• AUTHOR: kellyo-kom
  • March 1, 2019

If you read our last post on the role of influencers in your persuasion campaigns, you’re probably left with a pretty important question: How do you spot the influencers you need to spread your message organically?

We’ve already established that most of our clients aren’t looking for a single, cross-societal influencer who speaks equally to diverse social groups. In fact, such a character doesn’t exist; not even Kylie Jenner speaks authoritatively to everyone.

Instead, you want influencers who are authentic members of their communities. So say you’ve already identified the social groups within your broader audience. Who within those social groups certify as influencers? How do they stand out from the crowd?  

Luckily, researchers have identified specific characteristics that are associated with socially powerful individuals within a given community. More specifically, a trio of researchers from Leibniz University of Hanover’s Institute of Marketing and Management have mapped out individual characteristics that lead to strong influence abilities — and a strong likelihood of using them. Published in The Journal of Consumer Marketing, Langner et al.’s map of the ideal influencer’s characteristics goes something like this:

  • Mavenism is defined as an indwelling desire to spread knowledge and opinions to others within a social group. It’s a key characteristic in the realm of individual capital, which describes those traits associated with the motivation to exert influential power.

The two traits within individual capital that contribute to high rates of mavenism are Expertise/Knowledge and Involvement. In short, individuals with high levels of knowledge on the subject of influence are more likely to act as market mavens. The same is true of people who are highly involved within their social groups.

  • Machiavellianism refers to a degree of power-seeking behavior. It’s at the heart of social capital, or a measurement of dominance within a social group. Those who score high in this trait are driven to influence others, both as a gesture of power and as proof of their inherent leadership rights. High rates of Mavenism are associated with greater Machiavellianism. (It’s not as bad as it sounds, folks; in the context of this research, we’re talking about consumer purchasing decisions, not building the Death Star.)

Langner et al. refer to two more characteristics within the realm of social capital, both of which contribute to higher rates of Machiavellianism. These are Ego-Drive — the tendency to derive satisfaction from successful persuasion attempts — and Independence, or an individual’s relative freedom from social and personal constraints.

  • Leadership Ability is crucial to effective influence, and is a core component of the social leadership category. As Langner et. al. put it, “While individual capital and social capital describe the personal motivation and social competence to influence, social leadership constitutes the core ability to persuade others in a social group.”

Leadership Ability doesn’t refer to any formalized leadership position; rather, it is a measure of the individual’s ability to persuade and organize peers within the social group, regardless of official measurements of status.

The two characteristics that lead to high levels of Leadership Ability are Personality Strength and Leadership Narcissism. The former is just what it sounds like, a measurement of extroversion, engagement, and social presence. The latter refers to a strong — maybe even over-strong — belief in one’s own social status. (Again, not a Death Star question, here.)

High rates of Machiavellianism are associated with stronger Leadership Ability, according to the research. This brings us to our next point.

How Character Traits Interact to Produce Strong Influencers

None of these characteristics exist in a vacuum. They’re also difficult to spot with a glance through a few social media posts. By understanding the interaction between Mavenism, Machiavellianism, and Social Leadership, though, you can recognize the types of social media behavior that suggest a powerful influencer within your preferred social groups.

As we’ve noted, Mavenism contributes to Machiavellianism, which contributes to Social Leadership. Look for the former two to find the third. Your ideal influencer will be highly knowledgeable in your field; they’ll already be quite active in the community. They’ll probably have posts guiding others toward decisions within your subject, suggesting strong Ego-Drive. They might hold positions of power in the community, or they may simply serve as admins on important local forums. Finally, their efforts to persuade will demonstrate a history of success.

This last point is an important one. Clearly, if everyone in the community shouts an ever-present voice down again and again, something’s missing in the equation. Look for the characteristics we’ve listed above — but never to the exclusion of a proven track record of positive, beneficial online interactions.

In our next post on influence and influencers, we’ll go deeper into practical strategies you can use to find these community partners, as well as ways to reach out without scaring off the talent.