From Machiavelli to Robert Cialdini, the notion of influence has continued to fascinate the general public and professionals alike. Even thought leaders have analyzed and scrutinized the concept hundreds of times over, but its definition is always dependent on the context in which it’s being used. So how to define influence in social media today?
From Manipulation to Influence
Very early on, in the 1920’s, the main cultural and media industries started to build and develop on the basis of popularity. Box office films, lists of bestselling books, records on the hit parade as radio and television ratings, were all a part of industries that benefited from the tremendous appeal of charts as their main motivator for development.
On the other hand, this popular, cult-like fascination with popularity charts contributed to a perverse effect on the star system. Suddenly, scores were being fraudulently manipulated to increase sales. Today, the practice of a certain payola – much like the 1920’s disk and radio industries – has led corporations to buy web influence with false recommendations and fake followers in order to boost their social scores (see Infographic: Marketing vs. Manipulation by SEOBook/Lumin Interactive).
Taking advantage of the confusion and false user accounts, pseudo social media experts are sprouting up like weeds. Therefore, if the measurement tools can be manipulated – or even bypassed – in this way, how can we recognize and identify the real social media influencers?
Who is influencing who in social media?
Heather Armstrong (@Dooce) with Maytag / Whirlpool and Canadian musician David Carroll with United Airlines (“United Breaks Guitars”) are often cited as examples of social media’s influence on consumers. These previously unknown users suddenly revealed their influence to the point of undermining large corporations. They did so because they were able to meet three essential criterias: Initially, they enjoyed a certain range, or reach, in social networks which gave a certain resonance to their message. In this context, it’s the relevancy of their message that allowed them to exert their influence. (Read: Social Media Influence: Content is Key!)
As I already mentioned, in the current context, it’s not so much the definition of influence that changes but rather it’s the place where the two sides meet in the name of a common goal. As Neal Schaffer explains in the preface of my upcoming book, “…As I learned engaging with “mommy bloggers,” influence is always relevant to a subject. While some mommy bloggers might be more influential with newborn mothers, otherwise might blog about – and therefore yield more influence on soccer moms or mothers who specialize in organic cooking for their children.”
Influence in social media is not only based on numbers that measure a network’s range and the resonance of a message, but also, and most importantly, on individuals who inspire confidence and who can engage through the relevance and value of their interventions. However, this aspect of influence cannot be measured with algorithms, as complex as they are.
Nine Indicators of an Influencer’s Value
Last fall, in a posting on Intelegia’s site, I suggested exploring nine indications of value to define influence in social media:
Reach: The importance of the influencer’s network, in terms of size (number of subscribers), as by the potential level of influence of those who are a part of this network.
Resonance: The impact of the message generated through social media.
Authority: The validity given, within the network, to both the message and the messenger.
Credibility: Credibility is as much about the reputation as it is about the authority granted to the influencer.
E-Reputation: The digital “DNA” and “fingerprint” of the influencer throughout the network.
These first five indicators constitute the key metrics commonly used by measurement tools to gauge the influence within social media in order to assess the social influencer’s social score. However, the real leadership of an influencer is also based on other values that cannot be measured with algorithms:
Expertise: Recognition of the influencer through his or her achievements and professional activities.
Relevance: The accuracy and consistency of the influencer’s interventions and quality content related to the expectations of the network concerned.
Trust: A feeling of confidence as much about the relevance of the message as about the expertise of the influencer.
Engagement : The index value that is the most significant since it represents the final results of the influence used.
How to Define Influence in Social Media in 140 characters
In a report, Brian Solis and VOCUS proposed their own definition of influence as, “…the ability to cause effect, change behaviour and drive measurable outcomes.” They also asked respondents to identify influence in social media in less than 140 characters. They listed the 25 most interesting answers. Here are a few:
– The ability to inspire others to develop their abilities;
– Provoke engagement and conversation with users;
– Build a level of confidence that will encourage others to make the best possible decisions.
And, my personal favourite:
– Influence is the power that earns the trust it is given.
Today, a year later, how has how we define influence changed? What do you think? Have your say and submit your own definition of influence in social media in 140 characters or less.