What happens when everyone’s a social media “expert”

Thank you for participating. You are now an expert.

Thank you for participating. You are now an expert.

In the booming world of social media, words like “guru,” “expert,” and … ugh…”innovator” are handed out like participation trophies at a 3rd grade swim meet. But what–or who–determines the line of demarcation between average social media consumer and social media guru?

If you believe communications theorists’ definition of Diffusion Theory, Opinion Leaders (what you or I would call the gurus or experts) are defined by how many people fall in line behind them. So yes, folks: the number of Twitter followers you have does matter after all! Opinion Leaders also have to be well connected, good communicators and relatively innovative (that means that they are ahead of the masses following them, but not too far ahead).

Diffusion theory is all about how to measure social change: When it happens and how. And these opinion leaders are key in the formula.

So when diffusion theory is applied to our society’s massive movement to using digital media as a key communications tool, who are the Opinion Leaders?

Here’s my short list. Who am I missing?

  • Steve Jobs — the creator of the iPhone has to place high on anyone’s list, right? Even major phone companies are copying Apple’s designs…and now to my amusement, their advertising strategy. (Side rant: Will someone please tell the “iDon’t” people and the “I’m a PC” people that they are just strengthening the already die-hard crowd of Apple believers???)
Just look at the picture and you can tell Pete Cashmore is a true Opinion Leader...or sumthin like that.

Just look at the picture and you can tell Pete Cashmore is a true Opinion Leader...or sumthin'.

  • Pete Cashmore — he went from starting a blog in his basement at age 19 to the founder of social media’s mecca. Mashable.com is the source for everything from how-to tips to breaking trends.
  • Evan Williams – The co-founder of Twitter has a remarkable record of reinvention and innovation. And if you watch the interview with him at the journalism industry’s best association event of the year, you’ll see he is widely worshipped in the crowds of information dissemination. The tool he helped created has vastly changed blogging and mass communication forever.

This top-three list is just for those related to the field of social media. It’s highly disputable–and I’m sure as soon as I hit “publish” I’ll think of someone huge who should knock Ev off…but no list is perfect. If we had to look at the U.S.’s biggest opinion leaders overall, we’d have to include Oprah and Barack Obama to the list. But thankfully, we won’t try to go that big.

But now I ask:

How is innovation diffusion changing with social media?

Get in line, folks the guru has spoken!

Get in line, folks the "guru" has spoken!

I do believe that these opinion leaders are becoming weaker as social networks strengthen. Oprah can still send a book to the bestseller list with a 15-second recommendation and a link on her Web site. But surely there’s less room for more Oprahs within mainstream media. Instead, we are grouping off into many stronger, but smaller, networks–each with its own opinion leader.

This gives more people the opportunity to be considered a “guru” but at the same time less weight to the crown. So maybe our swim coaches had it right all along. Maybe we all deserve participation trophies for being opinion leaders of our own niche. Or perhaps we should start rewarding those who are just following along. They are becoming the rare ones.

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