From Moses’ clay tablets, to the Old Spice Guy, to Fred Wilson’s blog, influencers have been influencin’ since the dawn of time.
Contrary to popular belief, you can’t just wake up one day and decide to create an Internet meme. Something doesn’t go viral until it has been thoroughly embraced and shared by the masses. And how does it get to that point? People who have unique insight and respect from their peers influence other people. And, therefore, play an important role in helping the content, meme, or idea along. The word that we use to describe these kinds of people is “influencer” (I also have friends and strategists who prefer “tastemaker” — but only the hip ones. Influencer is pretty industry standard).
Malcolm Gladwell wrote in The Tipping Point that, “A very small number of people are connected to everyone else in a few steps — the rest of us are linked to the world through those special few.” One of my favorite thinkers in the space and another DC powerhouse Geoff Livingston discusses Gladwell’s theory and several others in his book Welcome to the Fifth Estate — including an entire section on the “History of Influencer Theory” on the social web.
As with the Big Bang and the extinction of dinosaurs, there’s not just one theory about influencers, there are several. Livingston breaks it down like this:
Here’s the result of our first brainstorming session: