Influence: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Most of us are in love with the idea of influence. We love the idea that we are influencers or influential within our peer groups, we seek out the favour and attention of others who influence us, and we attempt to measure track and trace influence across different cultural, societal, economic and demographic groups. And yet this thing – influence – remains elusive.

Some time back, Malcolm Gladwell came up with an easy to understand model of influence. It seemed to resonate with many of us who are deeply immersed in the web and have seen, first hand, the apparent randomness of online sentiment and human digital behaviour. His book, The Tipping Point took its lead from Stanley Milgram’s principle that we are all only separated by six degrees – suggesting that within a network, the “hub” or “connector” plays a vital role in the transmission of information across that network.

I have always viewed this theory with scepticism – preferring the strength of weak ties model popularised by Duncan Watts. It’s a shame in a way, as the Gladwell model – the Tipping Point – is easily articulated and understood, while Watts’ approach is more complicated, random and difficult to apply in the real world. Yet, even a casual glance at the social media landscape will show you just how difficult it can be to boil “influence” down to a single factor or variable. Klout has tried it as have PeerIndex and Kred – and there are dozens more on the horizon offering different versions, metrics and tools that attempt to measure the chaos of our behaviours and patterns of indifference.

Ultimately, when it comes to influence, I keep returning to one important point –> it’s not about influence, it’s about trust. And until we, as business leaders, as marketers and as publishers of information and content, understand this, we will continue to dance around the real issue.

And what IS the real issue? Just take a look at this infographic from CrowdTap and read between the lines. Hint: it’s not about your brand.

crowdtap-influence-marketing-infographic

Influence, Tools and Takeouts

In the social media world, a lot of time spent thinking about, writing about and attempting to develop this elusive thing called “influence”.

Some people have it, many people want it and it seems, we all want to know how to measure it. But, of course, this “influence” is really about an individual’s ability online to:

  • Create a topic of conversation
  • Get others to talk about a topic of conversation
  • Generate click throughs on a topic

Does this really equate to “influence”? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Regardless, a number of companies have been developing ranking and measurement systems that assess your online influence. They take into account a variety of factors – counting your number of followers on Twitter, your “friends” on Facebook and even connections on LinkedIn. Their systems analyse your online activities, arriving at a “score” which you can proudly place on your website or blog.

But the real question is not “what is your score?” – but “what is theirs?”. Which of these tools are worth spending some with? Which yield the most useful information from a business and individual level?

The RabbitAgency has put together a great newsletter teasing out some of the differences between the major players. It turns the microscope around and assesses Klout, PeerIndex and Kred, leaving you with plenty of food for thought.

The Rabbit Feed on social media influence

eCairn’s Top Social Media Blogs

I have not shared a big long list of blogs for ages – but I quite like this one from eCairn. It includes many of the blogs that I regularly read as well as plenty that I should. But not only that, the eCairn rankings have consistently delivered rankings which seem to make sense. Hope you find some good reading for the weekend!

