The Unexplored Opportunities in Online Influence


Eleven years ago, Craig Newmark said in an interview that community is about connecting people who need a break with people who might be able to give them one. It's all about people helping one another. The idea is not new.

While it is fairly easy to nod your head at this explanation, knowing that it came from someone dedicated to helping people find resources and connection points, as soon as you inject the thought of influence in this scenario, especially online, it becomes uneven and complex terrain.

Territorial is the word that comes to mind.

The fact is that while the discussion about online influence has replaced in many respects that of social media — finally, another horse to flag to death — it is also missing a much needed spirit of collaboration. Why should we not open source this conversation?

It is a topic complex enough to warrant better understanding before reaching conclusions. A field waste enough. And defining or opining something that is unexplored will leave opportunities on the table. Breaking new ground doesn't mean we need to dig a hole for ourselves, does it?

What technology wants

I'm reading Kevin Kelly, whose recent TOC talk video I embedded in this post [YouTube version 25:49]. In the book (Amazon aff link), he articulates the question and problem he's trying to solve. There are many entry points in his research and argument.

Staying with the question long enough to form the proper frame of reference is key to understanding how the answers apply to tactical work. You will also appreciate how he supports theses with evidence, even if you might have a different point of view and reference.

The material offers new options for consideration in a very fluid and ever changing field. Particularly around generating, his sixth verb that describes things people will pay for and cannot be copied, consider the role of:

  • immediacy — would you pay for right now? How about if we add context, five new customers; a piece of information you need badly to close a deal; making that problem go away… also think of newsletters with fresh and timely analysis
  • personalization — would you pay to have personalized medicine, for example?
  • authenticity — people do pay for the real deal in art, collecting, design, fashion, I could go on… why not pay for the real deal in communications and execution? (we'll come back to this concept in another post)
  • attention — is what you're paying now for attention giving you the desired results? What would you pay to get those?
  • interpretation — some common ground with my thoughts on open to interpretation. It's really up to your customer to write the last part of the right now narrative from their own needs and experience. But once this happens, the story will become memorable in ways that turn customers into the next tier of storytellers
  • accessibility — early in my career, I interviewed for a position at the Italian Mission to the United Nations. They required living in Manhattan, to be on call. Think about how people pay for access in leases, rentals, and services
  • embodiment –I think of this as the experience, what happens at the Ritz Carlton, for example, that would not happen in other hotels; or a concert, where you may have the same music, different performance
  • findability — in fact, connecting people with what they are looking for, which is especially powerful when they are not sure of what that is. There is very helpful reference on filters and aggregators in The Long Tail by Chris Anderson.

Consider the role of these needs in your business product or service lines – and make it easy to pay you to get them. Kelly reminds us that where attention goes, money will follow. He calls them generatives because they have to be generated in context, they cannot be copied, which makes them valuable.

Unexplored opportunities

In understanding what technology gives us, we also need to be mindful of what it wants of us. The unexplored opportunities in online influence ride on us identifying the levers, as well as creating or seeing the proper context for them to work.

Calculating what content someone tweets or posts to Facebook, and using their follower/fan counts in the same manner as subscription numbers and viewers for mainstream media is not going to give you ROI. You know also why? Because you are spending an awful lot of time demanding "return" without putting proper thought into defining "investment," in addition to resolving for context.

Is it possible, then, that instead of working on proving and disproving whether there is online influence, the question now is "ask another way"?

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UPDATE on SxSW Session: if you plan to come to the session on influence with me Monday, March 14 @ 12:30pm in ballroom F, please bring a self addressed and stamped Thank you card with you. It will be part of the conversation.

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