The rapid rise of the ‘flash influencer’

22 Mar 2023
   —  by Ryszard Bublik

The content of the contemporary news cycle is unrecognisable from its predecessor.

Every comment, data point, leak, video, Paparazzi picture, social post, and other minutiae are picked apart and dissected live to feed hungry broadcast schedules, live blogs, and homepages.

With news commoditized, obsessional analysis of the detail is what now differentiates.

Examples of this are everywhere – in the compulsive scientific breakdowns of COVID variants, statistical comparisons of NATO and Russian armaments, and, most recently, the financial analysis of SVB and Credit Suisse’s capital underpinnings.

We have become addicted to the details, which causes fluctuations in the news cycle.

Shifting into Social

As always, with such things, this trend has crossed the osmotic barrier into social media.

Platforms that once proudly touted that they were the counterpoint to lengthy news media have rowed back. Character counts have increased, threading is commonplace, and even Instagram has increased reel time from 15 to 90 seconds. Depth has value once again.

Recognised experts pour data, insights, and opinions into the world – dissecting the best and worst of human existence. In every major news cycle, some inevitably rise to the top.

However, on occasion, we also find that amongst the academics, company analysts, and think tankers lies a fast-accelerating in-depth analysis from someone who might not be traditionally described as an expert.

Their bio often reveals someone without training, qualifications, or apparent long-standing credibility or role in the subject area in question.

They appear to have come out of nowhere – this phenomenon is called a ‘Flash Influencer.’

Lying in wait for the next big breaking news story, the Flash Influencer goes long on detail – posting with self-belief, colour, and evident insight about topics.

Typically, they are armed with a good understanding of content creation – using short, relevant, concise imagery, words, and animation. Their tone is compelling and colourful.

All the skills of a journalist, with none of the restrictions.

Often, but not always, they have a longstanding and loyal follower base in digitally native sub-sectors such as crypto, cybersecurity, or various elements of digital marketing.

This allows analysis to be propelled to scale, helped immensely by having the mindset and skills to optimise the output on the platform of choice for reach.

Leveraging this position, their influence reaches flashpoint for a short period of time.

What does this mean for your reputation?

It’s not to say this is a bad thing; after all, social media is a marketplace of debate and opinions. It is also, to some extent, a meritocracy. Those who use it ‘best’ rise to the top.

However, what does this mean for those in charge of the reputation of large organisations?

It shows the importance of understanding the context behind online influence, not just measuring volume data or velocity alerts.

A comms team needs to be aware that flash influence is occurring, but, more important, they need to know the bearing it has on stakeholders. Who follows whom? Have they tagged key stakeholders? Does the new influencer have any historical value? Is what they are saying impactful or spreading amongst target audiences? Will there be real-world implications?

These can only be understood with qualitative analysis. Graphs and network diagrams won’t cut it.

Conversely, keeping an eye on the shadows is just as important. A low-ranked social media user who hasn’t posted in years might share critical information, but their activity is deprioritised or buried amongst the noise. No amount of UX trickery will help you see this.

Ultimately, flash influence is just another reason why comms teams need social media intelligence, not just monitoring. If nothing else, to help you discount it as irrelevant.

Ryszard Bublik