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Rank Name URL Trend Move Twitt BWELA speaker
1 Chris Brogan http://www.chrisbrogan.com UP 1
2 Seth’s Blog http://sethgodin.typepad.com UP 1
3 Jeremiah Owyang http://www.web-strategist.com/blog DOWN -2
4 Brian Solis http://www.briansolis.com - -
5 Logic+Emotion http://darmano.typepad.com - -
6 Social Media Explorer http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com - -
7 Search Engine Land http://www.searchengineland.com - -
8 SocialMediaExaminer http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com UP 3
9 Conversation Agent http://www.conversationagent.com - -
10 MarketingProfs http://www.marketingprofs.com - -
11 Social Media Strategy http://www.convinceandconvert.com DOWN -3
12 Online Marketing http://www.toprankblog.com UP 1
13 Six Degrees of Separation http://www.twistimage.com/blog UP 5
14 MarketingProfs Daily Fix http://www.mpdailyfix.com UP 3
15 CopyBlogger http://www.copyblogger.com DOWN -3
16 Internet Marketing http://blog.hubspot.com DOWN -2
17 Scobleizer http://www.scobleizer.com DOWN -1
18 PR-Squared http://www.pr-squared.com UP 1
19 Jaffe Juice http://www.jaffejuice.com UP 1
20 Web Ink Now http://www.webinknow.com UP 1
21 Shel Holtz http://blog.holtz.com DOWN -6
22 Brand Builder http://thebrandbuilder.wordpress.com UP 12
23 BuzzMachine http://www.buzzmachine.com UP 2
24 Neville Hobson http://www.nevillehobson.com UP 2
25 Ducttape Marketing http://www.ducttapemarketing.com UP 3
26 Steve Rubel http://www.steverubel.me DOWN -3
27 The Viral Garden http://moblogsmoproblems.blogspot.com DOWN -3 <
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28 Spin Sucks http://www.spinsucks.com UP 9
29 SocialMediaMarketing http://www.scottmonty.com UP 1
30 Peter Kim http://www.beingpeterkim.com UP 5
31 SEO Blog http://www.seomoz.org/blog UP 21
32 Internet Marketing News http://www.marketingpilgrim.com UP 4
33 ProBlogger http://www.problogger.net DOWN -1
34 PR Measurement http://kdpaine.blogs.com UP 1
2
35 Amber & Tamsen http://www.brasstackthinking.com DOWN -13
36 How to Change the World http://blog.guykawasaki.com UP 5
37 Search Engine Marketing http://www.searchenginewatch.com UP 32
38 Danny Brown http://www.dannybrown.me DOWN -5
39 Influential Marketing http://rohitbhargava.typepad.com DOWN -1
40 Drew McLellan http://www.drewsmarketingminute.com DOWN -9
41 Geoff Livingston http://www.geofflivingston.com DOWN -1
42 Liz Strauss http://www.successful-blog.com UP 2
43 Steve Rubel Stream http://www.steverubel.com DOWN -16
44 Strategic Public Relations http://prblog.typepad.com UP 5
45 Christopher S. Penn http://www.christopherspenn.com UP 10
46 B.L. Ochman http://www.whatsnextblog.com UP 1
47 Stowe Boyd http://www.stoweboyd.com UP 7
48 Social Media Club "font-size: 1em">http://www.socialmediaclub.org DOWN -6
49 Greg Verdino http://gregverdino.typepad.com DOWN -6
50 Adverblog http://www.adverblog.com UP 28
51 Mack Collier http://www.mackcollier.com DOWN -12
52 Peter Shankman http://www.shankman.com UP 11
53 Harte of Marketing http://www.theharteofmarketing.com DOWN -24
54 Servant of Chaos http://www.servantofchaos.com UP 5
55 The Buzz Bin http://www.livingstonbuzz.com DOWN -10
56 Communication Overtones http://overtonecomm.blogspot.com UP 12
57 Edelman Digital http://www.edelmandigital.com UP 1
58 SmartBlog http://www.smartblogs.com/socialmedia DOWN -7
59 CK’s Blog http://www.ck-blog.com DOWN -3
60 Toby Bloomberg http://bloombergmarketing.blogs.com UP 1
61 Edelman http://www.edelman.com/speak_up/blog DOWN -4
62 Search Engine Journal http://www.searchenginejournal.c
om
- -
63 John Jantsch http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog UP 22
64 Arik C. Hanson http://www.arikhanson.com DOWN -11
65 Bad Pitch http://badpitch.blogspot.com UP 2
66 Hitwise Intelligence http://weblogs.hitwise.com UP 28
67 Dachisgroup http://www.dachisgroup.com - New
68 Social Media Informer http://www.socialmediainformer.com UP 6
69 Outspoken Media http://www.outspokenmedia.com UP 1
70 iMedia Connection http://www.imediaconnection.com DOWN -20
71 John Bell http://johnbell.typepad.com DOWN -7
72 Brand Autopsy http://brandautopsy.typepad.com/brandautopsy DOWN -7
73 Dave Fleet http://www.davefleet.com DOWN -25
74 POP! PR Jots http://pop-pr.blogspot.com UP 3
