Influence has been quite a hot topic in the social media and as someone who has a degree in psychology (and business) I too find this topic quite interesting. I’m not saying I’m an influence expert but I still enjoy the discussions and debates around the space. We focus a lot on individual influencer, in fact we focus on them too much. Companies are always trying to find the “influencers” in their community, the folks with the greatest reach and the strongest pull. The truth is that we also need to be focusing on influencers as a group of people and not just as individuals.
I should warn everyone that I’ve been reading a book called “Connected” recently by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler that is all about the power of our social networks and how they influence our lives (that is where the idea for this post came from). Let’s take Chris Brogan as an example, a lot of people consider him to be an influencer and a lot of folks reach out to him to help him promote a product or service, why? Before you answer that let me introduce you to Stanley Milgram; a famous psychologist. Stanley ran a few experiments and found that if one person looks up at something that he can he can then influence 42% of passerbys to look up as well. Stanley also found that if 15 people look up at something that 86% of the passerbys are influences to look up (more than double the amount).
What does this mean? It means that individuals alone are not as influential as you might think, groups are far more influential. Keep in mind we’re not talking about influence on a one-to-one basis here. So what happens in the case of Chris Brogan (or any other “influencer”)? They create content, groups of people then see that content and start to share it around. On twitter for example I rarely click on a link that Chris shares, however I follow a few people that follow Chris, and when the people I follow all start to share Chris’s content then I get interested and click on it (I usually click on it only after I see several people share it). So I’m not influenced to act by Chris as much as I’m influenced to act by the group of people that are all “looking up.” I would argue the same for a lot of other “influencers” such as Scoble, Guy Kawasaki, “insert name here.”
Chris is able to influence his core community which probably consists of a handful of people. However, those people are connected to hundreds of thousands of other people on the web with only a few degrees of separation. When those people start to share and propagate content that Chris creates, then their connections start to see that content eventually as well. It’s almost like throwing a rock in a pond, those closest to the center are the most affected by the the ripples, depending on how big the rock is, the ripples can either fade quickly or expand to cover a large area. Chris is the guy throwing in the rock.
There are a lot of theories and explanations for influence; I don’t consider there to be a right or a wrong answer; just something to think about. When large brands are looking to reach out to folks such as Chris Brogan, what they are really saying is “throw this rock in the pond for us.” We also need to remember that reach does not equal influence.
Curious to hear all of your thoughts on influence. It’s an interesting topic!