s no wonder that children and teenagers galore think that being an influencer is a career route they want to take.
Does this then give credence to the idea that the world of social media and digital influence belongs to Gen Z? It’s an interesting question that provides us with an interesting paradox.
A Matter of Gravitas? Or Consumption?
If influence in the past has been related to experience, knowledge, gravitas and global renown (not necessarily traits only found in older people), then how is there more prominence for younger influencers despite having (theoretically) less to offer?
Consider this list of the “must know” influencers in 2019. You could argue that older generations are being squeezed out of influencer circles in the digital world. This could easily be linked to how younger generations consume their media and content. You could also argue that, in the digital world, there is room for all to exist. An older generation of influencers could attract an older generation of followers, assuming these followers consume their content digitally.
However, this generation may already have missed the boat as social media influence shifts again. As the digital world continues to evolve, so does the nature of influence and its perception. So, is this generation too late? Or could they stand to benefit just as much as the game changes again? We’ll cover this and more in the next article in this series.
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