Here's a Monday mind-stretcher on “influence” — what is it, who has it, can “influencers” be influenced?

For many nonprofits, especially those in the advocacy business, communication strategies include an element of targeting “influentials.” As the theory goes, certain individuals carry disproportionate weight in terms of their natural inclination and ability to influence others. If you can reach and persuade and leverage them, you've taken a huge step toward propagating your message (or brand or product).

I subscribe 1000% to this theory.

In the old days, pre-Internet, communicators aiming, for example, at public policy influencers could use a relatively finite number of media outlets to reach them, starting with, say, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN. Other media took their cues from these outlets, to say nothing of the fact that the influentials themselves were focused on them.

Nowadays, it's not so clear that the derisively-termed “mainstream media” (MSM) are quite so potent. Many other voices, bloggers included, have arisen on the internet to challenge the MSM for influence and thought leadership. Indeed, the unique online form of using a few missionaries to trigger mass response to a message (or product or brand) has its own name … viral marketing.

Some in the online world assert that these days everyone is a potential influential. No mediators, no authoritative voices are required. All that matters is the inherent quality, distinctiveness, etc. of the basic idea or product. Seth Godin would say so.

I don't believe that's entirely true. Sure, the internet facilitates the spread of stuff. And even more important, yes, the “stuff” needs to be truly REMARK-able. But imbedded in human nature are qualities that make some folks leaders and some followers. And it still pays to target and leverage the leaders.

Here from Max Kalehoff at Online Spin is an interesting discussion of the topic as it relates specifically to “who has online influence … is there such a thing.”

The article poses interesting questions. But I'm surprised at the apparent lack of awareness of the extensive literature on the subject. Another example of how “experts” in the online arena seem time and again totally ignorant of the findings others have made before them.

We haven't quite yet imbedded micro-computers in our bodies to enrich our perceptual abilities and thereby our behavioral responses … though such experiments are indeed underway.

Until then, quite a bit of old-fashioned sociological and psychological research is still relevant.

If you're interested in the subject of “influence,” here are some recommended readings …

  • The Influentials, Ed Keller & Jon Berry
  • Changing Minds, Howard Gardner
  • Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
  • Unleashing the Ideavirus, Seth Godin

Amend the theory to suit yourself; but you can't go wrong studying influence.

Tom

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