The Follies of Influence

The above are the slides and script from my IgniteDC 10: All Stars presentation, The Follies of Influence. The Ignite format is a speech given with 20 slides in five minutes.

Everyone wants influence today. They want to be that woman or man who can change the world by uttering a few choice words.

And why not? Modern media — traditional and social — portrays influencers as super heroes!

Who doesn’t want to be a powerful hero? We all fantasize about being a Batman or Cat Woman, or just being stronger and more capable.

So we pursue influence online and build Twitter followings, Facebook friends, Instagram hearts, and Pinterest repins. We pose, trying to be those we so desperately admire.

Then we get our Klout social score and feel validated. Or we measure ourselves against our friends calling it “influence” when it measures attention.

Then people swing their mighty Klout around, feeling bigger and better for it.

What are these people compensating for? Is it a bad high school experience? Perhaps something else a little closer to home.

Is a big Klout score the modern Corvette?

Then there are the Tribe leaders. The folks that “run” a strong LinkedIn Group, a Twitter list or the like and claim influence.

While they may have influence on a very narrow subject matter, tribe leaders claims of power fail to identify our complexity as human beings.

People have many aspects to their life. A subject matter expert informs them — may not even necessarily influence decisions — on a very small topic. Their influence is really quite shallow.

Then we have manufactured influencers. Personal brands, professional relationship developers, community managers, and strong sales people.

This sociological-based sales approach to becoming likeable dates back to Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Modern research validates certain influence-building behaviors like reciprocity and consistency build trust.

Some people do believe these manufactured influencers. Sometimes they are authentic. And sometimes it just sucks.

What does science have to say about influence? How do human beings really influence and cause each other to act individually and en masse?

This is called the Science of Networks. Most of these scientists admit that we’ve only just begun to understand ourselves. We have more questions now!

Yet, we do know that it’s close friends who trigger the most action. Some signal trust within the community when they do well or offer the group a good new idea. Perhaps that idea is introduced by a respected blogger inside the community or just a well liked person. Others follow suit.

When a group of friends in a small community are seen taking an action, other community members are more inclined to follow suit. That’s influence.

This can in turn create mass adoption of ideas as it spreads from community to community. Groupthink can be dangerous creating bubbles like the real estate bubble or the .com era.

In the end, the truth is we don’t understand why. There is no silver influence bullet.

Just know those that are influenced the most by you are the ones next to you. So focus on your friends, families, colleagues and community.

Speech Take-Aways for Communicators

Before social media, influence was primarily used for sales. That’s why the current debate about social scoring technologies like Klout and Kred revolves around the ability to cause actions.

Klout and Kred really measure attention online. From a PR perspective, you should consider them tools to determine a person’s potential reach for new media publicity.

They suffer from relevancy inaccuracies so pitching people using the tools or advertising to/through their social channels may miss your target stakeholder groups. For example, because I published a blog post about lessons I learned from Elmo a while ago, I am considered an expert on Elmo by Klout.

Do yourself a favor and check individual profiles to make sure the person has 1) actual relevancy to your topic and 2) has a highly engaged network. The latter is important because some people simply garner automated retweets, likes, etc., and create a perception of influence for these tools, but don’t actually participate in real social conversations.

If you seek to inspire action, meaning sales leads, advocacy, or more, then Klout and Kred will be difficult tools for you outside of a straight advertising campaign. They lack the sophisticated relevancy necessary to pull mass-action from communities.

Instead you’ll need to look for the right online communities and integrate within them, develop relationships, and build word of mouth the old fashioned way. Keep in mind, it’s often the middle tier of influencers that spark action in these communities rather than larger voices we all celebrate as thought leaders.

What do you think about influence?

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