The Hidden Side of Influence

Architecting Better Data-driven Digital Experiences

The Hidden Side of Influence

A simple definition for an “influencer” is someone who has the leverage required to drive an outcome. Very often that leverage is held in the form of information. In the web2.0 world, information-driven influence is frequently understood as the extent to which information can be made public by any single source, that is, the “information network” or “reach” of that source of information. This trend is illustrated recently by stories about the use of the Klout service to determine VIP guests at the Palm in Las Vegas, and the buzz about the new “Hashable” application.

Many definitions of influence leave off here – essentially making “influence” equivalent to “reach”, and overlooking other fundamental variables in the influence equation, the information and the informant. Simply having the capability to reach people’s ears is useless if you are not credible and/or have nothing helpful or useful to say.

In digital influencer strategy, the “influencer” has a large digital network and can reach many eyes – but they only matter to the social CRM or influence marketing team if they can also make credible positive or negative claims about the company’s product or services such that people would potentially change their behaviors after encountering these claims.

In other words, in addition to a capability to be heard, influence also requires the possession of credibility and useful information, i.e. information that could help determine an outcome, or that anticipates an outcome in advance of its occurrence.

Consider pop-culture’s representation of influencers. Some images that come to mind are of secret societies in a Dan Brown novel, of closed-door meetings in smoke-filled back rooms (or in a San Francisco restaurant), a special handshake an Ivy League club as admission to the “old-boy network”, etc, etc. As consumers of culture, we are fascinated with conspiracies. In this view, what makes an influencer is not at all how broadly they can share information but rather the fact that some special  information is not broadly available but confined to a select few.

This reveals the other side of the influence coin; while the capability to share a useful perspective broadly does connote a form of influence, the possession of useful information that is not broadly shared, and the capability to keep it from being shared, is also a form of influence. It is this form of influence that prompted two interviewees to reply to Ben Popper’s New York Observer article about Hashable with the wholly pragmatic position that they would not share information on Hashable that would “tip others off to sensitive investment plans”.

These two sides of the influence coin can be considered as the ‘power of visibility’ and the ‘power of privacy’. The ‘power of privacy’ establishes an asymmetric condition, in which one party has influence over outcomes because a piece of information that could impact both parties is hidden from one to the advantage or benefit of the other. The ‘power of visibility’ on the other hand establishes a symmetric condition in which both parties share the same information about an outcome. However, the fact that both parties share the same information does not mean that both share the same benefit. While influence through the “power of visibility” can come from providing information that creates mutual benefit (the “influence” of “influencer marketing” where a person who has benefitted shares information about those benefits with others), it can also come from providing information that exposes the withholding of benefit and thus ultimately redistributes the benefit. The latter is the “influence” that Social CRM/support addresses in engaging those whose sharing of information about perceived inequities (unmet brand/product promises or expectations) shifts power from the company (who would benefit if the complaints about product issues or unmet expectations were private) to the consumer who benefits (or avoids harm) through the public nature of the complaints.

Many analytics companies are seeking to define “online influence” with a single definition. However, as illustrated here, even setting aside the differences of influence based in the “power of privacy” versus those based in the “power of visibility”, the nature of influence based in the power of visibility will depend on whether the source of information is valued because of its unique credibility and capability to reach desired groups (as in influence marketing, where an individual voice is amplified by virtue of established credibility) or because it adds one more voice to a collective perspective on a product or service which may shape subsequent individual perspectives (as in social CRM, wherein being part of a collection of opinion amplifies the influence of each individual, regardless of their individual credibility). Recognizing that not all online influence stems from the same source is critical for firms wishing to engage their online influencers through influence marketing and social CRM.

One Response

  1. […] impressions would understand influence to be that capability to generate impressions.Of course, as I have written about before, real influence is the ability to generate behaviors and outcomes, and no one has yet show a clear […]

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