Do you have the personality to be an Influencer? (Study)

Today’s guest post is from Karen Freberg a graduate student at the University of Tennessee. She recently conducted a study related to influencers, and blogs here about it.

Lately, professionals in social media, marketing, and public relations have commented and discussed the issue of influence.  We’ve seen discussions about Klout scores and about two points of view when it comes to influence in the social media realm.  While these discussions rage, some of us are actually doing research into the question.

Whether it’s their willingness to share their insights and expertise with others, or a focus on providing insightful comments and points about specific areas in particular industries, influence (or what others also call social authority) does not happen overnight. Like traditional reputation management practices suggest, having a presence in a community – whether online or offline, or even both – takes time, resources, and commitment.

Some of the questions guiding research in this area include: What are the main personality traits associated with influence? Do personality characteristics have an impact on whether or not a person is influential?

Well, these questions are addressed in a recent research study I did with a few colleagues of mine. Published in the academic journal Public Relations Review, it focused on the issue of the perceptions of personality attributes for social media influencers. The title of the article was “Who are the social media influencers? A study of public perception and personality.” This study presented researchers with an initial profile by looking at the specific personality characteristics of social media influencers in order to discuss their SMI (social media influence) Capital.

The method that we used was the California Q-sort by Jack Block, which allowed us to quantify and compare participants’ subjective impressions of influential people or entities by ranking a set of 100 attributes (which have been standardized and validated by more than 50 years of use in the scientific community).  Attributes were sorted into nine categories (1= least characteristic or salient, 9= most characteristic or salient).

In order to look at the perceptions audiences have of these social media influencers, we decided to look at four influencers for this research study: Brian Solis, Deirdre Breakenridge, Charlene Li, and Jeremiah Owyang.

Some interesting results came out of the study. Specifically, the influencers were all perceived as (in order of ranking):

  • Smart
  • Ambitious
  • Productive
  • Poised
  • Power-oriented
  • Candid
  • Dependable

The attributes that were NOT associated with the influencers included the following:

  • Likely to give up
  • Self-defeating
  • Lacking meaning in life
  • Doubting adequacy
  • Submissive
  • Fearful
  • Anxious
  • Thin-skinned

So, the big question on everyone’s mind: what are the implications of this influencer research to the PR field? Public relations professionals have to recognize that with new media such as social media and other emerging technologies, we are not controlling the message. People are getting their information from other sources who are perceived to be credible and trustworthy. By understanding the different perceptions people have of influencers, we can discuss how influence and the transfer of knowledge happens virtually. To start, it helps to know the personality characteristics people attribute to these individuals and that motivate others to follow, read, or engage in conversation with them online.

Now that you know those personality characteristics, do you have the personality of an influencer?

Karen Freberg is about to graduate this May with her PhD in Communications from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  Her research interests are in social media and crisis communications within public relations. Freberg’s PR and Social Media blog is and you can follow her on Twitter at @kfreberg.

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