A smartypants writeup of perceived influence and social media.

Steve Rubel has an interesting post on the various shades of media these days: mainstream media, social media, citizen’s media, etc. Best quote:

So then what is the differentiator between “citizen’s media” and the mainstream? Well, there is a line in the sand and it, my friends, is cash. That’s really the only thing today that separates the pros from the ams (e.g. amateurs).

I don’t necessarily agree with this. I can think of plenty of folks who are running extremely profitable blog businesses for the cost of hosting, and that’s pretty much it. The biggest thing that separates the different levels of media is talent, but I think there’s a more subtle factor that serves as a true separater: perceived influence.

For instance. Some of the most powerful blogs, at least in terms of traffic, are one-man or one-woman shows. You’ve got Dooce, you’ve got Robert Scoble, you’ve got Perez Hilton, etc. I know for a fact that none of these blogs are spending bundles of money to run their blogs; they’re just writing, writing well, and they’ve been at it for a certain amount of time – for the most part, at least 18 months (in the case of Dooce, I’m thinking more like 3 or 4 years).

But back to the whole perceived influence thing. The most influential blogs are influential why? Not because of money, not because of super cool site designs, but because they write influential copy; whether that’s the most current insider gossip, universally felt mothering angst, or a human face to scarytechiegeek stuff. It’s influential because it makes you a part of the experience – and as humans, we long to be included in something. Once we feel included, we become lifetime members….well, until the influencer goes off his nut a little; but even then, we have invested a part of ourselves in that influencer’s efforts, and it’s difficult to extriacate ourselves at that point.

Once you’ve been out in the Web landscape a bit, you begin to be able to differentiate between the true influencers and the wannabe influencers. Money is a factor in this process: for instance, if you go to the main Comcast site (big media, big money, big whoop), you’ll see Lights! Camera! Action! However, it’s just a big, painfully slow commercial. Nothing there. It’s just another TV screen, this time with shiny buttons and things that go fwee! when you push ’em. Yep, lots of money – but in terms of influence, it’s a second-hand player. The true influencers behind big sites like this are invisible – you don’t see them until they come out behind the curtain and put their pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us. You don’t come away from sites like this with anything worthwhile (well, other than when the next Hallmark Special is on in your area).

But then you go to places like the sites I’ve mentioned, along with Dethroner (a girl reading a guys only blog – it’s sick, I know), or (shameless plug) Lifehacker, or BoingBoing, or Pink is the New Blog, and you’re sitting across the table with people. You’re involved in the process. You’re contributing to the conversation – and you can get pissed off, you can jump and down with joy, you can laugh till you toot – and then, you can come back again, and again, and again. Because this person(s) has influenced you, has made you part of the team, and you have an obligation to keep.

That’s the secret of citizen media, social media, whatever you want to call it. Any of us can find a club to belong to; but not only that, any of us can start our own dang club on anything we want – even an organization dedicated to David Hasselhoff, if we felt like it.

It’s not money, it’s not really even numbers – one of the most influential blogs to me personally that I read has a readership of maybe 25 people; but I can’t wait to see what this person writes next. I’m invested in this relationship. The trick to social/citizen/we the people media comes down to nothing more than that.

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