Across blogs, podcasts, online photo galleries, vlogs, or any other form of consumer generated media (CGM) that you can think of – there is lots of press about how this is empowering individuals to connect to others … a new form of many to many communication signified by the evolution from broadcasting (one to many) to unicasting (one to one) to multicasting (many to many).  Yet in this sea of generated media, there is a lot of crap.  There are a lot of "guys in a garage" making noise mixed in with the real determined detractors who can move along a sliding scale of maliciousness (often directly proportional to the responses they get from corporations to their issues).  How can we tell one from the other?

It comes back to the idea of tracing influence, and defining a measure for i-CGM, or Influential Consumer Generated Media.  At AdTech in Chicago, Rick Murray of Edelman spoke about finding intelligent discussions in the blogosphere in relation to their work on the Viagra PR business.  The challenge in this case was to separate those individuals writing passionately and intelligently about ED, and empowering them to become brand ambassadors for Viagra.  A few lessons he shared:

  1. Influencers can be influenced, but it’s far more important and effective to give them something to talk about and a place to say it … then you let them make up their own minds and have a channel to influence others
  2. Finding influentials is easy, connecting with them is tough
  3. Give your influencers some inside knowledge, and you will allow them to flaunt their "first mover advantage" to share information with the world that others don’t have access to
  4. Passion drives pace, community drives reach
  5. Get creative – small groups can make a big difference

The second point is the most interesting in relation to the question of finding these influentials.  Easy?  There are huge firms such as Intelliseek and others that have built sophisticated models for identifying what is being said and who is influential.  Yet there is something to be said for the premise which Malcom Gladwell defines in his book Blink … that "rapid cognition" can provide valuable guidance.  Do the sophisticated tools offer a more complete picture?  Absolutely.  Do we need them in order to gain a strong understanding of who is influential?  Probably not.