Influence is a Side Effect of Interestingness

John Oliver
We listen to people who say and do interesting things. This still leaves the big question of what interesting means.

Take for example John Oliver, a comedian who first came to prominence as a cutting-edge political stand up in the UK, with a string of television appearances and sold-out solo shows at the Edinburgh Festival. His HBO show Last Week Tonight has become for many a go to source of amusement — and a way to get up to speed on what is going on in terms they can understand.

Recent popular segments include current hot topics like:

  • Net Neutrality controversy explained simply — Cable companies are trying to create an unequal playing field for internet speeds, but they're doing it so boringly that most news outlets aren't covering it — and lets viewers know how they can voice their displeasure to the FCC. A call to action many took seriously, with the resulting crash of the FCC site# and a nod to rewriting the rules#
  • Government Surveillance set down with Edward Snowden to discuss the NSA, the balance between privacy and security, and… more
  • the IRS was a timely topic this week with the filing deadline hitting today. Oliver talked about how recent budget and staff cuts have made it increasingly difficult for the department to do its very important job. The show had a surprising turn with guest Michael Bolton

Oliver demonstrates that connecting with people is the secret to success — making information accessible for others, and using his comic talent and skills to make it entertaining both contribute to his interestingness. The influence of the show is based on Oliver's personal delivery and the relevance of the segments to current events and cultural zeitgeist.

Relevance, access, and story

Last Week Tonight via Oliver is also very accessible in social media. Because he captures the spirit of our times via the topics and content of the show and the way we share news online. He gives his audience what many brands are struggling to do — by making topics relatable, he makes people care about them.

Each week, Oliver asks people to do something, but only after he and the show's writers have done their part of researching a news story, finding under reported and often counter intuitive angles, and presenting it simply. Then he gets social:

More powerful than graphs and video clips, are Oliver’s vivacious hashtags that his viewers popularize each week. One of his most recent online campaigns, #JeffWeCan was a hashtag rallying against large tobacco companies and their sugarcoated packaging. The hashtag went viral on Twitter and Facebook. Oliver was taking over the Internet with the icon of the cute and harmless cancer filled lung, Jeff. Oliver has won over the Internet before with his hashtags like #BetterCIATweets, #ShowUsYourPeanuts, and of course #WeUnderstandThatAsCorporateEntitiesOurPresenceInCertainDiscussionsIsNotAlwaysRequiredSoWeWillStriveToLimitOurActivitiesToJustSellingYouShit.

[via] People respond to his shared humanity — watch any of his segments on the HBO YouTube channel, and what you see is self-deprecating humor combined with darn good investigative journalism work. Substance and style delivered with compassion.

This is why Last Week Tonight channel has 1.6 million subscribers and many of the shows hover at around 5 million views. He is creating tools people can use to talk about the news with each other.

Oliver has a certain personality and skills, he leverages both in researching timely topics relevant to the people he wants to attract (his audience), and then delivers the story in memorable ways. His influence is a side effect of interestingess. That is what good personal branding does.

We will be deconstructing how you can do that, too in our Webinar on personal branding in an hour (for the first time in Italian — personal branding: separare il mito dalla realta')



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