My First Forrester Report: Tapping The Entire Online Peer Influence Pyramid

Three months after starting at Forrester, my first report for Interactive Marketers is now available: Tapping The Entire Online Peer Influence Pyramid.  Forrester subscribers can click the link to read about the Peer Influence Pyramid, which describes and shares recommendations about three types of online influencers: Social Broadcasters, Mass Influencers and Potential Influencers.  

Each of the three types of influencer is important to marketers, and each must be engaged in a different manner.  Social Broadcasters are appealing because of their large followings, but they tend to assist more with awareness than with preference. Mass Influencers is a new category of influencer--28 million in number in the U.S. alone--created thanks to the scale afforded consumers by social media tools. (I'll be sharing more about Mass Influencers in my next Forrester report.)  Finally, the vast majority of social media participants are Potential Influencers, people who have modest networks rich with trust.


For me, the publication of this report marks the end of a long journey and the beginning of another.  I started this report back in September, before I was even a Forrester employee.  As part of the recruiting process, Forrester requested I write and present a report that demonstrates the sort of research and analysis I would offer to Forrester clients.  Version one of the report did the trick and I was hired.

At that point, it seemed the "Peer Influence Pyramid" report might be polished and published within a matter of weeks, but instead it took over three months; I have lost count, but I think the report now available on is version number seventeen. One reason for the time and edits is that Forrester reports adhere to a very particular style of writing. I am having to unlearn some bad habits and enjoying my continued development as a writer.

Another part of the challenge was that Forrester has a rich history of research on the topic of influence. Before Forrester could release my report, the concepts and language I developed independently as a job candidate needed to reflect and expand upon the work done by my new peers and those who came before me at Forrester.

Most importantly, I learned that Josh Bernoff had just completed some new and fascinating research on influence in social media.  That research was conducted for the upcoming book Groundswell HEROes, a follow up to the popular and very informative Groundswell. This good luck in timing afforded me the opportunity to work with Josh and leverage some groundbreaking research to further guide and strengthen the ideas within my report.  

A lot of time, effort, and consideration went into Tapping The Entire Online Peer Influence Pyramid. I hope Forrester subscribers find it informative and interesting.  Within a month, I will be sharing some news about my second report, which dives even deeper into the new category of influencer--the Mass Influencer.


Peer Influence = Health Activism

I've just spoken to Josh about our enthusiasm at WEGO Health for your approach to engaging social media power users; we've spoken at length with our community that you'd define as Social Broadcasters, Mass Connectors and Mass Mavens - and they chose the term "Health Activist" to capture their passion for helping others with health topics. In health social media (unlike consumer electronics, for example), motivation is really about helping others with a health issue - not audience for audience's sake, or selling blog ads. That said, your work overlaps nicely with ours, and we're fired up about it.

Your pyramid is a fine architecture, by the way - a terrific update to Jakob Nielsen's "Participation Inequality" pyramid from 2006.

Looking forward to working together.


is this model just about influencers or about all internet users? I am not sure what you mean by "potential influencers" - are they influencers already or are they "normal" users who - of course - influence other people as well. thank you for reply. rosta



You hit the nail on the head--Potential Influencers are "normal" users. We see everyone engaged in social media as part of the influence pyramid. The people on the bottom of the pyramid may not have large networks, but they all have potential influence. Any one of them can become a positive or negative influence on a brand under the right circumstances, and if a brand activates enough of these Potential Influencers they can create viral marketing success.

re: My First Forrester Report: Tapping The Entire Online Peer In

Thanks for the interesting post. 3 questions, if I may.
1. - why a pyramid? Is there a hierarchy of influence implied here?
2. - as the pyramid is for online influence, have you ever given any thought to offline (eg word of mouth) influence? Does it have the same shape?
3. - does the model apply equally to B2C and B2B markets? My sense is that B2B markets are influenced in quite different ways.

I like the fact that you'll be discussing the topic in more depth - keep it coming!

re: My First Forrester Report: Tapping The Entire Online Peer In

Duncan, GREAT questions!

1) It's tough to summarize an entire report in a blog post, but the pyramid does have an implied hierarchy. At the top are Social Broadcaster--very few of them with very large reach. Next are the Mass Influencers--many more with less individual reach. And at the bottom are the vast majority of consumers who have modest networks comprised largely of people they know offline and who trust them.

2) Offline influence (or analog influence, as we like to call it as Forrester) is definitely part of the equation. In fact, we have some data that demonstrates those Mass Influencers have considerable offline influence. Mass Influencers' friends tend to turn to them for advice far more than typical. So, yes, offline influence is definitely part of the Pyramid.

3) You've pointed a great direction for some future research. I can't answer the question (yet), but my gut tells me that B2B probably has an influence pyramid just like B2C, but I'd guess the weight of the channels is different. In B2C it's focused on Facebook and Twitter; in B2B it's likely that forums and LinkedIn are more important. What do you think? Is there a Pyramid in B2B?

Thanks for the terrific questions and dialog.