Everyone is Wrong About Influence

Fast-company-cover-dec_jan-2009 Except your customers.

I literally just submitted a talk abstract for the Inbound Marketing Summit in Boston, Oct 6&7 about this topic.

Yesterday also saw the launch of an initiative by ThoughtLead, the shortest marketing conference ever — and who doesn't like a short conference? — The Influencer Project (I participated).

Some people rightly commented on Twitter that one minute was too short for wow insights (see the irony?), so here's one for you from my own tool book:

True influence flows from drawing together people with shared
interests. It's a process of identifying areas of
relevancy among your customers and prospects, community building, and
allowing others to amplify your influence as you meet their needs

Sure, trust is part of the relationship, and authority, and all that good stuff. You'll be chasing the popular kids (even those who demur) until the cows come home if you keep thinking that influence is about you. It's not. And you don't need the following of a celebrity to build something of significance.

What you need is to identify areas of relevancy among your customers and prospects, build community, and allow others to amplify your influence — as you meet their needs. Identify, build, allow — no voodoo or pixie dust here.

Fast Company ought to know all this. They attracted a community that at some point was 42,000 members strong. I know because I was there from the beginning. It was a true movement — evangelists of the ideas espoused in the magazine making them happen in life and meeting to talk about the experience.

Why we keep forgetting that, and the great individuals who spearheaded those connections — people like Heath Row, Chris Heuer, and many more — I have not a clue. I was there, in service. 42,000 may not seem like a big number to you, I'm talking about the year 2000.

This is the reason why, when Fast Company reached out to me about the Influence Project, the experiment seemed a bit off to me.

How did this happen so close to the launch of ThoughtLead's initiative, The Influencer Project? I'm curious like the rest of you who clicked through to the site, except for I had a full day of projects ahead and did not get the chance to find out what it was about until last night. Customers do come first.

Fast Company had more than a community. It was a movement, and ahead of the times. A movement that had purpose:

  • on 9/11 we were online coordinating support for stranded travelers
  • at a local level, all the volunteers who helped pull the community together got the collateral effect of finding a new career more aligned with their passion during hard employment times
  • the genuine, collaborative spirit was not building a paid wall for anyone — we were all in it together
  • and so many more examples of off line action because of online connections among peers

Although we had a listserv and literally word of mouth to spread the word at the time, we got quite far towards our goals of diversity and inclusiveness. We built alliances with other organizations to invite diversity of thought. In my experience, alliances are a better way of building meaningful networks.

That work was done for all the right reasons. We were engaged, we were listening and learning, and we were evangelists for the magazine and the community of professionals featured in it. There was so much energy around the network that people flew halfway around the world on their own dime to meet with each other and the editors for what you would call a very successful mega tweet-up over a weekend.

So why did Fast Company's Influence Project get more buzz going than the network ever did? Nobody seems to remember or know about that, even the professed long-time readers and the experts in the space. I tell you why, the Influence Project played to egos. That's why.

Everyone is wrong about influence. Except your customers. Think about that before you get into trouble for not delivering meaningful results.


Related from the archives:

The Case for Customer Communities

If you enjoyed
this post from Conversation Agent, consider subscribing
and sharing it.

0 responses to “Everyone is Wrong About Influence”

  1. A little caveat before I launch into my critique the Influence Project…I’m sure that any person who topped that list would see some great benefits, so I imagine we would all love to be there. Whether we’d want to do what is necessary though to get there, who knows.
    That being said, it seems like the Influence Project really should have incorporated some measures beyond just voting. Even if it was as simple as “Rate this person on a scale of 1-10 for how much they influence you,” that probably would be more useful. Or, they could have maybe done some sort of network effect measurement…Person A votes for me and has 50k Twitter followers & 1k Feedburner subscribers so their vote counts for more than Person B, who has 1k Twitter followers & 0 Feedburner subscribers. Of course, every system will have its flaws, but I feel like that would be much more of an influence project than an ego project.
    And even those options, leave out the relevancy, usefulness, etc questions that voters could be asked.

