The evolution of influence
Question: what do a hairy Neanderthal with a very large club, a Greek warrior, a medieval knight, a highly decorated military general, a Wallabies captain, a Hollywood action star, and a computer geek sitting in front of four LCD screens (all of which are plastered with photoshopped pictures of cats) have in common?
Answer: they’re all influencers. They represent a historical cross-section of the types of people that crowds have typically turned to when forming their opinions.
Returning to Consumer Behaviour 101 for a moment, let’s call them members of an ‘Aspirational Reference Group’ – their opinions count, because people look up to them and want to emulate them.
You may have noticed something, too: all but the last example relied on their physical strength (and/or appearance) in some form or another to establish their position of social authority. Whether that be on the battlefield, the sports field, or the movie set, it played a significant part in their success.
The world is now changing, people. We are arguably in the process of witnessing the culmination of human evolution. We are starting to see a decline in the importance of physical attributes, and an elevation of intellectual ones, in our influencers. Where information equals knowledge, knowledge equals power, and power equals influence, to whom do the masses look? Today, my friends, they are turning to The Geeks.
The mere term has changed from being a derisive moniker for the socially-inept library-bound high-panter, to a proudly self-proclaimed accolade of digital and technological prowess. As the world becomes increasingly digitally-driven, we are walking squarely (no pun intended) into their territory.
Importantly for brands, many geeks are to influence what lottery winners are to money – they’re not used to having it and so wield it with abandon, hoping the world sees and takes note. However, they’re also very aware of what they now hold: geeks will use their influence to either elevate or denigrate a brand or product, all the while taking delight in their ability to do so. To some, it is simply a self-congratulating game.
The rise of social media in particular has finally given geeks the ultimate platform to have their say. Their overall intellect, in-depth knowledge of certain subjects, cynicism towards large companies and distrust of those in conventional positions of authority makes them a difficult audience to engage. But engagement through social media is going to become a necessity for brands in future, in much the same way as ‘getting online’ was ten years ago.
Venturing into social media for non-geeks represents an inversion of sorts. It’s like the geek approaching the table of rugby players during the school lunch-break – slowly, tentatively, hoping for acceptance but fearing ridicule instead. Should it even be done? What if you end up with the digital equivalent of having your underpants pulled up over your head?
The problem is that in this example, geeks can survive without a seat at the jocks’ table. Brands however, may not survive without a seat at the social media table.
So guess what? It’s time accept that the world has now changed. It’s time to do your research, plan your approach, and finally act like the cool brand you wish you were and make a play for your seat. You’ve got nothing to lose – humiliation is a far lesser fate than death.