Study: Consumer Influencers Start Catching Up To Advertisers
What's more, 16% of online consumers generate 80% of these impressions, according to Forrester's new Peer Influence Analysis research model.
"Even though 145 million Americans participate in social applications, they create challenges for marketers seeking scale," said Forrester analyst Augie Ray, who co-authored the report with fellow analyst Josh Bernoff.
"You can't treat them as you do paid media since they're people, not content," said Ray. "Nor can you engage one-by-one with everyone who has influence -- there are just too many people with influence ... The challenge is to take advantage of this now massive pool of influence with efficiency and scale."
Achieving scale in social environments requires an understanding of the influencers in one's industry of choice, and then designing programs to activate that influence.
Forrester's Peer Influence Analysis begins with an online survey of more than 10,000 consumers about their online social participation. In this survey, it asks about the frequency with which consumers speak about products and services, the number of people with whom they network, and the sorts of categories about which they comment and share.
Based on this survey, Forrester measures influence impressions in social networks including Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The number of tweets and updates is measured along with the number of friends or followers a particular user has.
Within social networks, consumers created 256 billion influence impressions on one another about products and services last year.
In social venues other than networks -- such as blogs and product rating sites -- consumers shared 1.64 billion influence posts.
Using conservative estimates about the frequency with which people view these posts, the total number of consumer-generated impressions about products and services exceeded 500 billion in 2009.
"Compare that to the 2 trillion online ad impressions delivered over the same period, and it is evident that social applications now rival other mass media," said Ray.
It is also now apparent that a small minority of online consumers create the lion's share of the impressions.
Forrester calls these high-reach social participants "Mass Influencers," and they are responsible for 80% of the brand impressions in online social settings, even though they make up just 16% of the U.S. online population.
While Mass Influencers are a minority of online consumers, they make up a 29-million-strong army of social participants, according to Forrester.
"You can't engage them individually the way you would a small handful of Social Broadcasters -- the influential bloggers or Twitterers you can reach with social PR," according to Forrester. "Instead, you must reach out to them efficiently, with mass social media marketing techniques."
Furthermore, Forrester breaks Mass Influencers into two groups: the Mass Connectors who are the 6.2% of the US online population -- 11 million people -- and generate 80% of all the impressions about products and services within social networks; and Mass Mavens are the 13.8% of the online population -- 24 million people -- who creates 80% of all opinions about products and services in blog posts, blog comments, discussion forum posts, and reviews.
According to Forrester, there is an overlap of 7 million individuals -- 3.7% of the online population -- between the two groups.