75 Ann Handley http://www.annhandley.com UP 9
76 Josh Bernoff http://forrester.typepad.com/groundswell UP 3
77 Altitude Branding http://www.altitudebranding.com UP 3
78 Ben McConnell http://customerevangelists.typepad.com DOWN -6
79 Sphinn / Hot Topics http://www.sphinn.com DOWN -6
80 Internet Writings http://www.shirky.com UP 18
81 SocialTimes.com http://www.socialtimes.com DOWN -21
82 Church of the Customer http://www.churchofthecustomer.com UP 1
83 Phil Fernandez http://blog.marketo.com UP 5
84 Media Bistro http://www.mediabistro.com/prnewser DOWN -9
85 PR Guy’s Musings http://www.stuartbruce.biz UP 6
86 Techno//Marketer http://technomarketer.typepad.com UP 6
87 Shonali Burke http://www.waxingunlyrical.com UP 17
88 GlobalNeighbourhoods http://redcouch.typepad.com DOWN -7
89 The Future Buzz http://www.thefuturebuzz.com DOWN -2
90 Dan Zarrella http://www.danzarrella.com DOWN -8
91 Ogilvy http://blog.ogilvypr.com UP 18
92 Brains On Fire Blog http://www.brainsonfire.com/blog DOWN -26
93 Andy Sernovitz http://www.damniwish.com UP 21
94 Marketing & Strategy http://blog.futurelab.net UP 8
95 Simply Zesty http://www.simplyzesty.com - New
96 Edward Boches http://www.edwardboches.com - -
97 We Are Social http://www.wearesocial.net - -
98 Customers Rock http://www.customersrock.net UP 9
99 Community Guy http://www.communityguy.com UP 9
100 Techipedia http://www.techipedia.com UP 25
101 Nick Burcher http://www.nickburcher.com DOWN -2
102 Drew B http://theblogconsultancy.typepad.com DOWN -13
103 Joe Pulizzi http://blog.junta42.com DOWN -27
104 Paul Mcenany http://heehawmarketing.typepad.com DOWN -14
105 Inside Marketers Studio http://www.marketersstudio.com UP 7
106 Pro PR http://www.propr.ca UP 7
107 Branding Strategy Insider http://www.brandingstrategyinsider.com DOWN -6
108 ConverStations http://www.converstations.com DOWN -15
109 B2B Mkting Zone http://www.b2bmarketingzone.com UP 37
110 Radian6 http://www.radian6.com/blog DOWN -4
111 Citizen Marketer 2.1 http://blog.stroutmeister.com DOWN -40
112 Socialmedia.biz http://www.socialmedia.biz UP 10
113 Michael Britopian http://www.britopian.com - New
114 Abraham Harrison http://www.marketingconversation.com UP 13
115 AdPulp http://www.adpulp.com UP 1
116 Charlene Li http://www.charleneli.com DOWN -21
117 David Reich http://reichcomm.typepad.com UP 30
118 Chaos Scenario http://www.chaosscenario.com UP 14
119 Tom Webster http://www.brandsavant.com UP 14
120 Mark Schaefer http://www.businessesgrow.com/blog UP 14 arget="_blank">
121 Global Neighbourhood http://www.globalneighbourhoods.net DOWN -18
122 Sysomos Blog http://blog.sysomos.com DOWN -17
123 Socialnomics http://www.socialnomics.net UP 15
124 Shannon Paul http://www.veryofficialblog.com DOWN -38
125 Personal Branding http://www.personalbrandingblog.com UP 16
126 New Comm Biz http://www.newcommbiz.com - New
127 PR Conversations http://www.prconversations.com DOWN -1
128 Communications Consultant http://www.prblogger.com - -
129 Chuck Hemann http://www.chuckhemann.com UP 16
130 In Over Your Head http://www.inoveryourhead.net DOWN -12
131 Marshall Sponder http://www.webmetricsguru.com UP 5
132 Webbiquity http://www.webbiquity.com - New
133 Jeffbullas’s Blog http://www.jeffbullas.com UP 6
134 Social Organization http://www.thesocialorganization.com UP 6
135 Josh Hallett http://www.hyku.com UP 15
136 Brendan Cooper http://www.brendancooper.com DOWN -136
137 Neil Perkin http://neilperkin.typepad.com DOWN -27
138 Conversation Marketing http://www.conversationmarketing.com DOWN -38
139 Bill Green http://makethelogobigger.blogspot.com UP 4
140 Adliterate http://www.adliterate.com UP 4
141 Christopher Carfi http://www.socialcustomer.com DOWN -26
142 Seroundtable http://www.seroundtable.com DOWN -12
143 PRBreakFastClub http://www.prbreakfastclub.com DOWN -24
144 Fresh Networks http://www.freshnetworks.com/blog DOWN -24
145 StickyFigure http://brandimpact.wordpress.com - New
146 HPC | Marketing Uncommon http://www.horsepigcow.com DOWN -23
147 FeverBee http://www.feverbee.com - New
148 Jacob Morgan http://www.jmorganmarketing.com DOWN -24
149 Emergence Marketing http://www.emergencemarketing.com DOWN -7
150 Customer Experience Matters http://experiencematters.wordpress.com - New


