The Value Of Influence

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Who is an influencer? What value does an influencer have on your business? How does one become an influencer?

The concept of "influencer" was always a hot topic in our world. The concept has, practically, exploded in popularity because of Social Media. Prior to the openness and transparency of the Web and prior to having these many free publishing tools and platforms where ideas (from anybody, anywhere) can be put out into the world and spread for free, an influencer had to be built, managed and worked on slowly over time. In a world where anyone with a "publish" or "like" button can become an influencer, it’s becoming increasingly more important for us (as Marketers and businesspeople) to go back and re-visit the definition of "influencer" and it’s role in our society.

Tipping the tipping point.

Fast Company Magazine is currently running an online initiative called, The Influence Project. Because this program is backed by the brand Fast Company, you can rest assured that many people are participating (and even trying to game the system) – who wouldn’t want to update their bio or profile with a line like, "Fast Company called Mitch Joel one of the top online influencers in the world"? In a world of easy clicks and cheap like buttons, does it really mean something if you can get a mass amount of people to click on something as a vote of confidence for you? That’s the bigger question that Amber Naslund over at the Brass Tack Thinking Blog has been asking. Her post, How Fast Company Confused Ego with Influence, is an amazing read/rant (and the close to 300 comments are also worth your time and attention). Beyond the semantics of the debate, the real question still remains: what defines an influencer?

It has to be more than clicks… or does it?

If someone can get somebody else to click on a link, does that mean that they are influential? The better question might be: if someone can get somebody else to click on a link, does that mean that they have influence? And while that may come off as semantics, it may be important to recognize that just because someone can influence some kind of outcome, it doesn’t mean that they are, necessarily, regarded as influential on a global scale. Perhaps in the democratization of the media, we are also changing our own globally perceived definitions to be something other than what we are accustomed to. In that, is it possible that using our old model of what constitutes an influencer in these new media channels is where the friction lies?

Back to the clicks.

In the old days (pre-Social Web), getting somebody to take action might have given you the title of influencer, but maybe in a world of retweets, Facebook status updates and text messaging, the true (or one of the better) metrics of influencer might not be in how many clicks you can muster up, but if you can get those people who are clicking to get their entire social network to take action? I like what the people over at Klout are doing in terms of measuring people on Twitter. That being said, we may have to agree that even our definition of "influencer" might be a moving target – one that evolves and mutates based off of the business objectives and needs.

Perhaps we are at a new moment in time where it’s not about one big tipping point or chasm crossing, but rather a bunch of mini tipping points and small hurdle hoppings as we redefine our definitions in a world where every human being can have significant influence and become an influencer?

(The conversation on influencers continued over on the Media Bullseye podcast where host Jen Zingsheim and Bryan Person invited me in on the discussion. You can take a listen to the audio Podcast right here: Radio Roundtable: All about influence — Mitch Joel visits the Roundtable).


  1. I like your thought process Mitch and glad to see you’re associated to Bryan. To one of your last points about “you can get those people who are clicking to get their entire social network to take action,” I’d offer a couple thoughts:
    1) The Ripple Effect is very pertinent in that you not only affect primary layer of people, but also those who are 2, 3, 4 degrees away.
    2) Action – While many of these projects take the easy route, analyzing clicks; conversion can add value to influence by means of purchase, downloading, donating, etc.
    3) True Reach – Klout has an interesting way it measure this and even though you may have 10,000 followers, your signal may only be reaching 500. Being an influencer means people are actively awaiting your next thought and you’re in some way adding value to their network.
    How they decide to redistribute that value seems to be that influence tracking challenge.
    Great post, made me think at 9pm on a Friday night.

  2. I’ve always thought that being an influencer had more meaning than how many people you can ultimately get to click on a link. For example, I think it’s powerful when you get people to participate: To comment on a blog for example. Even more amazing when some comes back to you and says “I tried xyz product based on your review of it.” That’s rare I think. But since some of these things are so hard to really measure, we rely on Klout or Edelman tweetlevel to give us some little hint of who is an influencer – Especially for those of us who are not connected with influencers already! And I really like what you said at the end: I think it is like chasing a moving target.

  3. Read this.
    Is that influence?
    I liked the interesting treatment on “influence” and its subsequent though mostly unmentioned utility for commercial purposes. Very enlightening, yet somewhat limited.
    I consider Mitch Joel influential on how my thought processes evolve as he was recommended by another person I considered to be influential, Jay Berkowitz. There are however, limits to how much I would let Mitch influence me, some factors of which are beyond his and maybe even my own control.
    Will I click a link if he asks me to? Only if it’s within my interest at a given time.
    Will I check out his links when he says “Check out these blogs?”
    Maybe I will, when I see something very compelling and something that has meaning for me.
    Influence is dynamic.
    That said, we’d have to consider why one wants influence in the first place. That friction you described above, applies in some instances and does not in others.
    Where your motivations are commercial in nature, and where simple clicks generate revenue – that definition would suffice.
    If your motivations are beyond commercial in nature and if your desire is to compel people to do something they would otherwise NOT do.
    That for me, is influence.

  4. Everyone is wrong about influence, and I wrote two posts to explain why, including a review on Klout prior to the FC project wildfire, etc. Not as sexy as talking about egos and such 😉

  5. First, thanks again for coming on the show and sharing your thoughts with Bryan and me. I’ve continued to turn this over in my mind, and I’ve come to the conclusion that influence is so multi-dimensional that there is likely no single definition. My mom is hugely influential–if one defines influence as the ability to persuade and/or act on something. Celebrities: not so much. But it’s also categorized–I’d take my mom’s recommendation on which yoga mat to buy, book to read, or which hotel to stay at when we visit them in Arizona. But I wouldn’t take her recommendation on a technology purchase, as she has no interest or experience in using such products. In fact, for that example I’m probably more likely to influence her decision than the reverse.
    So, who is the influencer? We both are, depending on what’s under consideration, and for the simple reason that boils down to trust.
    There’s also a sliding scale of trial versus cost. The best example I can think of is Oprah’s “Favorite Things” show (she might not do these anymore). It used to be that anything that made her list would fly off the shelves. But for me, there was a definite cost consideration. Will I try a $15 face cream or nail polish that she recommends? Possibly. But will I buy the $6K refrigerator with a built-in TV? Not a chance. So there’s a price point somewhere in my brain (it’s pretty low) that after one of her recommendations passes it, she isn’t influential. The higher the dollar figure, the more likely I am to trust only those I know personally, or my own research.
    I think all of this is interesting and of course is important to those of us in the marketing/PR/Communications space. I’ll continue to watch the Fast Company project with interest.

  6. Great questions, Mitch. I’ll admit to being more than a little surprised by the Fast Company project – by and large, their articles and coverage of how networked communication is changing business and society have been a lot smarter than this would suggest. (Some part of me hopes that it’s actually part of a far more sophisticated covert experiment. Something involving aliens laughing at our expense.)
    I’ve created my own link, but since I figure I’m much better at getting people not to do things than getting them to do things, I’ll measure my influence based on the number of people who don’t click on it.

  7. It could simply be a good game of linkbait too. Pump up pageviews, Twitter chatter, etc… this is one “article” that is now getting tons of PR and attention. That could (and probably is) the real “experiment” – and we’re all playing right into it 😉

  8. I’m quite new to all this and such posts really helps me to get the point and make my ideas straight. Indeed, being influential doesn’t mean just making people click the links, the process is much more difficult. Basically, to me this is a very fragile and complex ecosystem, and it would take me a while to become sensitive enough to be influential (needless to say, that can mean the difference between success and failure). Thanks for the post!

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