Influencers, Prophets and Charlatans

This post is supposed to engage a key influencer, but I confess that I don’t yet know any influencers, so instead I thought I would profile one (with a healthy dose of skepticism for good measure).

In most cases “influencers” are naturally identified due to their influence over specific stakeholders or consumers within a community, market or sector, but sometimes influencers are an industry unto themselves. David Shing, who goes by the moniker Shingy, is one of those people. The bespectacled Australian with the Edward Scissorhands hairdo who looks like he is part of LMFAO is actually the “Digital Prophet” at America Online.

One of these dudes is Redfoo, one is a party rocker, and one is a highly successful influencer of business.  Can you spot the Prophet?

                  A Redfoo, a party rocker, and a highly successful influencer of business. Can you spot the Prophet?

Being a Digital Prophet is one hell of a title for any sort of position within a company. The fact that the company is AOL gives it significantly less credence. However his role at AOL doesn’t really seem to matter since it seems Shingy spends most of his time away from the office giving talks and presentations at various events around the globe. Most recently he was one of the speakers at Cannes Lions, which I wrote about last week. He was also in our fair city of Toronto last month to visit the offices of JWT Canada to talk about predictions for the future of digital.

Now obviously I have never had the pleasure of being at a Shingy presentation, but I must admit that I am skeptical. On his website he has a publication called Future Doing, a sort of sparse manifesto on digital trends. To be honest most of the information seems pretty basic, self-evident and oriented around buzzwords, though styled in way that is reminiscent of Marshall McLuhan. I am not saying his advice isn’t useful, maybe he is on the cutting edge and pushing industries in the right direction, but he also seems to be an influencer simply because he states he is one. In the same way that today we have de facto celebrities, we have de facto influencers and there is definite overlap. Look at Will.I.Am going from The Black Eyed Peas backup vocalist to a Creative Director at Intel.

Once you’ve made the claim that you’re an influencer and visionary you can really soar off your own momentum. Then you can pretty much say anything you want and people will pay good money to listen. Clearly I am not the first person to rag on Shingy or Will.I.Am, but I think that is important companies don’t spend their time embracing the cult of personality.

Despite my skepticism of these self-proclaimed influencers/futurists/prophets or whatever they want to call themselves, I certainly agree that it’s a cushy job. If you can find enough rubes to make your prophecy self-fulfilling then go for it. In fact I now aspire to be one of these self-styled gurus. Goodbye Benign Propagandist…hello Social Soothsayer. I need to purchase some extremely large sunglasses, garish outfits and grow out my hair. Next year I’ll be ready to peddle some influence and pseudo-wisdom.

Sorry for prophet knockin’

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