Influence: It’s complicated

201102061409.jpg

Image: Streams, emergence – insert your own wry analogy here…

I liked the idea that “Strength of community supersedes influence” laid out in a post by Geoff Livingston.

What the post is saying is that in many ways the community is more important than a singled-out influencer, and yet a lot of effort is expended trying to identify the influencers and then, er, influence them. And I agree with that – the networks are more important to understand, and usually less understood by everyone from media/marketing planners to policy makers.

There is influence in networks, multidirectional influence at that. It is just wrong to boil down influence to being all about influencers. There are people who are important, who can pass on a thought or idea or link to a whole lead of others, but it’s not a a predictable, simple, sustainable thing.

It makes me remember what Duncan Watts said about accidental influencers. Very often someone is made to look influential or are influential within a network because an idea, a thought has started with them.

You influence the networks you join, you are influenced by your networks, by the actions of people you know and don’t. And networks also have a mind of their own, the rule from Connected that chimes with what Geoff is saying.

Thinking about the idea of influencers in that context, it is almost as if networks choose their influencers. Or maybe that influencers are an emergent phenomenon in social networks.

  • http://geofflivingston.com Geoff Livingston

    Thanks, Antony. In a cheeseball way, i am thinking Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, when Spock passed away. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. Good post, thoughtful analysis. Thank you for reading!

  • http://richardstacy.com/ Richard Stacy

    Antony,

    Spot on. Iinfluence without influencers – to which one could add journalism without journalists, expertise without experts, or any form of process without its associated institution. Social media is about the shift in influence and trust from institutions to processes.

    Duncan Watts is right – influence is determined not by who you are (which is fixed), but what you are doing, or what you have to say (which changes). This has implications for business in terms of how you define sources of influence (http://richardstacy.com/2010/12/07/there-are-only-10-people-critical-to-your-business-and-social-media-can-help-you-find-them).

    Also really like your idea about networks choosing their own influencers – the idea shaping the network, rather than the network shaping the idea. A network is a form of distribution and an idea is a form of content. In the past distribution shaped the content, but as I am always fond of saying “social media is about the separation of information from a means of distribution” – content is now the dominant partner. Some pre-formed ideas on this here http://richardstacy.com/2009/09/21/are-social-networks-just-pretty-snowflakes/