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Professor Brian Smith Shares Secrets to Winning Social Media Influence

During the annual Beckham Lecture, public relations professor Brian Smith discussed the four C’s of social media influence

On October 29, public relations professor Brian Smith presented during the 2020 Beckham Lecture. During the virtual lecture, Smith presented “Influencer Status Achieved: Decoding the Path to Influence in Today’s Digital World” to students, faculty and industry professionals. Smith uncovered the factors of influence on social media through in-depth interviews, content analyses and network analyses.


Dr. Brian Smith

Smith earned his doctorate from the University of Maryland and is an award-winning scholar. He has built recognition for his research on social media engagement, and he shared some of his research findings during the presentation.

Smith shared a “Social media literature review:” a compilation of videos from popular social media influencers showing the most common approaches to gaining influence. Using the video, he argued that just learning certain tactics won’t gain anyone influence, but rather it’s the theory behind influence that makes the most difference in seeking influence.

“Building influence for an important cause or professional life comes down to the idea of theory. Theory involves your ability to problem-solve,” said Smith. 

To solve the problem of becoming a social media influencer, Smith introduced the “Four C’s” of influence: culture, context, connection and communication. He discussed in-depth examples and analyses supporting the importance of culture, context, connection and communication.

For culture, he explained that culture is an understanding of how people survive in a particular environment. “Social media influencers are immersed in the culture. They know how to engage with the culture,” said Smith.

In explaining context, Smith explained that influencers build their influence around a particular niche. He also discussed a research project he conducted regarding protests in Turkey. During his explanation of connection, Smith explained the importance of sense of connection between social media user and influencer.

Smith continued his lecture by discussing communication. He explained that how an influencer communicates about him or herself makes a difference; and although it is possible to use social media negatively, we should strive to use it for good.

Smith summarized by saying, “Gaining influence is about attention and involvement in culture. It’s also about expertise and relevance (context), that you know what you’re talking about and you can show it. It’s about your connection with networks and tapping into your networks effectively, and it’s about the value and communication you’re providing.”