Your Friends Suck

We often talk about social networks operating in a bi- or multi-directional way. The conversations flow from one point to another and ever-onwards.

But the same can be said of reputation.The same can be said of “influence”. After all, the people that we associate with – the people that we know and that we trust impact the way that other people see us. And those people also influence us.

Here, for example, is my Klout “influence matrix”. Now, I don’t think Klout is the be-all and end-all of measurement by any stretch of the imagination, but it provides us a glimpse into the world of mass-digital-data that sits just below the so-called level playing field of the social web.

klouter

What this shows, is at this point in time, indications are that I am influenced by David Armano, Mack Collier, Craig Wilson, Heather Snodgrass and Mark Pollard. But the same can be said of those who I, in turn, “influence”: Kate Kendall, Rob Campbell, Jye Smith, Trent Collins and Matt Moore.

Now, I am quite happy to write about these smart folks because at some level, they reflect well on me. They are smart, focused, professional people. But I would not have included their names, links and pictures in this post if I did not respect them. It is precisely because we can now see your visible networks, that we are able to make an assessment of what YOU are like, how professional YOU are and how likely YOU are to work well in a business context. And this is not just about HR or marketing. It impacts every aspect of your business. It impacts every relationship.

So now you really need to ask yourself – do your friends suck? And just what are you going to do about it?

Where Are You on the Trust Barometer?

Whenever the social media conversation shifts to “influence” – who has it, how you can get it and what it’s worth, you know we’re talking trust. After all, what we perceive as “influence” is simply a combination of trust and relevance – a heady mix of the right audience, a trusted shepherd and a call to action.

Don’t believe me?

Nicholas Christakis has an interesting post on the power of twitter and its ability to influence a large following. As he explains, Alyssa Milano with her celebrity and her 1.3 million strong Twitter following would normally be considered “influential”. But when she tweeted out a link to the Amazon page of a book called Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks & How They Shape Our Lives, the roar of social media silence was deafening.  There was not ONE clickthrough. Not one sale.

It seems – finally – that we are seeing the reality of trust and the power of relevance. That’s why I am particularly interested in this report from Edelman Australia – the 2011 Australian Edelman Trust Barometer.

Launched today (see the Tweetstream), this is the third survey to be carried out in Australia, but we are already seeing some interesting trending:

  • Coming out of the GFC, we saw an upswing in trust in government (54%) and businesses (52%)
  • Trust in NGOs (65%) is the highest of any Australian institution, with the Media well down at 32%

The full report is embedded below and can be downloaded from Slideshare. It makes for interesting reading.

