Influence Does Not Equal Popularity

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A year ago, I made the somewhat sensational claim that Klout was the most interesting company in the world. My point was not really about Klout, but about the rising importance of understanding, tracking, and measuring social influence within the organization. It’s a topic that I’ve been writing about for over a decade, and one of the topics around which this blog focused when I started it back in 2002 as I began to catalog the various tools and thought-leaders within the space.

As this blog post title suggests, social influence and popularity are very different things. I often use the example of the highly-technical subject matter expert (SME) within your organization who keeps to his/herself most of the time, but when a problem needs solving or a question arises, this person is where everyone turns for the answers. Here is someone who may not be popular (someone who is socially active, generally extroverted, and liked by many) but is influential within the organization. Popularity can be easy to spot in comparison to influential. That schoolyard definition may not be all-inclusive, but I think we can all agree that we’ve had personal experiences with those who are popular, and with those who are influencers in one topic or another. Arguably, there are different “tiers” of influence, and patterns of influence can change and shift due to organizational structures, available tools (for example, communication capabilities, content publishing, and reporting tools), and roles.

I have not yet come into contact with any single tool or solution that dominates the category of social influence management. Tools like Klout and Kred track certain social networking data points, measured against their proprietary algorithms to provide dashboards to help individuals measure and track influence, but there is not yet industry acceptance of these tools. In fact, there is a lot of skepticism out there about these metrics, and the intent of these companies. I usually tell people that the data at any single point of time is less relevant to what they tell you about the trending information. The fact that I average 73 on Klout is less interesting than the fact that my recent blog post caused a surge of 2 points, where my previous 3 posts may not have moved the needle. It gives me data from which I can better understand why that topic touched a nerve within my network.

For those planning to attend the European SharePoint Conference in Barcelona next month, you may be interested in attending a panel that I am moderating entitled How to Track, Measure, and Get Business Value Out of Social Influence which will include SharePoint MVP and rising gamification expert Jussi Mori (@jussimori), Microsoft Product Marketing Manager Mark Kashman (@mkashman), and social technology expert and CTO of ManyWorlds Naomi Moneypenny (@nmoneypenny), among others. The panel will take place on Wednesday, May 7th at 2pm, and will tackle a number of questions, including:

  • What is the role of social influence within the organization today?
  • How are businesses leveraging social influence today?
  • How do SharePoint and Yammer track, measure, and make actionable your organizational social influence?
  • What do consumer solutions (Klout, Kred, PeerIndex) provide that are missing within the enterprise?

I’m organizing a tweetjam for later this month on the topic, which I plan to leverage for questions and comments for next month’s panel event. It’s a fascinating topic – one which I’ll be writing about extensively this year, and will incorporate into a book project currently underway (details soon). But for those who want to do some further research on this topic, there are a few books that I can recommend:

You may also be interested in a blog post by Rebecca Murphy entitled 10 Vital Steps to Building Social Influence, which begins with a link to a study that shows people do, indeed, consider popularity and influence to be two different things.

What all of this content will tell you – influence is not about popularity. They are two distinctive things. I would describe influence as something that is measurable (although the tools available are rudimentary because the space is still so new) and malleable, while popularity is tenuous and often irrational, based more on emotion than science. As our consumer and enterprise application become more and more connected, the ability to measure and modify (manipulate / change) social influence will become increasingly important to our customer, as well as employee, strategies.

Is there anyone else out there doing research (personally or for work) on this topic? If so, I’d love to connect and share notes, and add you to the panel for this month’s tweetjam. Ping me.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.