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.