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.
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.