The rise of the individual business influencer

When we created Tyto we realised that while there were eternal truths for what makes great public relations, we were launching Tyto at a very different time to the last agency I helped create 18 years ago.

It used to be that if you wanted to know who you needed to influence in order to address your end audience, you knew your journalist network like the back of your hand. If you didn’t, you could use one of the many media databases available (admittedly of variable quality) to assist you.

Over the next 18 years, although knowing your media would remain a core skillset, we would see the rise of the social media influencer. We’d see the rise of specialist social media agencies to address this audience and we’d see the rise of tools to help people to map the social media landscape.

Fast forward to 2017 and I admit to being puzzled.  How do I answer the question put to me by a client, “who are the most influential people in our sector?”. On the one hand, we have established professional reporters, commentators and analysts. These people are paid to report on and comment on trends. It’s their job. On the other hand, we have opinion leaders that have built up large followings on social media platforms through respect and love of their viewpoints. In both cases, individuals in these groups often have an influence that extends beyond their publication, blog or social media feed, into public events and conferences.

Navigating this landscape is difficult. There didn’t appear to be a robust way of categorising and measuring influence across these combined factors of media, social media, conferences and people’s owned platforms (i.e. their website, or blog).  We decided we needed to address this problem and set about a process of creating a proprietary database that cast a wide open net to find the most influential influencers in technology across the on- and off-line world.

It hasn’t been easy. The project has taken six months to pull together. It is also a work in progress, and no doubt we will find even better ways to hone and improve our data. But what we have achieved with the Tyto Tech 500 Power List today is the UK’s first objective study into influence in the UK technology sector. It is the first of its kind to combine social, online and offline influence to build a robust data-driven ranking that isn’t reliant on single metrics or subjective opinion. The study analyses influence across 20 tech sub sectors and nine influencer groups.

The individuals who’ve made this year’s Tyto Tech 500 Power List combine passion, purpose, and career position, into far reaching public personas that are truly shaping the technology agenda. The Tyto Tech 500 Power List Top Ten are:

  1. Stephen Kelly, CEO – Sage Group
  2. Mike Butcher, Editor-at-large – TechCrunch
  3. Steven Bartlett, CEO – Social Chain
  4. Jeremy Waite, Global Leader CMO – IBM
  5. Russ Shaw, Founder – The London Advocates
  6. Anne Boden, CEO – Starling Bank
  7. Dr Sue Black OBE, Founder – #techmums
  8. Rajesh Agrawal, Deputy Mayor of London for Business
  9. Alex Hudson, Deputy Editor – Metro
  10. Goncalo de Vasconcelos, Co-Founder and CEO – Syndicate Room

The study revealed that our world of influencers has a significant gender inequality that needs tackling, with only a quarter of the top 500 influencers being female. It revealed that the majority of our most prominent technology influencers are either focused on general tech issues or they are clustered around a few super prominent sectors like FinTech, MadTech, AI and CleanTech. Unfortunately, many sub sectors of technology are starved of the prominent influencers they need to help them grow.

One of the more interesting findings for me was that 60% of the top 500 are business leaders. This means that these individuals have built positions of influence for themselves that objectively make them part of the most influential group of tech influencers in the UK.

This is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it highlights the importance of looking across the entire influencer landscape when considering who you need to influence in order to address your target audience. It also requires a very sophisticated approach to engage with these influencers – it’s not like you can just send them press releases.

Secondly, I believe it highlights the rise of the individual business influencer, and it raises the question of how much emphasis you should put behind individuals rather than the corporate brand when promoting your organisation. There are clear risks and rewards with a strategy that focuses more on individuals, and smaller companies are probably better positioned to take those risks.

The individual business influencer thrives because of the ease at which they can get their message across to a disparate audience through the media, social channels and conferences. They thrive because they can grow a personal network that can be easily nurtured and managed through social media. Finally, they thrive because audiences are interested in opinion and individuals are much better at opinion that brands. You only need to look at your LinkedIn feed to see this. Get it right and the influence of these individuals starts to grow and build with a self-perpetuating momentum.

I’ve just scratched the surface on our findings and what I think it means for public relations, but if you’d like to learn more you can download the top 100 of the Tyto Tech 500 Power List here.