What the Circles Illustrate About Influence

First 1000 Followed on Google+

The following is a Google+ post. It is based on early observations about the network and larger social media trends. Consider it an open cognitive discussion and learning about the network. Please fee free to add your experiences, thoughts and hopes.

Much has been said about Google+ Circles, and their ability to filter content streams by the type of person in our life. In doing so, Google+ has also allowed each person to demonstrate how influence plays out in their lives.

In reality, influential people are the most trusted peers and family members in our lives — not the Chris Brogans, Seth Godins and Robert Scobles of the world. Yet, the land grab that has occurred in Google+ and all of the criticism of big voices dominating on the network would have you thinking differently. This again demonstrates belief in popular myths of top-down influence reigning supreme on social networks.

Social network influence by real life roles

In reality, Google Circles allow us to band and view streams based on actual importance to our lives, possibly pictured as above. Of course, everyone’s personal lives are different. Family may have less weight, and different sub-circles, such as nuclear and extended family. The same could be said for any of the categories, for example work can have sub-circles like colleagues, professional networks, online contacts, and yes, bloggers/writers. Of course, there are people who may belong to multiple circles, too.

It is hard to envision the so-called influencer ever getting closer to the heart than the middle of someone’s social network. The only exception could be a bonafide real relationship. More than likely they lie to the far right, in effect turning the top-down picture we are led to believe in on its ear. In reality, the only reason why content creators seem so present is because individual followers — or as the circles become smaller and stronger, peers and friends — reshare them.

If peer trust is what matters in social networks, then the uberinfluencer garners strength from reach within our networks. It is the grassroots network that delivers the content to our screen. Depending on how individuals parse their circles, a Guy Kawasaki may rarely be viewed, while a Chris Pirillo is ever present.

It’s just conjecture based on three weeks of Google+, yet it seems to make sense. What do you think?

Influencer Theory Turned Sideways

19 thoughts on “What the Circles Illustrate About Influence

  1. If you think my family influences my technology choices more than say Kara Swisher or MG Siegler you are seriously demented. Sorry, but family and friends do NOT influence people more on some topics. On those we look to people who are experts and/or passionate about the topics. My brother Ben, for instance, runs a bar. He’s hardly influential or passionate about technology. He barely discovered Facebook so far. You saying he’s more influential than, say, you over my social media or technology habits? No freaking way.

    • Perhaps the point of the post is not clear, but I do agree with you. Per my G+ response back to you, the question I am asking could be phrased, “Is
      Michael Arrington more important and influential than your family?” I
      would guess (and only you could answer this) maybe — even probably —
      in tech, but not your entire 24 hour life. That’s professional
      influence, but not encompassing your entire social experience.

    • It goes back to the definition of influence. If influence = knowledge, then your brother Ben is much more influential in the sphere of alcoholic mixology than me.

      Why does everyone seemingly insist influence on a social media platform is specific to social media? Perhaps influence as a word needs a modifier.

  2. Can you take a step back and elaborate what you mean by influence?

    If you follow me on Twitter, you see what I write.

    If you follow/like me on Facebook, you see what I write.

    If you follow me on Google+, I see what you write — especially when you focus an update to a circle you place me inside.

    How does this Google+ shift affect influence? Shouldn’t your goal as a so-called influencer be to be added to other people’s circles rather than you deciding who gets your messages?

    • I think I’ve been pretty clear over the past few posts what I influence is. Rather than rewrite them, I invite you to browser deeper on the last three posts.

      • I’m sorry I didn’t read your archive of blog articles before reading this one, which I clicked over from someone’s update who I include in one of my circles.

        I’ll try to read and memorize everything you write in the future to be prepared for anything you might imply.

        /sarcasm off.

    • I think I’ve been pretty clear over the past few posts what I think influence is. Rather than rewrite them, I invite you to browse deeper on the last three posts.

  3. “In reality, influential people are the most trusted peers and family members in our lives — not the Chris Brogans, Seth Godins and Robert Scobles of the world.”
    Not true. We trust experts. We trust people with demonstrated authority.

  4. Influence has always been a funny word (Klout made it even funnier, by allowing non-descripts to become influential about sheep…).

    I much prefer relevance. Is the person or brand relevant to what I need to know at any given time? If so, then I’ll listen to them. If not, they won’t be needed. 

  5. Gah! More influence discussion. Social media types talking about influence is worse than 8th graders talking about sex; it’s the blond girl in the rose petals in “American Beauty.”

    The sad part is, all this talk of influence is ego-stroking in pursuit of additional ways to avoid socially transparent responsibilities in order to more efficiently continue pimping lowest common denominator crap out to the masses by companies whose definition of “innovation” is mergers & acquisitions.

    G+ is meaningful because it adds further value to the Google experience. Rather than the one:all relationships forced by the likes of Facebook and Twitter, G+ allows one:few:many:all relationships. As much respect as I have for the social media rock stars who have, in a way, lead the charge for social over the years (I used to get fired for this, now I do it for a living), I can’t see very many of them getting much closer to me than third or fourth order circles.

    Circles seem to be the first social platform to organize the six degrees of separation between all of us. They allow for the filtering of both input and output (which will take some getting used to, for sure). And I like that.

    • I like the Circles a lot, too.  They make a big difference in allowing you to manage these very disparate groups, to your point the six degrees.

      The influence conversation is unfortunate. It will never go away, though.  The PR industry is so vested in it, we will be fighting this battle for decades.

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  8. Hi, Geoff.

    I am not really into Google+ yet, but I can see where you are heading here. But, like Danny, I would like to think of my circles not just as spheres of influence but of relevance as well. Although I named my circles as Friends, Loved Ones, Following, Inspirations and Experts, I would like to think that I labeled these people as such because of the relevance they have brought to my life and to my blogging. 

    But, great food for thought. Made me think twice about what these circles and their labels really mean to me. :)

    Enjoy your week, Geoff. And, btw, I love your baby’s pic on your Facebook profile. :)

    • Influence, importance and relevance are different ways to define what I view as the same thing.  Relevance is very, very temporal.  For example say you read @Scobleizer:disqus, who recommends Mac OS X Lion. You decide to buy a new Mac because yours is old, but you want this capability based on Robert, an expert’s, opinion. You tell your husband. He says no way, “We have to buy a new roof, ours is leaking!”  Suddenly someone who had no influence/relevance in your tech buying decisions, does. See my point?

      • Hmmm…can we just leave off the tech buying thing and stop at temporal? LOL! My head spins when technical is being mentioned. And yeah, I can see your point about relevance being just the same as influence. :D Teehee…you got me at temporal. :D

  9. I think your points are very true as it pertains to general influence in networks. Things on G+ are a bit off balance know with “uberinfluencer” and other tech savvy types disproportionately represented early on.

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