This question was first posed today on Twitter by Joann Peach during the Future of Influence Summit in San Francisco. Several people responded to her inquiry and here’s my take on it: no. I don’t think that influencers are the same as people you would consider to be champions or enthusiasts. Rather, let’s think of the latter as evangelists.
So why aren’t influencers the same as evangelists? It’s because of their bias. For those who you think influence your decisions, they are not bias as to whether or not they actually want you to purchase or use the product or be a supporter of the brand. An influencer that I’d think would fit this mold would be someone like Jeremiah Owyang – when he was an analyst at Forrester Research, he offered his input and data regarding social media, startups and other web-related technology and the results were probably good enough to sway someone’s decision – whether positively or negatively lies with the end user (you).
With respect to the evangelist, these can be both internal or external individuals who has a deep passion towards helping the brand and product succeed. These individuals already have a committed bias towards whether they would use the product. They’re advocates for why you should be using the product/service. In this scenario, I would suggest that Robert Scoble would fit the bill since he’s actively building out his new Building 43 startup with his company Rackspace. Or, it would be Dave Mathews for his evangelism work with PeopleBrowsr.
Overall, I think that these two facets of promotions are truly different and separate. The influencer is probably someone who is a valid “trust agent” and I’m a bit hard-pressed to believe that it could be someone within the company, but it’s not impossible. It would be more plausible to have a third-party individual who reviews your product, is an industry leader, or someone else who understands the profession that is well-respected within the community.
An evangelist, champion or enthusiast has more believability of someone within the company rather than an independent third-party. This person could be a marketer or someone in public relations or even sales or product development who is working with the company to make the product more “likeable”.
Granted, some people may think that this role is probably also more for non-company individuals, but I think the one discernible difference between these two role types is the consumer’s understanding of who would portray those roles. These are two great roles and each has a part in the marketing and decision making process, but the people acting in these situations can vary based on circumstances. I suppose that overall, it’s basically part of the entire cycle of marketing.