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by Andy Williams on 30th September 2013
As you may have guessed from previous posts, I have a slight liking for Social Media and how it’s used to outreach to audiences you would otherwise never get the chance to speak to. I love the fact that we can all read the latest news in real-time to the point where eyewitnesses more often than not are now the ones reporting on events long before any News Channel turns up.
Social Media has allowed everyone who can log on to have a voice and to connect with anyone anywhere. The power of Social is phenomenal. Yet it has also brought about the rising of figures known, especially on Twitter, as ITK’s. These guys are the “In The Knows”.
These are the people who have the inside information on stories that no one else does. They “know” people and they leak snippets of stories from their “sources”.
These guys are the oracle.
Most importantly, these are the people who, without us consciously thinking about it, have become the people we see as authorities on subjects they specialise in. Believing something that we see Tweeted by these individuals has kind of become second nature.
However, many of these figures don’t actually know anything at all. It’s all an act. Think “sports hack writing for a Newspapers” – that level of truth (exactly 0%).
Giving everyone a voice has allowed these people to become important voices in certain niches. So if anyone can set themselves up to be an authoritative voice or an “ITK”, then those who actually do know what they are talking about should have no trouble placing themselves into this position right?
Well most don’t.
So let’s have a look at these ITK’s and how you can become one and start to build your audience.
ITK’s fascinate me. They set themselves up to be seen as these authority figures but with no obvious benefits. Their audience consists of followers, so why go to a lot of trouble (and those I have been watching over the summer really have) just for well, nothing.
It’s important to point out at this stage that I am not talking about those accounts that are set up to become authority figures for the purposes of “gaming” the system and pushing certain information for a gain. These are genuine accounts by people who simply try to push themselves as authority figures with no obvious gain. Most I doubt even know the true power of Social Media with regards to social signals etc.
The summer period for most football fans is an anxious one. Since the introduction of the summer Transfer Window (this is a set period of time when teams are able to buy and sell players, once this window shuts, teams can no longer trade), football fans spend this time speculating as to what players their team might sign, whether they will be able to hang on to their star players while also keeping a jealous eye on their rivals who are busy buying up all the talent.
During this time fans hang on every word that is printed in the press, reported on the news and rumoured online. As you can imagine all of these sources of information go into overload with every single rumour printed and reported on. If a player so much as goes within 10 miles of another club they were almost defiantly signing for them (and not just going to the shops).
These few months also become the breeding ground for this ever growing phenomenon of ITK’s. Twitter, during the summer, is full of them constantly feeding Twitter users with their need to hear exciting news about a big signing.
And people lap it up.
Add to this the increase in seriously lazy journalists who are more than happy to run stories on any rumours these people are willing to fill their timelines with and you have information overload – all of which is incorrect.
But it’s something that really fascinates me, especially this summer. Why were so many people happy to hang on every word these people were saying? What was it about their profile that gave the illusion of authority? And what do you have to do to become an ITK?
The first question is easily answered. Football fans are a passionate bunch. If you support a team, truly support a team, then each activity of that team is big news to you. And because they support their team so passionately they desperately want their team to be succeeding and during the summer this means signing the biggest and best players they can.
So these ITK’s fed this hunger. Rumours of incoming signings, bids being prepared and made start appearing everywhere. Once a trusted member of the community has said it, it would be retweeted and then retweeted again until the rumour became the truth.
Right down to the point where people were adamant that players were having medicals at their club. Once the deal failed to materialise a new rumour would be started and so it went on.
I’m an Arsenal fan and the big news (from the club) coming into the summer was that the club were ready to spend and spend seriously big. This in itself was music to the fans ears after years of selling their best players; they were now going to sign big players.
So as you can imagine the self-proclaimed ITK’s went into overdrive. It became so bad that the fans were even giving the club verbal abuse for failing to sign one player who was due to have a medical – despite the fact the club had never even been interested in him.
But this really demonstrated the power you can have if you are a trusted authority on a subject. Football is an extreme example because of the passion related to the subject but if you were to transform that kind of power into your niche then the same reaction could be had.
Now I am not for one moment suggesting that you should pretend to become an ITK. This isn’t the route you should take. I can’t actually see what benefit these guys receive from this. There is no reward at the end of it. Maybe they simply crave the attention. Who knows.
But the take away has to be that if you position yourself as an authority then your word counts. Your opinion counts. Your endorsement counts. Imagine the power that could give your brand online.
The above example highlights people’s need for answers and feeding their need to hear News about something they have an affiliation with. If you can give people the information they are seeking your audience will soar.
Now credit where credit is due, looking over the above ITK’s, a lot of work had been put in before they started to position themselves as someone who had inside information.
They all had big followings, all genuine followers as well. They had tweeted regularly and it was all pretty much on a single subject (Arsenal or football). This wasn’t something that was done overnight.
So as you can imagine, these accounts were trusted and why wouldn’t they be? They interacted with their followers and did all the right things.
But most had something within their bio that suggested they had a job somewhere where they would be able to get this kind of information. They never mentioned it but it was there for all to see.
Something else that appeared to be the fashion was that none of them used their face as their avatar. But what they did use was an image that already had some authority of its own: The Arsenal badge.
