Many years ago companies started to say ‘we are organized in project teams’. Professional projectization was the thing. Until it become commoditized and meant nothing. No project team was equal to another. One has project leaders with budget accountabilities and great autonomy, another was a bunch of guys who did not want to be there and wrote minutes. Anything it between. Who cares today? ‘We have project teams’ sounds like we have electricity. You don’t go to front page saying that, in your company, you switch that thing on the wall and light is produced on demand.
My prediction is that something similar is about to happen with ‘influencers’ . Everybody seems to have ‘them’. The proliferation of methods to find them and name them has contributed to it. Years ago only a not terribly well respected branch of Sociology called Sociometrics had some grasp of the real connectivity between individuals. Today you have many providers of those tools.
At The Chalfont Project, our Viral Change™ progammes use the Social Network Analysis (SNA) developed by Maven 7  because of its strong scientific basis and friendly commercial applications, the later not compromising the former. It’s as good as it gets.
My non scientific analysis of the current usage of SNA to find influencers is as follows: 4 out of 5 companies who ‘have done it’, have no idea what to do with the findings. Shockingly, they have done it a non-anonymous, no opt-in basis which means that names of people have been known at least to HR/OD/L&D etc. You have now that elite exposed to all with no clear plans but put in offsites to ask them to deploy VisionSucces or Future 2020 or Alignment & Empowerment 2.0 or whatever the name of those ‘change efforts’ may have.
In a recent HR/OD conference I dared to say that the corporation has no right to unveil all that and ask people to ‘use their influence’ unless they have opted in anonymously; that being a high influencer was probably not in the job description and not something for what people were paid for. They did not like it. Some people were convinced I represented the workers Unions (not an offense in its own right, but a proxy for obstructionism)
Besides the ones who ‘have done it’ but who don’t know want to do with it (I swear I am not kidding, this companies do exist), others have commoditized the concept and in the process have muddled it. You hear people talking about influencers and mixing up role models, talent management, volunteers, and , of course champions or ambassadors. Companies have now ambassadors of this and that like they have those switches on walls.
SNA, with its ability to map the real organization (that is, not the organization chart) has untapped potential to discover how information flows, how knowledge and expertise is used or, for sure, who are the individuals highly connected.
Using SNA and ‘finding the influencers’ must not become a HR/OD sport. It drives me crazy to see how we can easily kill one of the very few management innovations of decades. It seems like ‘Le beaujolais nouveau est arrive’, the new bujolais wine has arrived, as we get every year form wine merchants, but in organizational version.
‘Identifying influencers’ is becoming something that companies do ‘because they can’. Bad management at its best.
Mobilize! A blueprint for social movements inside the organization and society. Trailer and portal here