This week, I’ll be traveling to San Francisco to speak and share at Dreamforce 2012. I wanted to share a bit of my thinking about the panel I’ll be part of on social media influence in advance so that those who are going can look at the topic from a slightly different angle.
What is influence? That’s the heart of the matter. What does influence mean to you? In my mind, influence is about change – change of behavior, change of identity, change of belief system. If someone is influential to you, then they can help to create change in you, or just outright force you to change. What they change determines their level of influence. A change of behavior is relatively straightforward, such as buying something you might not have bought. A change of identity or belief system is significantly more complex and shows much deeper levels of influence.
There’s a huge difference between likability and influence. What we’re calling “influence” in social media many times isn’t. You may really like Chris Brogan or Donna Papacosta, but if they don’t create change in you, then they’re just likable people. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not influence. Conversely, you may not like or even know someone like Stephen K. Hayes or even the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta to be influenced by them, to make changes in your life, beliefs, or actions based on their teachings or examples.
Here’s an example of how this goes wrong in social media: let’s say Chris Brogan shares something on Twitter and asks you to retweet it. If you’re a fan of Chris and you would have retweeted it anyway, then no behavioral change has happened. By definition, that’s not influence. Yet many of our online influence measurement tools would declare that influence. You retweeted, therefore Chris has influence.
Ask yourself this about anything you deem influential: does it create change? If it does not, then it’s not influence.
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Look forward to debating this with you some time soon, but I disagree on several points.
First, as Dr. Robert Cialdini discusses and documents in his breakthrough books, “likability” is certainly a valid source of power. In fact I can point to several people who built very successful careers on likabilty far beyond personal competence. So, I defer to Dr. Cialdini and disagree that this should not be so easily dismissed.
Second, for those of us immersed in the social web every day, we may a bit jaundiced about somebody re-tweeting a post, for any reason. After all, what is a tweet?
But if you look at this from a fresh and outside perspective, this is an incredible singular event!. Academic research shows that people generally do NOT share content. So it is very difficult to get people to act on something and share content. It’s not saving the world, it’s not even buying anything, but choosing to share somebody’s content is a significant event.
There are many reasons somebody might have made that tweet. Maybe it’s only because they like you, a legitimate source of influence. Maybe they admire you. Maybe they actually loved the content, Maybe they look at your number of Twitter followers (social proof another Cialdina maxim) and want to get closer to you. Or maybe you’re a bot. But at least in the first four instances, you are truly influencing these folks in some subtle way and they are taking a measurable action — you are spreading their content to the world.
Today i am going to spread your content to my world because you influenced me. Is it because I admire you? Is it because the content is great? Or is it just because I like you and want to help you? It doesn’t matter. You’ve influenced me … and possibly my audience too.
I think your point is excellent – I’ve been reading a bit different on influence lately, looking more at political propaganda. Is a retweet influence, in the sense that it changed behavior? Yes, if you weren’t going to do it already. But when you compare that to getting an entire nation to go on a genocidal rampage, they’re operating at two very different levels. My way of saying, I think you’re right, and I also think we’re actually talking about two different areas of influence.