Influence, Context, and Triggers


I'm preparing for the Mesh panel conversation How Do You (Or Can You) Measure Online Influence? with David Armano (and others to be announced) next week. I'm looking forward to being in Toronto — my first time — and meeting so many of you I have corresponded with over the years.

What a treat!

I'm excited to be sharing the topic of influence with someone who, like me, has been on both sides of the conversation — as person others reach out to for help in spreading a message, thus answering how do you influence the influencers?, and a professional who has developed and executed programs to connect with influencers in the community.

The program description reads:

Not that long ago, it seemed like quantity was the key focus when it came to social media. It was based on the idea of using social media platforms to blast out to as many people as possible.

Now, quality has become all important and, as a result, “influencers” are seen as a valuable and necessary asset. So how do you measure the online “influence” of someone?

Is the focus on influencers valid? If so, what is their role and impact, and how should they be approached and embraced?


Regular readers to this blog will have benefited from the in depth posts on influence I have written over the last year in preparation for my solo presentation at SxSW. In the last several weeks, I have also analyzed several emerging tools and technologies at this blog. Specifically:

Overall, these are still early days, and the tools are only as good as their use. I haven't had too much time to play with Empire Avenue, another tool that is getting some buzz in the blogosphere recently. Although, in the post I linked I argued in favor of the Quantified Self way of measuring actions to drive results.

While those that purport to measure online influence require a little bit less effort on the user's part — you claim a profile by linking the social networks you are using to it and they do the rest — I do wonder about measuring action. For example, on Twitter, it's not just RTs, but actual clicks on a link, to start.

In his 7 indicators of Twitter influence, David listed indicators that are more critical than follower count in his estimation. So if you had a way of telling what people click on, you would go one step further in seeing action taken.

One potential measure

Take Twitter lists from David's 7. At the time of writing this post, I have 25,345 followers and David has 37,863. Let's take them at face value, even though we both know there is a percentage of bots in there. Proportionally, David has a bigger following than I do.

When you look at the number of lists, we have a slightly different picture. I'm on 3,451 of them, and David on 5,040. So you can see that we're not too far apart in connecting with content and people on Twitter.

It is a fair comparison when you consider how we describe ourselves in the bios — strategist, global work, thinking and doing — and the fact that we're both Italian. Now let's take a look at how others list us. You will see a lot of contextual information.

@ConversationAge (that's me) list descriptors — people like me, faves, people I retweet, marketing, resources, digital media people, influencers, media, a-listers, social media peeps, emarketing sources, Vocus conf, digital media people, organized chaos, ux cs, ethical biz pr, SEO media, great thinkers, popular, viral, pr, filter my following, common friends, branding, knowledge base, creativity success, experts, my aces, help, who I follow listen to, don't miss these, network stars,  content, work related, Web content, content strategy, Confab2011, tech tech tech, RWW, power players, smart people, etc.

These are just a couple of screens to give you an idea. Social media, marketing, and influencers come up on several lists.

@Armano list desciptors — digital media people, social media, public relations, influentials, the br 200, mutual friends, my friends talk to you, thinker, SEO media, advertising, shining in practice, agency, social, social media type stuff, ad industry news tweets, who I retweet, business excellence, social commerce, innovate, media and marketing, talk, similar industry folks, don't miss these, online, awesome thinkers, communicators, creative innovation, interessantes, lucky folks, technology, Edelman digital, pr resources, Google IO conference, ethical biz pr, pr smarties, community smarties, RWW, etc.

Again, just a couple of screens and looking to capture unique users, as many have more than one list to their Twitter handle. Social media, influencers, and pr come up on several lists for David.

You are probably noticing what I saw — that we are described similarly in many areas, and probably on many of the same lists. I won't get too deep into this analysis. The descriptors in italics are interesting. Because they speak to the network effect, the friends' friends' friends, or something like that.

They are generated by a tool called Formulists, which allows you to build thematic, dynamic lists.

Looking more closely at the language patterns of exchanges with people who list us by those topics, there is a lot more information you could find. Suffice it to note how people think we shape their ideas and experience on Twitter as an indication. This goes to context, which we build with our content.

Obviously, this quick analysis is missing a whole sphere of off line influence and a deeper look at the thing itself — the media, or cause, or product/service that is the object of the spreading. We'll talk about that at Mesh.


In the links I provided at the beginning of this post, you will find much more information and my observations on building credibility and trust, as well as some thoughts on accelerators — people who may not have topical influence, however have an audience and network willing to spread their content.

Influence Ripples David also recently contributed a post at Harvard Business Review blogs on the six pillars of influence that might be useful to you. They are pillars, not metrics. I want to be careful we don't get mixed up with terminology.

They don't live each in isolation, either. And neither do we.

You can see how reach works easily in one of my favorite diagrams David provided early on, the influence ripples. Your reach also depends on proximity, or the reach of the people who are more directly connected with you, and so on, to the third-level connection (cit. Connected, Amazon affiliate link).

A good example of reach and proximity triggers were the action generated for the Frozen Pea Fund and the fund for Daniela. Both took place on Twitter and succeeded on the strength of strong and loose ties — as well as the network effect. More funds were collected through people seeing other people doing it. In both cases, the cause was what influenced outcome.

Expertise is judged from authority on specific subject matters, and reputation, which is the soft character component. While many tools attempt to measure authority through keyword analysis, it is still fairly hard to nail. For example, I am not described as business strategist on Twitter lists, yet that is what clients hire me to do and get results from.

The relevancy pillar is both content and context-driven, and I would add situational. You are more likely to act on something I do that matters to you right now when you need that "it" than at another time. Can convenience trigger relevance? Sure, think about the end caps in stores or candy racks by the cash registers. Another situational trigger here might be urgency.

Credibility is earned through reputation, and you are certainly familiar with testimonials, case studies, social proof, and word of mouth referrals. There is a dark side to credibility, which is going negative on an issue, rally a following or catalyzing an audience to gain visibility. It becomes hard to filter whether the person complaining is legitimately concerned about the issue in the absence of a track record. Even though the issue may be.

The most fragile and difficult to gain is trust. It goes hand in hand with credibility and is hard to measure. Although not that hard to feel.

From the comments to David's six pillars post, I can see that we continue to focus on the wrong question — on trying to find a formula; it is this + that = this other. And indeed, you could say that we are blood, and flesh, and organs, some more vital than others, and therefore quite predictably human.

Influence is not something that you have stamped on your forearm, a badge of sorts you can yield at your leisure. We're not super heroes, even as we play one on Twitter. It is, however, something you can learn to identify and enroll, or build and grow by doing a combination of things.

And that is the way you also measure it. Bring your goals. We'll bring our experience and success stories. Keep it real. See you next Thursday at Mesh.


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0 responses to “Influence, Context, and Triggers”

  1. On Influence, I really like the simple and data driven model proposed by Forrester: R Augie and Josh Bernoff:
    What they also show is that there is a huge overlap between the mass maven (the one that write content that is read by 80% of people) and the mass connectors (the one that broadcast it to the masses). Around 70% overlap.
    If you cross these figures with the Yahoo study on twitter (20K people make 50% of the tweet and within these 20K bloggers are the only one that actually flow content in the entire network) .. the net is that the best approach to find influencers in a tribe is to look at the maven , in other words the bloggers and then expand to the connectors .
    This is what we do and you can have a look at how accurate we rank influencers looking at our top 150 social marketing blogger. You’re #10 and David is # 7 in our real time ranking; top 3 being Jeremiah, C Brogan and Seth Godin.
    We also have published influencer ranking for many communities on this free site:
    Feedback are warmly welcome!

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