Update and new ideas on influence

Lomographized eye from Flickr User, Jen's Art & SoulOnce again, I’ve been flat out in recent weeks preparing for the imminent launch of HiBROW, the arts experiences site and company for which I am Chief Operating Officer, as well as preparing presentations and fulfilling client contracts.  I’ll be away next week in Sweden for the MyNewsDesk events across three cities, and after that I’m hoping to get down to Exeter for this year’s Like Minds event.  I also have plans to be in Singapore and Australia later in the year as well as to launch HiBROW, so it’s a busy time.

But a new research and practice focus for me is on the generalisability of influence scoring.  While my experiment on Klout and Peer Index scores is ongoing, I’m also evaluating newer tools – such as PeopleBrowsr – and other influence grading tools for their reliability as well as their true impact.

The trouble with influence is that it’s not something you can assume is either constant, or robust enough to bear changes in behaviour or audience size.  While a lot of influence scoring tools do measure audience reach (a metric based on followers and engagement with one’s content), there is a weakness in some measurement tools in assuming that high influence can be sustained if reach is expanded.  It’s a serious flaw; sometimes the reason why an individual is influential in a small group is because they are useful and produce interesting content, ideas or creative projects for that group.  Normalising their creative production process so that it can be accessible beyond their traditional audience base (increased reach) can actually reduce overall influence, because the traditional audience is either alienated, or no longer sufficiently satisfied with what they had previously regarded as specialised content output.  So when considering the potential influence of any individual online, it is dangerous to assume that even subtle changes in content production or audience exposure will necessarily result in maintenance or expansion of influence.  It’s also problematic to assume that in ‘scoring’ influence you are doing anything other than capturing sentiment for a moment in time.  Influence is as much temporal as it is driven by content creation and specialisation, and audience makeup and communication.

While the value of engaging influencers is now fairly clear – subject expertise and network access provides for any organisation an opportunity to effectively crowdsource process and production improvements – the amorphous and somewhat elusive attributes of influence have not been adequately explored.  I plan to spend some time in coming months focusing on how best to work with influence and how previous research on communities can be applied to influence to predict patterns of infleunce change over time.

I’m still convinced that any kind of measurement of influence is ultimately flawed – there are too many factors that can compromise influence building programmes, and too many subtle and unquantifiable reasons why an individual may develop influence in a network.  But as there is so much attention on influence as a vector for marketing activity as well as product design and operational improvements in a firm, I figure I’m obliged as a commentator in the area to at least try to scope the attributes of influence, and to evaluate the integrity of any programmes based on influence.

Stay tuned…


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