Redefining Social Media Influence

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last column on influence would be as timely as it was?  The discussion of influence this week has reached a fever pitch on twitter and the blogosphere, predominantly triggered by a project Fast Company kicked off.  The details of that project aren’t really critical to understanding this article, suffice it to say that its supposed objective was to measure the degree of influence various social media users had and to demonstrate the way that influence was spread, with the premise that everyone would get their picture on the cover of the magazine…in a size relative to how much influence they garnered. Amber Naslund (@ambercadabra), someone I consider a dear friend and confidant, participated and upon discovering that it was essentially a popularity contest felt duped by the process and proceeded to write a blog post to that effect.  As always, it was a well written piece and seems to have really struck a chord based upon the comments received.  While I’m not usually hesitant to express my opinion, a shock I know, I have to admit in this case I went back and forth on whether to write this simply because most of the people I know are not in line with my way of thinking on this.  Sticking my neck out against some of the heavy hitters who have expressed their opinion wasn’t something I was looking forward to. So let’s get something straight right off the bat, I completely agree with Amber’s assessment of how little value I would place on the type of influence that Fast Company is measuring.  And her ideas regarding what could have been done instead to make it more meaningful were spot on and demonstrative of her beliefs that one should look beyond just benefitting themselves.  As far as her feelings about how the project was run are concerned (and the hundreds of people who voiced the same opinion) I concur wholeheartedly. Where I disagree is with the stated notions that popularity, attention, volume, reach, etc. is not a measure of influence.  It may not be a measure of the “type” of influence that I relate to or personally place a lot of value in, but to say that it isn’t influence is to try and redefine the word to meet our own subjective values.  Influence is nothing more than the ability to make someone else think or do something, period.  What is being influenced may be something active such as me telling you what I think and trying to convince you to my point of view, or passive such as a well-known stars particular design sensibilities being picked up by the masses.  At the subjective level it may be deep and meaningful influence (inciting others to greater generosity) or superficial (fashion/styles).  But at the end of the day the purpose or result of reactions, the positivity or negativity of them, does not define whether or not something is considered influence. If Oprah asks you to click on two different links and 1 million people click on each of them, does it matter that one of those links was about self-promotion and the other was about a charity contribution?  I could make the argument that without all of that icky self-promotion she would not have as many followers, and thus not be able to have as many people contribute to charity when she requests it.  Sure, it’s pretty hard to like those people who promote themselves simply for the sake of promotion (vs. for the sake of using influence for the greater good), but we can’t ignore the fact that they still have the ability to be influential. I got the sense that many of the commenters on Amber’s blog post were coming from a perspective of “fairness” vs. one of reality.  No, it’s not fair that there are so many folks out there who *should* be extremely influential and yet aren’t.  It’s not fair that some asshat who cares only for themselves and boosting their ego should be in such an influential position, or be able to game the system so that they are perceived as being more influential than they are.  It’s politics.  It’s narcissism.  It’s reality.  If someone many people would consider “less than smart” is elected to the presidency in what is felt to be an “unfair” manner should we say they are not influential? Why can’t we just be honest and say that there are certain types of influence measurements that are shallow at best?  In short, we can’t use our subjective views about the way something *should* be to redefine the way something *is*.  There is no such thing as “true” or “real” influence.]]>

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