5 Influence Traps you Must Avoid

Organized System

All this talk about tools is a major distraction from the conversation about influence. Because while tools can track what someone does, they most certainly cannot tell you why — and why is a fundamental piece of information you need to have to understand what moves people to act.

Influence is a very situational concept, an imprecise term, a two-way understanding and opt-in mechanism, and it does mostly reside with the influenced. Plus, people lie about what they're going to do, there is a gap between intention and intent, the first being intellectual, the second being how we show up, when we do, and so on.

So I thought now would be a good time to take a step back and instead of trying to unpack what influence is and where it's going and why scores by tools are out of whack, look at what doesn't work.

The 5 "influence traps" you must avoid

This is a quick blog version. I will expand and demonstrate it live during SxSW

(1.) Ego vs. system — you go just to influentials vs. the people who care

This trap is even harder to resist because of the multitude of voices clamoring for the right answer on which scores matter, which key performance indicators should be taken into consideration. I'd like you to consider for a moment that whatever people put their attention and focus to do, generally has outcomes.

If you wanted to, you could spend your time growing the right interactions in the right public places — and frankly increased the noise level when volume means more than the appropriate content — and get yourself higher scores. Or, you could flatter people left and right, quid pro quo yourself into notoriety.

Another option is to be really controversial, get everyone fired up and lots of comments, the point people there. Then point out how famous you are and enlighten everyone else with "the Word". This was a bit cheeky, I admit.

The people who make a difference with your customers are those who care. Sincerity is hard to fabricate, for one. Common interests bubble up, even at gut level. 

(2.) If you build it, they will come — what spreads online is not same as what resonates offline

While so many marketers are still pointing to the Old Spice ad as an example of what they'd like in social, and buzz can be fun indeed, what spreads online doesn't necessarily work wonders offline. Maybe that campaign was a first step in moving the brand from "old guys' cologne". 

There are several other examples of fun and entertaining online characters in ad campaigns that have great recall. Yet, they have sold little product. People do not associate the company to the character is one reason. The entertainment was great, but they have no compelling reason to buy, is another.

The answer is not do more of the same or best what others are doing. And, let's face it, brands still by and large talk about themselves and have not found a way to be interested and truly interesting to the people they want to attract.

(3.) You go with generic, broad appeal — rather than take a high-impact position

It's very tempting to try to be all things to all people. If you've ever been in a meeting with an agency and the executive in the room is insisting that the ad copy, or the communication include ten benefits or worse features, you know what I'm talking about.

There was this funny video circulating that showed what would happen to the box if Microsoft marketed the iPod… and it would happen, you know it.

Instead, communicating deeper meaning that goes beyond your product or service that people want to opt into or, even better, co-opt as theirs is the way to go. Are you thinking about why you favor certain brands over others?

Because they make it about you, or connect with you by taking a stand.

(4.) Having a short term / campaign-driven approach — over sustainable marketing

The sustainable part in this phrase is the effort, care, and time you put into building something worthy of attention. Is attention the right metric and focus? Not entirely. There is one more important element to sustainable, and it's commitment and desire to make it work. 

Ironically, the short term bursts of campaigns have achieved exactly what they were designed to do — get spikes in novelty, get noticed quickly. It's ironic because they also got people used to seeking novelty constantly, jumping from one thing to another, and then, when enough new stuff is coming at them, ignore the whole lot.

Sustained growth comes with sustained support and relationship.

(5.) Benefit/feature-driven — when the conversation is about demand

Just when marketing and product teams were learning to lead messaging with benefits and follow with features, this puts a bit of crimp in their style. The conversation is about demand, which increasingly means the effect that what you offer has on people's state of mind.

Your customers expect the product to have a high level of functional excellence. It's not, of course, about price and value anymore. And we have gone beyond the simple emotional benefit. What influences people now is the question of how you're going to address their most pressing agenda.

If people are going to invest time, money, energy, and emotion into something, it will be because you are making their experience much better not in terms of material gains, but in terms of internal well being.


We are each the product of our own surrounding, that's why company culture and the culture of the company you keep end up determining how you're going to behave. Which of course matters in matters of influence.

Next week, we'll talk about why everything you know about influence is wrong and what you should do about it.

[image of an organized system of learned behavior that is a total way of life of a people]

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0 responses to “5 Influence Traps you Must Avoid”

  1. Love what your bringing to this conversation about influence. You hit it on the head when identifying it as “situational”. For example, at any moment the one with the greatest ability to relieve tension will have the greatest influence. Like the surgeon who is going to remove the cancer from my spine. He has the most influence in my life at that moment and in that situation (i.e. Klout 100). In just about every other situation in my life, he would have zero influence (i.e. Klout 0).

  2. All GREAT points and ones that business owners and CEOs would be wise to look at.
    I wrote a blog post called, if you build it they will come though it was about building a community. So, same language, different take.
    Your fourth point made me think of the Seth Godin post:
    “The reason social media is so difficult for most organizations: It’s a process, not an event.”

  3. Valeria, you definitely expose the influence traps in this thoughtful post. In doing so, you focus on the need for strategy over tactics. I think for so many companies, the tactics are not natively intuitive to them and they get lost in the sauce.

  4. Could not agree more with this post–it applies not just online but in all situations. Fav takeaway= “Sincerity is hard to fabricate.” If you’re not by nature a nice person, stop trying. Let your sarcastic flag fly. Or, if you like the small fish better than the big fish (often swollen with ego), then go right on ahead and ignore the big fish.

  5. The key take away for me is the distinction you make between online and offline influence. The trap most marketeers fall into is to assume that one is identical to the other.
    The behavioural patterns of our online interactions are different to our offline ones

  6. @Marino — execution matters in going from trap to step int he right direction.
    @Jack — good example with the surgeon and in general about solving the problem.
    @Jeff — processes are hard, because they are build over time, refined, then tested with execution, etc.
    @Mary Ann — it is easy to take these things for granted and dive into tactical mode, as you said.
    @Tracy — there is one caveat, which is working on being respectful at all times.
    @Tom — or that they transfer in the same manner, which is where everyone is getting in trouble with tools.

  7. This made me think of something I read the other day about the ‘online extrovert’ and ‘offline introvert’. Social tools do allow people to almost ‘fake’ who they are, what they sell, and the things they represent. Authenticity is genuine and online communication tools have allowed us to forget about this in many ways.
    I love the way you summarized the Old Spice video because a lot of marketers and their seniors saw that and said ‘we need to make a video that goes viral’. End of the day, it was spread, laughed at, talked about and done over (Grover 🙂 ), but what did it gain Old Spice? They are still the ‘cologne for older men’ – makes me think of my Dad.
    Looking forward to next week’s post!

  8. If I could kiss you for this, I would! I love the Field of Dreams analogy (I use it all the time). If you will build it they will NOT come. This is just like anything else…it’s hard work, takes strong strategy, and requires patience. Companies that only pay attention to those with high Klout scores or those on the AdAge Power 150 are doing themselves a disservice. Let’s stop trying to cut corners and do some real work.

  9. Agreeing with Gini on getting to the real work, whatever that is. 😉 Had never seen the “Microsoft iPod box” video.. hilarious! And sadly so true, a great illustration of falling into these traps of making it about you, not the customer; making it about bullet point benefits and features; acting like they’re looking for you a shelf. They’ll go where they need to get what they want/need, when they want, how they want it, at the price they’re willing to pay, as they find (search) it. FWIW.

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