  2. The Influence Project is at best a publicity stunt to get Fast Company’s name out there. Some readers may find this hard to believe but it’s not as well known as they think. At worst it is nothing more than a game akin to Mafia Wars. You spend your whole day clicking to no point.
    I have to argue with your measurement suggestion above being a way to track influence. When will we ever learn, it’s quality not quantity…or do all those “get 5000+ followers” people on twitter really add value?!

  3. Yes, FastCompany was ahead of it’s time. The “Company of Friends” gatherings that happened all over the world – where in our chapter we discussed the “New Economy” and the changes that the Internet was brining to marketing, applications, processes etc. It’s clear that they don’t understand how Twitter/Influence works like the people at http://www.klout.com It’s funny that you bring this topic up – as I was reminding friends that last weeks Mashable “Social Media Day” was akin to “Company of Friends” – which I attended in 1999.

  4. Valeria, I came across the Influence Project yesterday via Twitter. I wasn’t impressed and I quickly clicked away.
    We all have limited time and we must choose carefully what we’ll pay attention to. I do occasionally read a good article in Fast Company, but for now that’s all they’ll get from me.

  5. I love your common sense take on influence. Something else lost in all this is associating social media ALONE with influence. What drives the relationships, even on social media, is content. Content creates the relevance, demonstrates the culture or personality of a brand, and more. Studies are showing that on Twitter, for instance, people aren’t contributing or responding to content but still seem to be reading it.

  6. Valeria, I can say this… YOU had true influence in 2000 (and still do, of course). How do I know this? Because it was in 2000 when you and I first met via “Company of Friends.” The Fast Company offline ‘social’ network. People trusted that you brought us all together for a common purpose and that we could all make a difference somehow…even in small ways.
    You influenced me to get involved, to meet new people, to truly understand what networking was about and why it was SO very important. Something I would have never done on my own back then.
    Ten years later, you still influence me. Fast Company, not so much. You’re right, they played to egos. Customers don’t care about ego. In fact, that’s the first thing that a customer will ‘fire’ you for. An ego doesn’t help them solve a problem that may be critical to their business, in fact it usually has the opposite effect.
    Thanks for the reminder of what real influence is.

  7. As much as I enjoy watching Fast Company’s ongoing love affair with Ashton unfold like a soap opera romance, someone at the magazine needs to realize that Ashton, as cool and pretty and smart as he may be, is not the king of Social Media. He’s simply a popular celebrity on Twitter who may have found a way to profit from it. That’s really about it.
    But you know, the fact that Fast Company doesn’t understand this illustrates the magazine’s confusion when it comes to understanding the difference between popularity and influence, and even between reach and action.
    I dug Fast Company a lot more back in the day. I still like it now, a lot, but I don’t love it like I used to. Great writing is one thing, but relevance comes from understanding the subjects you write about (or turn into projects) thoroughly. Fast Company’s relevance just took another hit with this, and that makes me sad.

  8. Valeria,
    I am The Influence Project isn’t even a popularity contest, imo. It’s a url pimping contest. So unless there is a gag at the end of the contest, it’s pretty much worthless beyond damaging the publication’s credibility. And, even if they offer up a ha ha at the end of it all, some of it, they will never get back.
    Influence cannot be measured online, exclusively. It’s impossible.

  9. Valeria – I listened to about 40 minutes of audio tweets yesterday, and didn’t have a revelation. What I think might be going on here is social media entering a phase akin to adolescence.
    When you’re between 12-17, you’re changing every moment. Factors out of your control seize you and bring about emotions, feelings, thoughts. You’re gradually (typically) increasingly obsessed with your friends and seeking to understand yourself as a separate individual, rather than someone’s daughter or son.
    The question of individual and collective influence — how to measure it, how to even understand it in the social media sense — is critical to understanding social media impact on value.
    True to form, we all want a simple formula, akin to marketing’s “give me 30,000 impressions and I’ll give you X qualified leads and Y sales.
    For a little while, the question was about measuring reach. Now, it’s about influence as an output of quality.
    There are far too many crappy measurement tools in social media; they’re based on conjecture or outright BS. If we can better understand the path to increased influence, we can measure it, somehow, but not (as @RichBecker says) online, isolated from all other inputs to influence.

