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Posted: July 28, 2009

The future of influence, part 2: Defining trends

The smaller your niche as a super influencer, the greater your chances of survival will be

Thomas Frey and Raymond Alvarez

As we think through the trend lines that will govern tomorrow’s influence brokers, we begin to see a radically different world emerging. 

Consider:

Declining role of television: As the battle for attention escalates, the television industry will find itself ill prepared to compete with the emerging Internet-based video businesses. Television executives will watch their markets decline rapidly as competition for ad dollars surfaces from industries as diverse as gaming and online cooking channels, to virtual worlds, social networking and even hybrid programs never imagined.

Declining role of the printed word: The market for ink-on-paper forms of written material will shrink rapidly in the coming years. The life of newspapers, magazines and books in their current form as a physical paper product will quickly diminish and be replaced with their digital counterparts viewable through handheld devices such as book readers, tablets, iPhones, Android Phones and more. The written word will live on for many years, but more as a digital medium rather than a physical one.

Interactive influence: There has been a growing disdain for one-way, top-down forms of communications. Printed material is a perfect example. If a reader objects to a printed statement or comment, there is little recourse for voicing an objection. However, in the digital world, nearly every channel has been set up as interactive two-way communication, and the feedback loop is in real time. Influence becomes more authentic and credible when it is voiced in an open forum.

Influencers_web.jpg

The particalization of markets: As WIRED magazine editor Chris Anderson has predicted, the mass-consumer markets have splintered into millions of tiny long tail markets, each delineated by its unique micro-customer base and specific sphere of influence.
New media channels: Within the past 10 to 15 years, several new media channels have come into existence including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, Digg, LinkedIn, Flickr, iTunes, Amazon, Bebo, Friendster, MySpace, Reddit, Revver, Wordpress, Veoh, Daily Motion, Blogger, Spike and many more. Most of these channels have created features that allow a person to expand their own sphere of influence within that channel.

The 8,000-pound guerilla: With all the new media channels coming into play, the 8,000 pound guerilla that has emerged is Google. Leveraging its dominant position in the global search market and combining it with an assortment of sophisticated tools such as AdWords, AdSense and Analytics, Google has become a prevailing presence online, leaving other contenders such as Yahoo and Microsoft with respectable but far less influential roles. Even though Google is on top, its position is that of the conduit for influence, and it has proved that there is a tremendous amount of money to be made in giving people the keys to their own empire of influence.

Growing markets for niche influencers: Companies are figuring out ways to define their target markets with ever-greater precision. In doing so, they will be wanting to align themselves with the “big fish in the small pond,” knowing that the efficiency of gaining new customers will exceed anything they have ever tried in the past. Companies wishing to tap into a market defined as male, lovers of Italian food, fishing, boating, football, who play backgammon and watch the TV show “Lost” can probably find blogs and YouTube channels that are a perfect match.

Empire of one influencers: The vast majority of media moguls in the future will run their business as one-person operations. Most of their operation will be run as a loose affiliate of networks with content being produced all over the world, distributed to the audience controlled by the individual Empire business owner.

Cross-medium barriers: Thought leaders in the webinar industry are rarely the same as thought leaders on YouTube, Wii, Flickr, blogs, Twitter, podcasting or Facebook. As each of these platforms develop, the level of detail to the ensuing business models will become all-consuming.

Death of the generalist: While there will be many exceptions to the rule, people who are experts in a specific niche will fare far better than people who are talented generalists. Each media channel is trending toward increasingly sophisticated tools. In the future, colleges will begin to offer degrees in YouTube programming, Google AdWords marketing, blog journalism and much more.

Even though we have seen many new options come into play, some of the old structures for peddling influence are still alive and well. As an example, an expert speaking on stage to a captive audience is still incredibly powerful. Being a persuasive writer, radio talk show host or industry expert still has great value and will continue to be valuable in the foreseeable future.

What comes next

In the past, the owner of a small town newspaper had a very well-defined community where the town limits defined the market of the time. Today we are seeing physical boundaries disappear. Though, new boundaries are forming around the various media we are employing.

Additionally, crossing political boundaries, language barriers and time zone differentials are all past problem areas that are dissolving around us. Rising instead are communities of interest where people are forming bonds around technologies, sports, competitions and literally millions of other micro-points of fascination.

Here are a few other thoughts on the trends we will see:

Shortened attention spans: The most watched videos on YouTube are 30 seconds and shorter. Even though it doesn’t seem like our attention spans can get any shorter, they will. People who can put together charticles (charts that tell an entire story), short animations, graphics and videos that can convey a message in the shortest amount of time will be in high demand in the coming years.

Increased frequency: It’s best not to think about influence from a “lights-on” versus “lights-off” perspective. Rather, influence tends to act more like pulsing power with every surge tied to your latest contribution followed by a period of waning interest. You or your company’s position as an influencer will be determined not only by the potency of your effort but increasingly by your frequency of contribution.

Courseware tools: The business world has long accepted that any person can create a class and market it to businesses. Our ability to create classes for the rest of the education market is coming. Several companies are working to create “rapid courseware building tools” and we will see several new markets for extending influence springing to life as a result of this in the coming years.

Tool smorgasbord: While many good tools exist, most are designed with geeky overkill. Why make a Swiss Army knife when a good old fashion blade will do? Look for a new breed of companies to emerge with far more intuitive user interfaces. Many will offer cross-medium mashup capabilities such as animations overlaid on video or background noises flowing from a still image.

Less text-based society: In coming years the written word will begin to lose appeal as other forms of media such as video, podcasts, animations and others become easier to work with. The first major turning point will come when keyboards start to disappear. This will be a clear sign of the diminishing power of the written word.

More pervasive Internet: Traveling across the U.S. and trying to stay connected to the Internet is painful at best. Current efforts under way should fix connectivity issues in even the most remote locations, and connections speeds should amp up to truly mesmerizing levels over the coming decade.

Holography: At one time, it was believed we would instantly spring from our present two-dimensional world into a lifelike 3D media where it was impossible to tell the real life from its projection counterpart. But holography has been far more difficult to implement than its proponents imagined, and we now know that it will be introduced in baby-stepped nuances -- with each iteration a bit more lifelike than the past.

That said, the 3D world is still coming, and we will begin to see improved elements of three dimensionality showing up in everything from games to graphics, as well as videos. The allure of realism will attract followers slowly at first, but it will gain speed quickly over the next decade.

Closing thoughts

Having a job as a professional influencer will be a very appealing position in the future. The appeal comes from being a well-respected expert, invited to lavish events and held in high esteem by peers.

However, the industry that will form around the concept of influence is a fluid ocean of moving parts, with each current of opportunity morphing and overlapping onto other currents on a daily basis. This is a sport where only the most agile can play, and maintaining your position as a super influencer will be a constant struggle. The smaller the niche, the greater your chances are of survival.

Read the first part of this article about the future of influence here.

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Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities.Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

Raymond Alvarez is a journalist, microblogger and emerging expert in social media. He is president and owner of Nextwave Communications, which provides cutting edge communication services to the Colorado business community. The Boulder County firm offers research, writing, strategic planning and analysis.

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