Understanding Influence; the Chris Brogan Affect |

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Understanding Influence; the Chris Brogan Affect


Posted by on September 26, 2009

Drop of water

Influence has been quite a hot topic in the social media and as someone who has a degree in psychology (and business) I too find this topic quite interesting.  I’m not saying I’m an influence expert but I still enjoy the discussions and debates around the space.  We focus a lot on individual influencer, in fact we focus on them too much.  Companies are always trying to find the “influencers” in their community, the folks with the greatest reach and the strongest pull.  The truth is that we also need to be focusing on influencers as a group of people and not just as individuals.

I should warn everyone that I’ve been reading a book called “Connected” recently by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler that is all about the power of our social networks and how they influence our lives (that is where the idea for this post came from).  Let’s take Chris Brogan as an example, a lot of people consider him to be an influencer and a lot of folks reach out to him to help him promote a product or service, why?  Before you answer that let me introduce you to Stanley Milgram; a famous psychologist.  Stanley ran a few experiments and found that if one person looks up at something that he can he can then influence 42% of passerbys to look up as well.  Stanley also found that if 15 people look up at something that 86% of the passerbys are influences to look up (more than double the amount).

What does this mean?  It means that individuals alone are not as influential as you might think, groups are far more influential.  Keep in mind we’re not talking about influence on a one-to-one basis here.  So what happens in the case of Chris Brogan (or any other “influencer”)?  They create content, groups of people then see that content and start to share it around.  On twitter for example I rarely click on a link that Chris shares, however I follow a few people that follow Chris, and when the people I follow all start to share Chris’s content then I get interested and click on it (I usually click on it only after I see several people share it).  So I’m not influenced to act by Chris as much as  I’m influenced to act by the group of people that are all “looking up.”  I would argue the same for a lot of other “influencers” such as Scoble, Guy Kawasaki, “insert name here.”

Chris is able to influence his core community which probably consists of a handful of people.  However, those people are connected to hundreds of thousands of other people on the web with only a few degrees of separation.  When those people start to share and propagate content that Chris creates, then their connections start to see that content eventually as well.  It’s almost like throwing a rock in a pond, those closest to the center are the most affected by the the ripples, depending on how big the rock is, the ripples can either fade quickly or expand to cover a large area.  Chris is the guy throwing in the rock.

There are a lot of theories and explanations for influence; I don’t consider there to be a right or a wrong answer; just something to think about.  When large brands are looking to reach out to folks such as Chris Brogan, what they are really saying is “throw this rock in the pond for us.”  We also need to remember that reach does not equal influence.

Curious to hear all of your thoughts on influence.  It’s an interesting topic!

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  • http://www.seldomseenkid.co.uk geetarchurchy

    When i was younger, my Dad and I used to play a game where we'd be walking along, be it on the street or through the park then stop and look at nothing, but appear to be looking in the distance, just to see how much of a crowd would come and look at nothing with us.

    The fun part of course was then walking of when a big enough crowd had come and then passing it again 15 minutes later to see several people still milling around, looking at nothing.

    I figure what brands have got to be careful of is trying to identify influencers based on how many people have gathered round them, even though essentially they're really looking at nothing.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

      haha my grandfather would play little jokes like that on me. definitely agree, influence is not the same as reach.

  • lewishowes

    Jacob,

    Good stuff to consider in this article. You talk a lot about social proof (although you didn't phrase it like that) but basically this is one of the 6 principles to influence anyone to buy a product, sign a client, enroll in your services, vote for you, etc…

    If we walk into a store and see 20 people grabbing a certain product…. in amazement over it, talking about it, and eventually purchasing it… we are more likely to buy it ourselves (even if we have no clue what it is) based off of social proof alone.

    Groups of people doing something is much more powerful than 1 individual (I agree with you on that) and thats why people put up a lot of testimonials or social proof of the clients they work with on their website, because it influences others to take a certain action they are looking for.

    Good stuff in this article… its worth a good conversation.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

      Thanks Lewis,

      Good store example. What's funny is that in the example with Stanley Milgram there was a saturation point so eventually just because you add more people doesn't mean the group as a whole becomes more effective. It's really an interesting space with some great research.

      thanks for stopping by

      Jacob

  • mikeunderell

    Jacob,

    I like what you're talking about, and I even referenced that same experiment in a paper I wrote last year :)

    A question jumped out at me while reading through this article though, and that is: do companies really just focus on one single influencer? If so, I would be worried because they should be focusing on many. So, continuing using Chris Brogan as an example, while he may remain an expert in his particular field it may not be enough for a consumer to buy a product given his singular endorsement. But if a company were to get in contact with Chris Brogan, along with many other experts, then their endorsements as a whole might be enough to push consumers to purchase the product.

    So while reach does not necessarily equal influence, if a company can get Chris Brogan to endorse their product along with other known influencers, then I would indeed say that results in influence.

    I would conclude by saying that I do think Chris has influence, but is it enough to make a person buy a product? Possibly not. But if a company only focuses on one influencer, then that is a problem with that company's strategy and less to do with Chris' influence.

    Thanks for creating this post! It is definitely an interesting topic.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

      Howdy Mike,

      I think a person's influence is far smaller then their reach. So Chris may be able to influence a few folks but his reach can get out to to tens of thousands of other folks, those folks in turn use THEIR influence to get people to take some sort of desired action; it's a ripple affect. I'm sure some companies out there do go after several bloggers or “influencers” in a particular space, but I also think that many companies still believe that “he who has the most friends wins,” and that's just not the case.

      Thanks for stopping by Mike!

  • sabrinaespinal

    Couldn't almost anyone become a person of influence on Twitter as we all are probably a few degrees of separation? It would be very interesting to see a few “retweet” experiments and see how far they really reach. Very thought provoking and powerful…and maybe a little scary.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

      Yep, I agree. If I were a bit more of a scientist I'd love to put an experiment together, hopefully someone else can do it :)

  • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

    Yep, I agree. If I were a bit more of a scientist I'd love to put an experiment together, hopefully someone else can do it :)

  • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

    Howdy Mike,

    I think a person's influence is far smaller then their reach. So Chris may be able to influence a few folks but his reach can get out to to tens of thousands of other folks, those folks in turn use THEIR influence to get people to take some sort of desired action; it's a ripple affect. I'm sure some companies out there do go after several bloggers or “influencers” in a particular space, but I also think that many companies still believe that “he who has the most friends wins,” and that's just not the case.

    Thanks for stopping by Mike!

  • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

    haha my grandfather would play little jokes like that on me. definitely agree, influence is not the same as reach.

  • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

    Thanks Lewis,

    Good store example. What's funny is that in the example with Stanley Milgram there was a saturation point so eventually just because you add more people doesn't mean the group as a whole becomes more effective. It's really an interesting space with some great research.

    thanks for stopping by

    Jacob


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