But what does this mean for brands and marketers?

As one of the launch panellists, Vanessa Hall, pointed out, trust is created through the interplay of the message or story the brand wants to tell, the expectations of your customers/stakeholders and the promise that exists between the two (my interpretation here). This is where the challenge comes – after all, our customers are rarely interested in the brand story, and their interpretation of your brand promise is often different from where you (on the client or agency side) tend to see it.

And with social media, individuals are now well equipped to engage with brands in a public (and searchable) sphere. Positive and negative brand experiences can be published, shared and amplified around the world in minutes – and this makes “trust” all the more important. As the report points out, “Trust is a protective agent …”. And yes, it can lead to tangible sales.

But, we need to consider the following trends:

  • Aligning our business purpose with a greater good (CSR is a good start)
  • Strong support for NGOs (consider partnering with an NGO to build your trust profile)
  • Multiple voices in multiple channels (while CEOs have increased level of trust and respect, use expert voices across your business and in multiple channels to build a network of influence)

Perhaps, most importantly, you need to think about all this in relation to YOUR business. Where do you sit on the trust barometer? And how are you going to improve?

Act Like You Care

I’ve always been interested in people. At university I would spend hours in the coffee shop watching people. I would notice the small gestures. I would see the forced smile of an unhappy coincidence. Or the joyous embrace of a true surprise. And as I watched – and drank coffee – I realised that our bodies betray us before the words ever do. Indeed, our actions speak louder than words – with some suggesting that over 90% of our communication is non-verbal.

But if this is the case, how do we go about establishing credibility and trust online?

This is where social networks are coming to play an important role. While we may not know or trust a brand or a company (or the brand manager working there), we may well know others who do. And the level of trust and respect that we hold for that other person will impact our actions – whether to research, engage and purchase – or not.

Why is this distinction important?

Most business people drink their own kool aid (which is, perhaps, as it should be). But your customers (in general) don’t work for you. They don’t spend hours of every day thinking about your business. They are thinking about their lives – the problems, the joys, the relationships. They are wondering about interest rates, mortgages and what to cook for dinner. You are probably the same – as Robyn McMaster explains, we perform many different roles each day depending on our responsibilities.

Despite this (and of course, we know this deep down), many corporate blogs, websites and social media outposts are designed and populated with content which aims to influence customers.

As I have said before, it’s not about influence, it’s about trust. If you really want to transform the relationship you have with your customers, it’s time to stop thinking short term sale. It’s time to stop dating and get real about commitment. And in a way, that means sharing the needs, interests and concerns of your customers.

It’s time to watch HOW you say something rather than WHAT you say. Julia Hanna over at the HBS Working Knowledge blog suggests that “People often are more influenced by how they feel about you than by what you're saying. It's not about the content of the message, but how you're communicating it.” And online, that’s determined by your actions within the network.

It’s time to act like you care – or find someone who does.

Real Life Social Networks

Here is a great presentation on social networks by Paul Adams (with thanks to Rachel Beaney). Complete with slides and speaker notes, the presentation steps through the marked differences in our behaviours online and off.

It’s the perfect primer for those who are just coming to grips with the world of social media – and a nice reminder for those who are more conversant with topics such as:

As you go through the presentation, think about your clients and think about your customers. Think about the topics from their point of view – and then also think through your own behaviours. Think about how you use social media/networks at work and at play – is there a difference? Should there be? Will you change what you do based on what the presentation reveals?

I will be interested to know!

Resonance Agents

I am working on a project at the moment which has influence at the very centre of its strategy. But as soon as we mention the word “influence” it brings a whole hierarchy of associations along for the ride. For example, I’m sure that you, reading this, have already leaped ahead 10 steps – and that is the challenge. Many of you will have read Gladwell’s Tipping Point and will, no doubt, be thinking about the way that a small number of influencers can create the kind of network effect that drives consumer behaviour. But as I have written previously, when it comes to social or digital strategy (in particular), we can’t just focus on reaching the tipping point. We need to go well beyond this – to impact behaviour, create lasting and beneficial change and deliver against business and organisational objectives.

Yet, in doing so, we have no choice but to work with “influencers” – after all, we are working with people, not numbers. I was reminded of this great post, Curating Resonant Agents, by Katie Chatfield on the work of Duncan Watts, and the presentation that came along with it. Take a read, it provides a context for the type of thinking you will need to undertake to be able to apply the concept of influence to your business or brand.

iCitizen 2008: Duncan Watts

View more presentations from Resource Interactive.

 

So, where does this leave us? I like Katie’s focus on resonance. When Stanford’s Eric Sun conducted research into Facebook “dispersion chains” – the length of connections through which a message/story would travel across a cluster of connections – he found that resonance and resonance agents are important. More important than sheer numbers. Influence, it seems, does not accrue to a particular person or even a particular group of people – certainly not, at least, when you are focusing on changing behaviour. Influence accrues to those resonance agents willing, able and (perhaps) predisposed towards sharing that message/story.

Where do you find them? Clearly they are not the people with the loudest voices. They are those individuals who facilitate the “weak links” between clusters. They are the connectors. And they sit in the cubicle next to you. They are often, as non-descript as a face in the crowd. How do you find them? You just have to listen.

Do YOUR Products Live Up To The Type?

“Advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product or service.” – Jeff Bezos (via Ruth Mortimer)

I was reminded of this quote by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos whilst reading Alan Wolk’s excellent rant on VW’s decision to fire Crispin Porter Bogusky:

You see the problem with VW isn’t the advertising, it’s the cars themselves. At a time when most people’s first stop in the car buying process is Google (or Bing) it’s clear that what VW needs is not better advertising, but better cars.

AnciennesAlan then goes on to list various problems identified by a quick search on various car forums and blogs. But the same is likely to be found for any other car brand – you can find my own rant about Tim Jackson’s ill-fated Saturn here. Simply do a search on the name of your next (or current) car and add the word “problem” or “lemon” and you will see page after page of owner gripes, rants and issues.

This is something that advertising is simply not going to fix. It’s actually not possible. You see, it no longer takes a big budget and a sexy image to reach an audience. Anyone can start a blog for free and begin corralling opinion. And you know what? It is all captured by Google. Every word, every rant, every unsubstantiated comment (and every truth) is indexed by Google, assessed for inbound links, page rank and a number of other elements and then presented as fact to the unwary web surfer.

For brands, sticking your head in the sand is no longer an option. Consumers are increasingly turning to online opinion, blogs, social media, ratings and reviews as a way of framing their own purchase decisions – and if your voice is not part of the mix, then you are leaving your brand entirely in the hands of others. Is this a bad thing? It can be. It can also astoundingly positive.

The challenge now is not JUST good products and services – these are the new cost of entry into the market. What you need now is love, sweet love. You need the love of your fans. You need products that live up to the TYPE – to the words and stories of your consumers. For without that, no amount of advertising will permanently buy you the front page of Google.

Planning in the Tenth Dimension

One of the challenges of planning is enforcing a linear overlay on your ideas. It is as if your campaign commences and then a whole bunch of magic occurs around some stimulus and then your campaign ends (with whoops and cheers hopefully). In this scenario, we focus on individuals or “personas” and attempt to create a change in their behaviour – we want them to give consideration to our product, purchase our service or subscribe to our newsletter etc.

Mark Hancock suggests, however, that we need to move away from this approach – to begin looking at emergent behaviour:

I believe that we will stop thinking about trying to change behavior at the individual level and more about how to influence positive emotional responses through the creation of shared interactions.

This correlates nicely with a conversation I had with Katie Chatfield recently. What we need to do is to plan for a multiplicity of outcomes and design our interactions around enabling these to occur in simultaneous streams – like a waterfall. After all, we never really know which idea will catch fire in a community – and I would argue that it doesn’t matter which idea DOES. The important thing is to make sure you are ready to fan the flames.