  10. The Influence Project *could* have been something with true meaning. However, it’s eroded into something meaningless as people pimp out URLs to get clicked on. I’m seeing many people tricking people into clicking on their link. How does that measure influence in any shape or form?

  11. If we want to talk about true influencers, why not focus on those people who may have only influenced one other person to go on and do wonderful things? It might be a parent, a mentor or that fantastic teacher you had in 6th grade. We could share those stories through social media and learn a lot about the true meaning of influence.

  12. Late to my own conversation!
    @Eric – I would rather be there on the merits of having served the community vs. having served my own self. Do we need this kind of set up to show us humans can be self centered? We do have centuries of history to tell us that. We already know who has influence over us, and it’s the teachers, the mentors, the mothers and fathers who are there to listen and understand our humanity, and the people who draw out the best of what we’ve got.
    @Traci – when I wrote about Klout a few days ago, I also mentioned two very important aspects of influence: authority and trust. Both reside in context, which is where the conversation becomes wide open.
    @William – I’m glad you had the opportunity to experience that. I have not found that same spirit in current generation networks.
    @John – well the chase for the ever elusive attention or moment in the spotlight becomes and end in itself, well, you end up proving yourself right. The best way to lead is by leading.
    @Colleen – Alan Judd, a British fiction writer, impressed me with an interesting observation in one of his novels. “Because we think we know, we stop looking,” he wrote. Content is a good indication of digital body language, part of the mix. Thank you for sharing the link.
    @Sharlene – we’re not disputing the content. I read the magazine cover to cover from issue one. As for thriving… they’ve had their ups and downs. I remember when issue where as thick as phone books, because everyone wanted to advertise there. Then things got lean and the publication went into survival mode. If content alone were enough, we would not have popularity contests 😉
    @Beth – still can’t believe it’s been more than ten years, time flies! And thank you for reminding us that true influence is very much in the real world, where we do things because we want to, not because we have the photo op.
    @Olivier – it’s become more difficult to break through the noise. People are harried, they’re also quite a bit disenchanted and looking for their moment in the spotlight. Why does it have to take a lifetime to make a difference, right? Except for it doesn’t. We can choose to make a difference every day, in very real ways. Especially if nobody is looking.
    @Rich – indeed, influence is a very interesting thread we can use to trace part of our desire for and attachment to recognition. There are so many interesting questions surrounding human nature, why take a shortcut?
    @Sean – the desire to fit in is strong. Hope you did get some value out of listening to the project. Often, things that seem simple are not that easy to do, or live with. If they were, we’d be a much more evolved species. As for measurement, perhaps it’s worth spending some time to document and observe what has influence over you and your close circle of friends. See if there are any patterns and what role context plays. I’ll be writing more about the topic. We’re just getting warmed up.
    @Sharon – we rationalize all kinds of actions, and we’re all motivated by different things at different stages of our personal and professional journey. Think about it. For some people, it might be that chance to get in the magazine so they can talk about it. Then there is the opportunity to take the contrarian approach and say that you’re sticking by it, even when everyone else runs in the opposite direction, or pretends to. An interesting study in human behavior.
    @Lisa – this initiative seems to be more about the kind influence that can be commercialized.

  13. Other than customers Duncan Watts, network research guru, has done the research on influence. See his presentation here http://bit.ly/dBMcYI basically he says if a movement is ready to start anyone can make it happen. If it is not then no one can. Effetively it doesn’t matter which match in the box you use to light the fire.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *