I just stumbled across this Information Week article on Online Influencers. (link is to the less-sucky print view. My God guys, could you have more obnoxious ads?)
The article provides a decent overview of the pros and cons of influencer programs… it strikes me that some marketers quoted in the story are looking for short cuts (thus the snake oil comment). Is an influencer co=opted by “the man” still influential? Probably not.
Scott Wilder of Intuit (one of my favorite communiteers) provides some good common sense towards the end of the article:
Intuit made a choice not to simply target influentials, and certainly not to use the communities as an explicit marketing tool. Instead, the community is managed from within the product development part of the business, and users interact with the actual developers and product managers who are working on the software.
“That was a very conscious decision on our part,” said Scott K. Wilder, group manager of the small business online community at Intuit. “It was our belief that we’d have more credibility and that more users would use the site that way.” Not incidentally, the power of any word of mouth that results from these efforts is much greater, he said.
Too bad InfoWeek didn’t contact Sean O’Driscoll who runs the MS MVP program… he has one of the most interesting influencer programs I’ve seen.