Now for some reason this gave the account holder authority, an air that they could be trusted. Over the years the club has had various versions of their badge and each one was used.
But because it was something the fans held dear to them, I felt this kind of gave off just as much authority as someone’s face appearing.
So by the time it was right to start their fun, everything was in place. They already had a strong following of people who now had no reason to think they would just make this stuff up and their avatar was cleverly used to provide some kind of authority based on something their audience would trust without any doubt.
Well, your Brand is as important as you are and if it is a well-known brand then use it. If you have built your brand up well then it will already have a level of authority to help people trust what you say.
Don’t just jump straight in by trying to promote your information, services, products etc. Leave the hard sell for later. Build your audience, engage with them. Interact with them. Be human.
Once you have that trust you can start to build yourself as an authoritative voice.
You bet it does.
I tried it myself.
A couple of weeks into the summer I was so intrigued by all of this and the interactions that were going on. It was nothing new and went on most summers but this year it was more than ever before.
So, I wanted to see just how easy it would be to set myself up as an ITK.
Now, with the transfer window already open this could only be a short term experiment that would have to include some corner cutting. But I tried to include as many elements as I could from the “expert ITK’s”. So I set to work in my evenings seeing what I could do.
Trust would be vital, especially as I was starting from scratch so there was no pre-built in trust. I had to think about how to create some. So I researched the most trusted first name for a man – and used it. A long shot I know, was there really such a thing as a name people trusted? Who knows.
I then set about creating the Bio. Now, again I was late to the game, so I came in as someone who worked as a Sports agent at a made up agency. Once my images were in place I was ready to see what I could do.
So I started tweeting to get some messages under my belt before I started looking for followers. To start appearing on people’s timelines I used hashtags relevant to the club or player I was talking about.
When I had enough tweets to give the impression I had been tweeting for a while I “acquired” followers.
I also made a point of not really following anyone. After all someone who is in the know would have people following then, they would never need to follow back.
I was beginning to get there. I had a large number of tweets behind me (granted over a short space of time but unless you looked hard into it this may not be noticed). I had a large following to give the impression of longevity.
The profile was now in a position where it may start to get people interested.
And it did, with ease. I didn’t even have to try.
Every evening when I got home I simply reported on the rumours of the day and added my nugget of information to the story, information that no one else had spoken about. Before I knew it people were interacting with me. Sharing their thoughts, asking me what was happening with certain players. It was insane.
Before I knew it was being treated as a fully-fledged ITK.
I never started any new rumours and I didn’t say anything that wasn’t based on something that had already been reported on. But that was enough.
Was it because I used the most trusted male first name according to a couple of sites? Or was it because the account simply appeared to authoritative?
I did actually get called out by two people who rumbled the account. At this point I quite openly admitted it was a bogus account but this seemed to go over everyone’s heads. The two that rumbled me simply walked away. Everyone else just carried on interacting with me trying to get the latest scoop.
It was around the same time that I also saw another account openly admit that it was a fake. A huge authority profile too. He hadn’t been rumbled but was possibly just bored of the game by now and came out and said “This is a fake account”. He even gave examples.
Guess what, people carried on treating him like he was an ITK.
Peoples thirst for the information that they wanted to hear outweighed the truth because this was a figure that they trusted. The account is still going today and still continues to go about its business. The level of loyalty that can be built up is amazing.
There is no reason at all why any online business can’t do the same and build a level of truth and loyalty that will provide them with a high level of authority, without the need for deception.
Once you have your audience and you give them what the type of service, product or information that they are looking for, you will have them for ever.
First off, don’t be someone you are not.
The above is simply to highlight just how big the payoff can be when you have your audience trusting you and seeing you as an authority in your niche.
As I touched on earlier, I have no idea what was actually in it for these fake ITK’s or quite why they did it. But if you apply the basics then you can place yourself as a genuine voice within your community.
Certainly DO NOT buy followers. Just don’t. I needed a quick illusion. If you get called out for having brought followers that will damage your reputation. Don’t Do It.
First, do your homework.
Find out who your audience are and where they are. Review what they are looking for (in relation to your niche). If they are asking a lot of questions that largely go unanswered, there is your “in”. Are they looking for certain information? Can you provide it? There is another “in”.
The beauty of social means you can interact with people you are not even connected to.
Once you have started to build your audience, you will start to build your authority. After all you have delivered where others haven’t. I know who I would be listening to from here on in.
Once you have your audience, start to sell your unique selling point. Provide your authority on your niche subject. Be the first to have opinions on things. Offer your argument. Provide information no one has before. Are you the first to do something? Let the world know.
To be an ITK you need to be offering something no one else is. Remember that.
This doesn’t happen overnight and you need to spend time on this but it is worth it.
As I touched on at the start of this post, in the grand scheme of things not many companies are actually doing this. Jump in and be the first.
My ITK’s were lying and simply doing it for effect. You actually have the knowledge, use that to your advantage and give yourself the edge.
Andy Williams, our DADI award winning Digital Marketing Manager will be giving you useful insights into local search and the overall SEO landscape. Andy has over 9 years experience in the SEO industry including 2 years as the in-house SEO consultant with a leading Web Design company.