Interview with Karen Freberg on Influencer Personality Traits, Part II

Last week we introduced you to Karen Freberg and her scientific groundwork researching the personality traits of social media influencers. This week we would like to present some of her notions on what this research means: areas of future study, possible applications, and a little bit of her sense of the social media influencer in today’s environment.

First and foremost, Freberg appreciates this area of study for the disciplines that have found their way to it.

“What I like about the research happening in PR is that it’s really all across the board,” she said. “We are looking at how corporations are using social media. We have interviews with professionals determining what their use is and their opportunities. And then there’s looking at perceptions with reputation management, looking at how people perceive someone as credible or not. As each year goes by it’s becoming more rigorous and definitely more interdisciplinary.”

As the research develops, so do the professional roles, and while social media managers have been around for a little while, especially at top tier publications, it is still a blossoming career path. Freberg points to the real value of a social media manager representing a brand with her look at third party endorsers, people who have no financial relationship with any brand and therefore benefit from a closer likeness to the consumer and, certainly, a more trustworthy reputation as an honest critic of best products.

A brand-sanctioned endorser, however, one clearly employed by a company, can still benefit from some of these perceptions as they act within social media channels, and Freberg suggests it precisely their transparency about their relationship that enables them to do so.

“If people acknowledge that they are honest, if they have a self-disclosure in a consistent kind of way, it will still work,” she said.

Additionally, a professionally hired social media manager can establish their value by performing some of the same duties a third-party endorser might, sharing industry-wide news that isn’t necessarily always a sales pitch. By sharing news outside of your brand, you build transparency and, therefore, trust.

“You are representing a company, but you are also very active in the community,” Freberg said. “If you are in a position of a social media manager, and you are still transparent and willing to share your knowledge and help others—if you are source of information and willing to interact, I don’t think that’s a conflict of interest. I think it helps the brand. You are serving the customer and the audience, but you are also acting as a liaison, saying ‘I’m willing to talk about the company I’m representing, but I’m also willing to talk about the area of interest, which is an area that I live and breathe.’ There is a lot of opportunity with this.”

Freberg’s point is a strong take-home message. In the simplest way, we think of think of social media as supplanting traditional media in terms of eyes, so brands seeking their audiences out through these new venues necessarily follows. But we must have the adequate tools and approach when we are in a new environment. The audience’s experience has changed according to these new venues, and they expect brand representatives to change likewise. It does seem to be something closer to Freberg’s “liaison”—someone that sits at a terminal managing a truly multi-way conversation. In a sense, the liaison has replaced the “poster-child.”

All the better then, with these new dynamics, that Freberg is so deeply invested in the research. This study could be used in immediate application for hiring or training purposes, for instance.

“There’s a lot of these personality characteristics that I think could be integrated into workshops, into training for professionals,” Freberg said. “If we are a PR professional representing a business, and people are listening to the influencers compared to us, we need to understand what the characteristics are that could be influencing individuals to listen to them. If we can see those characteristics, we can see how we can adapt, how we can evolve with these findings in how we present ourselves.”

Longer term, this study opens significant doors in research itself, and Freberg seems particularly apt about moving quickly into the next experiments.

“We were looking at this as a study that could lead onto future research,” she said. “Further down the line we are interested in doing different samples, say, using participants that were very active in PR or social media, that knew the influencers in the study—that’s definitely one next step to do, or, looking at different influencers. The ones we looked at are four of the main ones out there, but there are other social media influencers out there way up in the rankings. So this could all evolve.”

Indeed it seems it will. With social media as a blanket over so many industries and individuals, each with different interests, personalities and levels engagement, there are many variables that can be isolated to provide rich nuance to the findings within social media influencer research as a whole. At Cision, we are glad for the future people like Freberg can bring.

Follow Freberg on Twitter at @kfreberg



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