Lodestar Universal has unveiled a global research project of 17000 active internet users across 29 countries which studies the growing power of the 'Influence Economy.' The study profiled consumer advocates and tested their ability to recommend or advise against opting for a brand or service.
In 2008, 1.5bn people are online and the impact of the internet has spread into the way we interact and communicate as a society.
The penetration of different communications platforms has evolved with email being used universally and instant messenger being adopted by more than 80% of users world-wide. This has moved personal interactions into the virtual and written word, where it is much easier to spread influence and communication is much more frequent and casual.
What is interesting is the extent to which social media is beginning to rival its more established equivalents, with nearly 58% having joined a network. But more importantly, these users are communicating in new ways, with 66% using them to stay in contact with existing friends, 42% using them to meet new people and 18% for dating. This is a fundamental shift and movement towards virtual communications platform as a way of broadening friend networks.
The rise of social platforms has created important new channels for peer to peer interaction. The global response to the statements, "blogging is important to socialise with friends" and "I use social networks to meet new people", indicate the social impact of both these platforms. Both are now perceived as important platforms for socialising with friends, pushing more of our interactions into the virtual world and expanding our friend networks to include new people and old friends we would have previously lost contact with.
The global impact is not geographically uniform and there are large distinctions by country, with fast-growing emerging internet markets leading the way, such as the Philippines, Mexico and India. In these countries social platforms have been enthusiastically embraced among web users, thanks to a multitude of factors including low cost of entry, less competition from traditional media, a poor legacy of fixed line communications and a younger and relatively more affluent profile.
The impact of virtual networks and digitised friends can be seen in the core day to day interactions with partners, friends, work colleagues and children. There has been a significant shift to virtual communication where 79% keep in touch by email, 70% by SMS, 67% by messenger and 46% by social networks. Interacting with current work colleagues is led by phone and email, where interactions tend to be more formal. Also social networks are beginning to become important as the boundaries between professional and personal continue to disappear.
The most remarkable trend is the influence of the virtual connection on our most personal of relationships. Nearly 38% of respondents say they keep in contact with their partner through SMS, 30% through email and 22% through Instant Messenger. This is significant compared to the 55% who stay in touch with a partner face to face.
The web today is driven by its' users and peoples' thoughts on everything, including products and brands, personal blogs, reviews on price comparison sites and wish lists on Amazon. It is now incredibly easy to influence other consumers be it via voting buttons or creating favorites lists or even just by purchasing a product that will later become a recommendation for another consumer. The result has been the democratization of influence.
Nandini Dias – COO Lodestar Universal says there are five fundamental changes driving the Influencer landscape today. These are:
Anyone can influence anyone: We now trust strangers as much as our closest friends.
Friendship is no longer local or face to face: It's becoming distant and virtualized.
Everybody is an influencer: The power to influence no longer belongs to the experts or to "those in the know".
New super influencers rise above the mass: Not all consumer influencers are equal. A new breed of "super influencers" has been created by the tools of the social media revolution.
The new influence ecosystem has fundamentally changed how we buy products and services: There is a new level of transparency and truth that all public institutions, companies and brands have to adhere to.
For brands that wish to navigate their way through the influence economy. Lodestar has some advice namely to invest in an exceptional product, listen to the buzz, be transparent, use social media as an advertising channel and to be more accessible.