Tuesday, July 27

Interpreting Influence: Intuition Over Infatuation, Part 2

The reason I initially chose the title of this two-part post was to illustrate that we can be infatuated with someone, but that doesn't mean they necessarily have influence over us. I like many people online, but I don't always agree with them. And generally, the people I like, don't always agree with me either.

Our influence over each other is confined to the validity of our ideas at any given moment. And what makes that a stronger relationship, in my opinion, is mutual respect because neither of us is so enamored with each other that we fawn over every word. It's an unspoken, sometimes subconscious, connection. The ties that bind are ideas, not personality, popularity, or any other measure.

This post is part two of a two-part post. If you missed the first one, it's called Interpreting Influence: Intuition Over Infatuation, Part 1. It includes a link to an extensive education study commissioned by The Wallace Foundation. This post is an extension of my own conclusions in applying it to the discussion of online influence.

What Is Influence, Anyway?

1. A power affecting a person, thing, or course of events, especially one that operates without any direct or apparent effort.
2. An individual or group's power to sway or affect based on prestige, wealth, ability, position, or presentation.
3. A person who exerts influence such as friends, family, co-workers, and customers.
4. A power such as the moon and the stars, divine intervention, genetics, or law of nature.

The order of most definitions provides an insight into the meaning of the word, with the most weight being given not to people but to the ideas, actions, and reflections they make. Ideas are powerful, which is why some men with mistaken perceptions or malicious intent have worked diligently to control them.

During one of my presentations earlier this year, this became an important part of the introduction. Every innovation in communication to help messages, thoughts, and ideas spread has led to advents in how to manage, control, manipulate or snuff them out.

However, as influence applies to the concept of collective leadership, the power outlined in the leading definition is derived by a singular individual as much as it is derived from inherent truths that already exist within a public. And even individuals in definition 2 or 3 stand the best chance to succeed when they adhere to that principle.

Six Considerations Of Influence.

1. Ideas. If someone proposes a good idea, performs an action worth following, or reflects the feelings of an audience, then the idea (assuming it reaches the right mass) will be propelled forward. Consider how many ideas you have shared over the last few months and how frequently or infrequently you remember the originator of those ideas.

2. Authority. People in positions of authority have a degree of influence. A boss can set expectations. A legislative leader can pass laws. An expert might be given our attention. However, even people in positions of authority rely on the ideas they propose and the outcomes they produce. Allowing them to influence us is voluntary, even when it doesn't feel that way.

3. Persuasion. Novelty can influence us to look, but only in that it attracts our interest. The fictional Old Spice man didn't influence anyone as much as he attracted attention. It was creative, clever, and funny. Did it compel, convincing men to start using specific scented body washes? Maybe. Persuasion is powerful, but it relies on ideas to remain sustainable. (The ads also had a reward mechanism. They made us laugh.)

4. Proximity. People who are closer to us — friends, neighbors, family — can be influential, even if that influence is unseen. Over time, people tend to adopt the behaviors and beliefs of those they associate with on a regular basis, even if that proximity is not geographical. And yet, individuals don't necessarily set the stage as much as the collective of a community.

5. Popularity. Most social media measures record popularity. And while it is true that popularity can propel a message forward, giving it the reach it needs to impact more people, popularity on its own doesn't hold much influence. Consumers snub reviewers all the time to make movies into blockbusters because the collective ideas of many consumers might outweigh their popularity or authority.

6. Reinforcement. There are positive and negative reinforcements that can influence behavior. I've seen it in labs. It is one of the few actions that can trump ideas, good or bad. In a social network setting, for example, a popular person or someone with authority might influence someone to do something for a reward, whether it be affirmation or a prize (reward). As a negative reinforcement, it might be banning them from a site or the threat of diatribe (fear).

But the question I keep asking is does this type of influence come from the individual or the action itself? When I was in college, teaching mice to press a bar for water, it wasn't difficult to figure out that I did not influence the mouse. The design of the experiment and reinforcement did. (Surely, you would laugh at me for presuming I had influence over the mouse.)

What About Reputation?

Reputation fits in rather nicely. Yesterday, I mentioned that people did not march to Washington D.C. for Martin Luther King, Jr. They marched for civil rights and social equality. However, I am sure there were a few in the crowd that would have marched specifically to see him, no matter what the reason.

It seems to me, for those few, his reputation was based on not much more than the collective ideas and actions he had taken prior to that point. But what made him a great leader, much like many great leaders, is that his greatest ideas didn't make him influential. His influence — the ability to refine and reflect what was already in the American psyche — made him great.

Others, unlike King, rise to greatness only to see their ideas do not produce stated outcomes. They quickly wither. And as they wither, some of them begin to rely on other mechanisms of influence, with fear being the most commonly employed.

What's The Point, Anyway?

I don't have to be right, but what I do hope some people get out of these two posts is that real influence doesn't come from the number of followers, retweets, or any other popular online measurement. Real influence comes from something that connects two people — a shared idea (even if one person has refined it).

And while other factors, like those noted, can be influential or sometimes work in tandem, they also tend to be more fragile on their own. If you want to influence people with positive intent, the best course of action is to pay careful attention to what they already think and then refine and reflect their ideas back to them. Just don't make the mistake of believing that makes "you" an influencer. If you think that, there is a different word. It's called narcissism.

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