The session quickly broke down into defining influence, with the most commonly accepted definition being a combination of "reach" (total followers) and "credibility" (engagement and RTs). Most people know how I feel about that definition. It fits in nicely with personal branding.
Here's a short answer so you don't have to read the personal branding post (unless you want to). Focusing on influence sucks. It can be summed up with an alternative title for this post: How I stopped chasing influence and became a better person.
Have Some Social Media Pros Taken To Trees Instead Of The Forest?
Before social networks, when blogs were the primary source of communication, the general likability of social media was that everyone had an equal voice regardless of reach. Sure, some people benefited from knowing a bit more about a subject, were better writers, or learned a few things about SEO. But let's not split hairs.
Everyone was at square one.
Most people involved in blogging were excited because they could present their ideas with an equal opportunity to be heard. They didn't need any reach, authority, or influence. They only needed to share their insights and, occasionally, they would capture more interest than major media networks. There was ample chaos, but chaos is kind of fun too.
Chaos is not very sustainable.
Most people think nature has a propensity toward chaos. It doesn't. It has a propensity toward organization. Even after the very messy Big Bang, entire universes and solar systems slowly began to organize themselves into pinwheels or other designs. The same thing happens in tiny ecosystems. Move ants to a new home and they will organize shortly after the initial confusion.
People are prone to stereotyping.
For people, part of our organizational structures include stereotyping. It is one of the things I've always found interesting about watching online behaviors. Many of the people who once celebrated the chaotic nature of the Web are now those trying to create a whole new hierarchy to replace experience, credentials, authority, and expertise.
The new hierarchy is kind of an unintentional scam with reach, interactions, associations, and time online as replacements. These things frequently creep into every communication decision being made on the Web — who to read, who to follow, and who to retweet or acknowledge. It's a load, and I don't mean Tootsie Rolls.
Kayne West Already Disproved All Those Influence Theories.
With a few simple clicks, Kayne West disproved everything some social media pros teach about influence.
He decided to only follow one kid named Steven Holmes. So overnight, everyone started following the kid. Even members of the media bombarded Holmes with questions and messages, hoping he would pass them along. West has since stopped following the kid after learning he unintentionally disrupted the kid's online life. (Or maybe Holmes deleted the account as he said he might. I didn't look and it doesn't matter to make this point.)
Holmes' temporary influence didn't have anything to do with reach, interactions, associations, time online, or even trust. It had to do with perceived access. It's something I already knew from covering a few tenuous fan movements and running campaigns for independent films, causes, and other such stuff. Influence can be created overnight and dumped just as easily.
In some ways, it has a negative value. And the reason I'm starting to think making decisions based on reach, interactions, associations, or time online is nothing more than a new form of stereotyping caused by ego, naivete, or scalability.
Skip The Stereotyping And Create Community.
When I was working on a social media campaign for an independent film, I connected with the fans of select cast members. I didn't care how many followers or friends or "influence" they had. I connected with them based on their enthusiasm and our mutual potential to become friends (most of them are still friends, one year later, by the way).
These two dozen or so people often received insider news first. It wasn't always intentional. Sometimes it was because they asked questions and my team answered them as quickly as possible. As a result, their "influence" grew, often at a faster rate than the film. (Doubly so when translation was involved.) And, after the campaign ended, most retained their "influence."
Of course they did. While it wasn't formal per se, the community we created placed them at the center, and not us. That concept was by design. I didn't want to become a quasi-celebrity on the back of my client. Influencers don't always operate that way.
While I don't think it's intentional, the only people propping up influence these days are those who stand to gain something from the illusion of being influential or are trying to create relationships based on efficiency because of social media scalability. Good for them. As a rule, however, I just don't see the value, but only because my team knows better.