Social influence is earned (and learned)
Access is meaningless without influence. What will we do once we've gained access to effect the outcomes we desire? If we don’t know, or if we make the wrong choices after access, we risk losing everything we've worked for. It’s a question to ask long before being let in. Equally important is the fact that social influence can be used to unlock doors we’ve finally reached, like Ali Baba’s magic words, “open sesame,” at the mouth of the cave of treasures. Influence helps us get there, and allows us to get things done when we’ve arrived.
Social media can be used to cultivate influence more easily than ever before. Gone are the days when only published authors and industry leaders can generate media coverage. It’s no longer necessary to know a company decision maker to be seriously considered as a vendor, or job candidate. Using our social content (tweets, blog posts, etc.) to establish expertise shows the people we want to influence that we know what we’re talking about. The following and activity we generate along the way as our ideas spread and our networks grow shows them that other people are listening to us, and many are like them (this idea is called “social proof”). Tweets are taking the place of long-form testimonials and references, and follower count, blog subscribers and Klout scores are being used—often mistakenly—as a proxy for the amount of cachet one has earned.
All of this has a powerful democratizing effect on the accumulation and distribution of influence. Influence is no longer reserved for the elite, or the longtime insider. The scope of who we trust to inform our views and decisions is massively wider than it once was, for both consumers and businesses. Companies are using crowdsourcing and direct consumer feedback to design their next product lines. People are getting their news from non-traditional outlets like Gawker, Slate and Salon. We’re ditching our cable boxes for the universe of content the Web offers us instantly.
This democratization of influence has led to a diffusion of power, and the number of entities we’re competing against for influence has grown just as fast as the social Web. The playing field between the average person and traditional media outlets may be leveling, but more and more players are entering the stadium every day.
One of the biggest mistakes in influence generation stems from the truism, “Content is king.” If content is king, why do so many great blogs go unread? Why do some of the cleverest tweets come from people with tiny followings? Because content needs a constantly-growing delivery network to spread and reach the people we want to influence. Expertise needs an audience if it’s ever to be converted into influence.
As my friend Brian Solis has written, the true king is context, not content. Spend too much time crafting content, and not enough time architecting the context in which it will thrive—your network—and your influence will stagnate. Find the right balance, and your influence will soar.
One’s social footprint can certainly inhibit success, and employers are turning to social background checks to dig up inappropriate behavior when screening applicants. But more and more, just having a large and influential social footprint can open doors, and not just in job-seeking. Event promoters are now offering exclusive VIP admission—even full-ride travel and hotel stays—to those with enough social influence in their parties’ niche. Often these influencers are chosen based on their Klout scores, an algorithmically-generated ranking that approximates one’s social influence. In a comment on my blog, Klout CEO Joe Fernandez described his company’s perspective:
We see our data as a way to augment or balance the “human touch” that will always be needed to identify influencers.
Implicitly or explicitly, influencers are being regaled with gifts and access for one reason above all others. Brands are hoping they will use their influence to spread positive word of mouth about their products and services. Social influence is now monetizeable, exchangeable for what we’re really after. This is a power that we’re only beginning to realize we possess. Employers are already starting to ask applicants for their Twitter follower counts, and some job seekers are actually being screened out for not having “enough." Our social footprints are now our books of business, and are soon to be taken as seriously. Noah Kravitz found this out the hard way when his former employer, Phonedog.com, sued him for $340,000—their estimation of the total value of the 17,000 Twitter followers he had when he quit (supposedly “on good terms”). As of writing, the case is ongoing. No matter the verdict, it’s a serious testament to the perceived value of social influence.