Two weeks ago I crowd sourced the question about the changing nature of influence within the technology sector and how this was impacting on analyst firms specifically. There was tremendous response from which three key themes emerged that are illustrated below with some of the most relevant comments.

1. A New World of Influence

Clearly from your comments there is a new dynamic of influence within the IT sector. James Boike highlighted the fratured nature of influence away from the traditional sources specifically analysts.  He said, “Just based my experience in enterprise tech, influence on IT adoption has become highly polarized. If you think of Chris Anderson’s “long tail” concept, the most effective analysts and influencers have scattered to the far left and far right of the axis – influence is being polarized.

“That means top influencers increasingly work at extremities: either at “A Big Firm” or as vocal, prolific specialists in their trades.” The vast middle is no longer a fruitful position for analyst shops in enterprise tech. Tier-2 firms and independent freelancers who are not in the top decile of self-promotion are glossed over – they are more easily disregarded. More specifically, on the left pole I see Gartner, influential venture capitalists like Tim Draper/DFJ and Fred Wilson/Union Square Ventures, and key executives like Werner Vogels, CTO at Amazon (and until recently, Jonathan Schwartz at Sun). On the right pole I see folks like Anil Dash, Ray Wang, Dan Gillmor and Dave Winer, who seem to speak less for their organizations, instead voicing their own perspectives which are heard by thousands of IT decision-makers globally. Big caveat: much of the above influence does not fall into traditional industry analyst role, but that’s the point – the role of tech influence has scattered from the space formerly occupied by industry analysts.”

2. New Influence is Driven by Engagement

The nature of influence in this new world is driven by engagement Fred Broullard explained. “So, to our influencers. There are 2 things to be considered here :

A : Exemplarity: the opinion is driven by the status or relevance of the influencer. For instance, a designer will clearly influence for a technology product on style, design, good taste, but not really on technology. His influence varies by the topic and level of his engagement with the product.

B: Usage, or proven track of record: increasingly, as we have less time and far too much information, the picture says it all, so to speak. If the demo or the usage of a product / a solution has been successful, it will clearly influence. It might therefore be a shift from documentation to demonstration or engagement

Who they are ? … hard to tell, and increasingly so. I think that in each industry / organization / association, often the geekiest and most engaged person will definitely be the one who will be known and given credit.”

3. Engagement and Influence Originates In Micro-Communities

A major trend has been the growth and development of micros communities. These communities by their nature are formed from those engaged and it seems this is the source of great credibility and the source of influence.

Andrew Howard highlighted this fact: “I engage with global privacy stakeholders very closely—everyone from advocates to academics to policymakers. I’ve managed engagement with this community on behalf of a number of Edelman clients. These individuals are playing an increasingly prominent role in technology adoption as they influence consumers via the media and policymakers via lobbying efforts. Privacy is complex, highly subjective and poorly understood; as a result, privacy stakeholders can seed fear, uncertainty and doubt in the market. I believe there’s a new privacy engagement imperative for tech companies introducing products and services that push data boundaries (think location-based services, social networking, health IT, etc.).”

These micro-communities are important because the key idea starters on specific conversations and topics as Andrew highlights for privacy issues. It also highlights another question I was asked on a global training session this week what is the difference between and engagement strategy and a traditional communications approach. I came across a quote from Andrea Di Maio Gartner’s leading analyst on e-Government issues earlier this week that explains it well. “Using social media to communicate means to expand a multichannel communication strategy to encompass new channels. It used to be the counter, the telephone and the web site: now you have the Twitter hashtag or the Facebook page, but these are just channels. Of course people can engage, retweet your information, post on your Facebook page, and so forth. So it would appear that simply setting some ground rules about what people can and cannot do and how the moderation policy works would go a long way toward moving from simple communication to engagement. But “real” engagement is something else. It is about figuring out where people are already having conversations that your organisation needs to be aware of. It is about bringing information and dialogue to places where people want that dialogue to happen: their blogs, their Facebook groups, their Twitter streams. In essence, an effective communication strategy is likely to be almost the exact opposite of an effective engagement strategy. The former chooses and controls channels, while the latter joins somebody else’s channels. The former determines rules of engagement, the latter follows somebody else’s rules. The former assumes that people reach out to your organisation, the latter is based on your organisation reaching out to communities and groups.”

As James Boike pointed out Gartner analysts still dominate at one end of the axis but I would love to hear thoughts from all points of influence.