Will Influencism supplant Capitalism? The emergence of the influence economy

One of the most interesting topics at the recent Future of Influence Summit was the emergence of business models for influence. Some particularly intriguing issues were raised in the Business Models for Influence and Reputation panel, suggesting that one of the key currencies of the future will be influence.

The panellists generally agreed that total revenue in the influence sector, including the companies represented on the panel (Rapleaf, Buzzlogic, Klout) is around US$100 million. The primary business model is providing insights to companies on who the influencers are in their customer base.

One example given is a hotel that asks guests checking in for their Twitter name, swiftly ascertaining how influential in social media they are, and treating them accordingly. If someone who has real reach is their guest, the hotel might upgrade them or otherwise treat them in a way that they are likely to rave about.

Another example is a clothing company that assesses how influential a customer is by seeing how many people in their personal network buy similar items of clothing to them. If they determine they are indeed influential in actually impacting others’ buying decisions, they may give them gifts or other rewards which will flow on to further sales.

The second of the Five key trends in how influence is transforming society is “influence can be measured”. This is a very recent phenomenon, driven by a wholesale shift of most influential communicators onto online channels, and the richness of information available on many social media platforms.

What this means is that companies can start differentiating at a high level of granularity how they treat their customers. Instead of simply taking into account wealth or spending power in treating people differently, influence is rapidly becoming an important factor.

As Auren Hoffman noted in the panel discussion, companies are moving beyond ‘total customer value’ to consider the additional customers that may be referred by someone, sometimes called the ‘customer network value’.

This suggests a world where those that receive the most preferential treatment are not the wealthiest, but the most influential. Capital wanes in its power relative to influence. Most critically, influence becomes a currency that buys things with real value: free goods, discounts, special treatment, and more.

We could call this Influencism: a world in which influence holds sway, sometimes even beyond capital.

There was heated debate at Future of Influence Summit as to whether differential treatment based on how influential you are is a good thing or not. More on that discussion later. However like it or not, we are swiftly entering that world.

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