When I started writing this blog I sought out the experts. I looked for various posts on how to write a blog, how to make my posts interesting to my readers (all three of them) and how to increase traffic. I searched Technorati for marketing related blogs and topics, wrote comments across the web and tweaked my blog design. At some point I happened across Mack Collier’s list of the Top 25 Marketing Blogs and my jaw dropped. I could not understand how someone could possibly build such high Technorati authority rankings – it seemed a world away from where I was in my thinking.

This list became my essential reading list. I used each of those blogs to learn, and their authors generously engaged me in their discussion of topics. But as the number of blogs within the marketing or social media category has exploded, these lists have begun to be used as an indicator of not just popularity but influence. But measuring influence is quite difficult … after all, not all of our interactions are online. How do we measure the off-web commentaries and discussions that occur in agencies around the world? Or worse, how do we determine how far and wide our thinking (words and images) reaches beyond the ever expanding edges of the web? (For example, I am sure I have seen David Armano’s influence ripples in presentations given by people who have never even visited a blog!)

There is a very real difference between blogs that I would consider popular and those that I would consider influential. As Shel Israel points out, there is a significant difference:

Suppose I were a political blogger and I had an audience of just three followers. Those followers were very engaged because they read everything I posted. They commented often. They took what I said and quoted me to other people in other conversations. But there were only three of them. Therefore I would be ranked lower than chopped liver in all the ranking systems. The catch is that those three readers were the President of the US, and the heads of China and Russia.

Influence, in this example, requires an intimate understanding of your readership – after all, we don’t know WHO reads unless they admit it by commenting or sending an email. In thinking through the concept of influence, and what I have been calling the Democracy of Action, it seems to me that influence is built on twin axes of popularity and reputation (I am borrowing from Gartner’s magic quadrants slightly here). Where your blog’s popularity and reputation are both high, you have “social influence” – and the capacity to create contagion and instigate action on a large scale. However, where you have a popular blog but lower levels of reputation, your blog is likely to fall into the “hype” category. 

Perhaps controversially, I am thinking that these distinctions refer directly to Granovetter’s “strength of weak ties”. Social influence and its impact on action is determined by a large number of “weak ties”. So those blogs which are built around an identity which is well-known to its audience (strong ties) is less likely to carry social influence. These quadrants would appear as shown below.

InfluenceQuadrants

The “niche influence” and “awareness” categories I fairly self-explanatory. Lower levels of popularity but high levels of reputation indicate influence within niche audiences; while lower levels of both reputation and popularity indicate awareness is low and interaction is emergent. 

How does this thinking play with your own understanding? Am I missing something? Is this too simple? Would love to know your thoughts!

UPDATE: Mike Arauz expands on his comments with a whole post, adding a z-axis to the diagram. And Dina Mehta weighs in, transforming the discussion to encompass the changing behaviours of both consumers and brands.

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