Who influences you? Why do they influence you? Do you trust them? Are they a close friend? An expert? A trusted advisor?
Do they command a team? Do they have authority?
All good questions to ask when trying to spot someone who may be influential - realise none of these questions have anything to do with how many followers they have on twitter or how many people read their blog.
The influence game is a complex and much misunderstood one, particularly when it comes to the social media world. It’s important to understand from the outset that lots of big numbers may not mean a big influence. So how do we determine who is the linchpin? Who is the real person starting and guiding conversations online? Who should we sit up and listen to?
The Weapons of Influence
Despite there being no hard and fast rule to who may or may not be influential there are some traits that are worth looking out for.
In Robert B. Cialdini’s book “The Psychology of Influence” he identifies the 6 “Weapons of influence” which are implemented by all sorts of influence practitioners - from car salesmen to Tupperware party hosts to the Chinese Army during the Korean war. Below is an out line of “the weapons” and how you can spot them being used in social media
This is the old give and take - I give you something you give me something in return. We give you a free pen for applying, you consider taking the life insurance, we give you a free holiday - you think about taking the time share. You get the picture.
- Seen online in the likes of link swapping, guest posts and quotes
Commitment & Consistency
I call this “The Newspaper Effect” - Why are newspapers seen as trusted (well some of them?!). Because they are reliable - every morning, same style, same headers, similar sections. We value consistency and see it as a factor of influence.
- Best seen online in the form of regular themes, competitions and regularity (i.e. daily posts, frequencies of tweets etc).
When you see that line forming outside the Apple Store. When there is a guest list to get in the club. The little white earbuds trailing from every bobbing head on the tube. This is social proof. By the fact that everyone else is doing it we are lead to think it is the right thing to do.
- This works very well online - because this is where numbers do count. It looks like how many re-tweets, subscribers, followers, fans, likes or sponsors a potential influencer has.
If you have ever had a family member join a pyramid scheme and try and sell you a stake in it you will know that feeling of unease - you like them - there is a feeling of obligation. This is the premise that Body Shop / Avon / Better-ware parties thrives on - a friend invites you round for some canapés to try out some products and despite all your best intentions you always go home with something. Why? Because liking someone changes our perception.
- This is hard to replicate online but is best seen in well written “About Me” or biog sections on social profiles and photos of the author. It gives us a feeling of knowing the influencer.
The weapon of authority is one of the hardest to wield - because it requires the most effort. Authority is the weapon of the expert, it’s the real world, offline stuff that counts. Who you are, what you do, and most importantly how well you do it. True expertise is hard to quantify but fairly easy to spot.
- Look for credentials, Linkedin Profiles, high scores on influence engines like Klout and large networks or other high ranking individuals.
We all know this one. From petrol to the latest Christmas toy - supply and demand drives economies, and is a fantastic weapon of influence if used correctly. Online however it may take some time to work out whether an influencer is influential because of scarcity.
- Look for blogs / twitter users who blog or tweet on similar subjects. Does the influencer comment on a broad range of issues or are they very niché? If you are the only one out there in the know about a subject that everyone else cares about influence will often follow.
Beware the influence game
Remember - influence online is just the same as influence offline - these two worlds aren’t separate, which is still why traditional journalists, celebrities and experts still hold much of the sway.
The influence game, much like celebrity is game, it can be created and taken away - reputations take a long time to build but can be ruined in an instant. Beware the influence game and don’t just follow the numbers.