Barry Eitel

One concept that a few panels tossed around at ad:tech was the idea of “influencers.” An influencer, some marketers claim, is a person that has extreme pull over a large number of friends, fans and followers. Basically, if you can nab an influencer, you also nab a bunch more consumers. Many act on this strategy by offering free products and coupons to verified “influencers” and allow them to comment on, tweet about and rate a brand. Theoretically, giving free stuff to this one person more than pays for itself because their friends will rush stores and buy the brand, hoping to be as cool as the influencer.

As they tried to compete with Apple’s iPod, for example, Sony let amateur athletes try out their digital music player which was specialized for sweaty moments because it is waterproof (unlike the infamously fragile iPod). These weren’t just any athletes - they each had large, yet personal, followings. The strategy worked in a sense. These athletes posted pics and many a status was updated about Sony’s Walkman. Others went to Amazon and gave the product top ratings. However, their actual “influence” over others is near impossible to quantify. Did their flock of Facebook sheep rush to a local Best Buy and actually buy the product?

According to Paul Adams, there is no way to tell and significant evidence to show that the herd probably didn’t. Adams should know - he’s the Global Brand Experience Manager for Facebook. He gave a keynote speech at ad:tech entitled “Thinking Beyond Influencers.” Adams claims that the idea of an influencer is a myth, even though the digital advertising holds it as gospel.

Try looking to your own experience. If these “influencers” are so prevalent, there should be at least a few among your own batch of Facebook friends. Therefore, when one of them posts about a great new product, restaurant or exotic locale, you should have the urge to click to Amazon or Expedia or grab the keys and try out the cuisine for yourself. Is that how you act?

Most likely not, says Adams. He claims instead that we live in networks and that we all have some small influence over our vast group of friends. Does it not seem more likely that you’d try out a new product after several of your good friends praise it, as opposed to one behemoth scenester giving it a good rating?

How does this work for advertisers? Adams says that it’s complicated. That’s because the networks are complicated and hard to exactly pin down in the data. However, he suggests broadening an approach to include non-“influencers,” yet trying hard to keep things personal. This may seem contradictory, but well worth the effort. Going after a whole network of consumers will have much greater rewards than chasing imaginary influencers.

This article is part of Allvoices’ series on ad:tech, the largest digital marketing and technology conferences and expositions. Check out for more of Allvoices’ ad:tech San Francisco event coverage. This series is supported by ad:tech.