Mapping Your Digital Influence

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) has recently released the Influencer Handbook (hat tip to Stein Communications). It has sections covering:   

  • Definition of an influencer and influencer marketing
  • Types of influencers
  • Methods to engage and thank influencers
  • Guidelines for influencer self-regulation
  • Bibliography of influencer communication research and practice

The guide is well timed as it provides me with a framework for thinking about influence. Over the last week I have done quite a bit of reading around this topic, absorbing the smart thinking of Mike Arauz, Dina Mehta, Allan Young and Julian Cole and even revisiting my bookshelves.

Why Nothing Ever Gets DoneYears ago, I read Bob Cialdini’s, The Psychology of Influence. I remember being impressed from the very first lines where he states “I can admit it freely now. All my life I’ve been a patsy”. Ever since that first reading, I have been interested in the way in which influence can be created, managed and employed. It might even be argued that marketing is all about using the “weapons of influence” to achieve business outcomes.

However, in the Age of Conversation, such naked techniques are easily spotted and counteracted. As consumers it is easy to research and receive unmediated commentary from a business’ other customers, suppliers and even employees. We can ask questions, find answers and make decisions independently of a brand’s best marketing efforts. Interestingly, it is Cialdini’s concept of “social proof” – a technique used so effectively AS a marketing tool that is the undoing of this “old style” influence.

Social proof is where an expected behaviour is prompted and reinforced in the moment in which we experience it. An example is “canned laughter” in a sitcom – we hear the pre-recorded laugh track, realise it is fake, but engage in laughing anyway (and research shows that we laugh longer and more often with canned laughter). But in a networked world, we are connected to, and in some instances by, mob behaviour. The difference is, that in a social network, we actually CHOOSE to participate – to use what Mark Earls and and Alex Bentley call “directed copying” – enacting social proof while simultaneously demonstrating another person’s influence:

If we view the influentials phenomenon as a special case of directed copying, then usually it is we who decide to copy an individual, creating their perceived influence in the process.

Mark and Alex suggest that rather than focusing on HOW ideas spread, we should look at WHY (check out their excellent paper entitled “Forget influentials, herd-like copying is how brands spread”). By understanding the two types of copying (directed and random) we can produce content and strategies that are designed to facilitate the type of behaviour we want to see.

Furthermore, by understanding the dynamics of various social networks, it is possible to not only map the behaviours that you want to establish, you can also shape and amplify them – which is where marketing really becomes interesting.

All this, of course, leads back to the need for good planning, for focused insight, and strategy that takes into account the nuances of digital and social behaviour. Perhaps all this talk of influence really is overrated – and we should look at what I called the Promiscuous Idea and leave the tribes to sort it out amongst themselves!

Comments

  1. As always, you offer a lot to think about; and as you remind us it all leads back to the basics – planning, strategy and analysis.

  2. Great Post. There is a lot more in-depth psychology needed I think in the online space. Hope some businesses decide to invest in this as a business imperative. Anyway another one for the reading list!
    Robert B Cialdini The Psychology Influence of Persuasion – + his site http://www.influenceatwork.com -

  3. The key thing about social psychology and the influence principles outlined by Dr. Cialdini is that they are, in many cases, hardwired. Even when we know something is an influence technique it still influences us. Dr. Cialdini also cautions us that none of the principles are sure-fire. Not unlike hypnosis – we can’t be “made” to do something we really don’t want to. However, subtlety applied these techniques do nudge our behavior and are effective.
    Even your suggestion to let the tribes sort it out is homage to influence in that the tribe will exert their own brand of social proof and consensus behavior – influencing the result.
    Understanding how social psychology, behavioral economics and motivation interact to influence behavior is the marketers job. And it is a hoot!

  4. Adam Ferrier says:

    Just discovered this blog. Very interesting. I think you make some great points I think by understanding HOW information flows we can get better at understanding WHY information flows and ideas take hold (but keen to read the paper). Surely random copying / information flow, just means that we havent understood it enough yet. ie at some stage in the distant past seasons would have seemed random!
    Also aren’t all these snippits of information we get hold of on blogs robbing the original thinking of its context and depth?

  5. Adam … Sounds like you will enjoy Mark and Alex’s paper … and if you haven’t read it yet, Mark’s book on “Herd” behaviour goes into further depth.
    The thing that I like about blogs is that they provide food for thought and for discussion. You are right, they are not a great format for extended analysis (and I certainly don’t like to read very long blog posts), but rather than robbing ideas of their context and depth, blogs expose these great ideas to new contexts and unexpected audiences. The curious can always return to the original source for more detail — and the impatient among us can debate and test the ideas in a public forum.
    Makes for fascinating times, don’t you think?

  6. well on the road to make riches, don’t forget to remember those who helped you along the way.

  7. I’m going to have to check out your Promiscuous Idea. Sounds like a unique take on marketing. Thanks for mentioning or linking to my post.
    Question: How does a company find and separate truly good talent that understands social networks from self-proclaimed “social gurus” that know just an iota more than the average business about social media and marketing?

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