Tuesday, July 13

Considering Influence: Honest Conversations


Most people agree. There won't be anything worthwhile to come out of Fast Company's Influence Project. Except, perhaps, one thing.

‎"It is not the facts which guide conduct, but opinions about facts; which may be entirely wrong. We can only make them right by discussion." — Sir Norman Angell

It might have been the wrong execution, but the topic seems prime for discussion. What is influence anyway? I've written about influence plenty. Most people in social media have. And, I expect they will continue to do so.

Three Observations About Online Influence.

1. More Followers. More Influence. The general concept borrows from the old world of media measurement. Some people believe more followers equals more influence much like circulation implied more readers. It's the easiest illusion to maintain. There are even marketing and public relations companies that actively look for people who will "Like" anything or follow anyone who will follow them.

When that doesn't work, they'll buy them up in an attempt to create the illusion of popularity. Anyone looking closely can tell which accounts are which (dead accounts on autofollow, automated feed promoters, etc.), but the reality is, at a glance, most people don't know the difference. People have trained themselves to believe someone with 10,000 is better than 100.

2. More Clicks. More Influence. The second most popular prevailing thought leads right up to the Fast Company flop. More clicks, shares, retweets, etc. somehow provide a better measure of influence. Ironically, it's the second most easiest illusion to create and the cornerstone of most "influence" algorithms.

Again, some marketing firms and social media experts have taken to having a staff of 20 retweet client events, giving them an automatic boast in perception. Not surprisingly, you can buy clicks and retweets too, spreading it out among an infinite supply of unmanned accounts.

Reciprocity isn't much better. At its worst, it is a collection of people who retweet each other ad nauseum or do so because it gives them a sense of belonging to a "tribe" centered around someone else who has more reach.

3. Real Ideas. Real Influence. And then, of course, there is the least popular but most honest construct of the bunch. Ideas have more influence than people. It explains so much.

It explains Danny Brown's and my discussion after it seems I was unintentionally rough on him regarding his initial Fast Company buy in (seems he was misled, like most people). As I mentioned then, had I only read his or Amber Nusland's post, I wouldn't have given it a second thought. It was reading two posts with conflicting ideas that piqued my interest.

And so that is how it goes with influence. If one friend, even a trusted friend, suggests you read a specific book, you may or may not. But if 20 trusted friends tell you the same thing, you'll be much more inclined to read it. Unless, of course, it's a romance book and you don't read them. Why?

The ratio is pretty simple. Take any idea, plus the collective exposure and recommendations, and you might take action if you are already predisposed toward it. It's why Obama was elected president, but people are now dissatisfied. It's why people rallied behind Bush after 9-11 despite how many people didn't like him. It's why people turned out to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. speak in Washington D.C. or why JFK was such a revered figure in American history.

How Great Leaders Inspire Action.

One of my friends, Krystal Hosmer, shared a Simon Sinek video from TED after reading my Differentiate Or Die post. I think Sinek's video fits even better with this conversation. After all, what is "influence" if not "inspired action?"


What really struck me from Sinek's presentation is that it demonstrates that my unpopular position (ideas, not people, have influence) isn't exclusive to social media. It has always been that way. People tend to gravitate toward ideas. Sure, they can't gravitate to an idea unless it crosses their path.

But then again, that's the easy part of social media, assuming you have the patience to build a community without pretending to look popular or pretending to share personal interests or pimping other people's ideas in exchange for them pimping yours. Sure, all that stuff works a little bit today. But personally, I'd rather keep my subscribers smaller and streams more manageable and search for the truth in communication uninfluenced by opinions that might be wrong.

Is there a downside to this? Yes. It means there are many companies from Edelman down that cannot "influence" the game nearly as much as they think. It also means we aren't trust agents, but merely messengers of trust. At least, I like to think so. Need a little more on this subject? Read Ike Piggot's post on A Cupful of Wisdom.

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