Don’t Influence, Connect And Build Trust
Many continue an unhealthy obsession with influence. Except the web isn’t really about influence. It never was. The mere fact so many use influence as jargon of choice to define their web startups which tout ability to show “how important” someone is shows a lack of comprehension of the nature of web communities.
Ask me how important seeking out specific influencers was when building niche-specific blogs to 5-figure subscribers, when creating 6-figure Facebook / platform-specific pages from the ground up and creating viral campaigns that spread 100% organically. Not…at…all.
Rather, I helped those brands connect and build trust with their audiences. And we never tried to use our force or power to manipulate others, as how influence is defined. The notion of influence should probably be thrown out with paid brand ambassadors.
Influence is the antithesis of community
Web community building is hard work. Anyone who says the opposite hasn’t actually built one from the ground up or is lying to you. And if you do have a thriving web community, well you know the work that went into creating it. So would you really risk attrition of your biggest competitive advantage and throw away years of hard work by attempting to covertly influence them?
If your efforts are based purely on trying to influence others or simply court “influential” users you are building your community on a house of cards. Eventually it is going to fall down because your community will see through your efforts.
On the web, it’s not influence – it’s trust
I have read Steve Pavlina’s blog for at least 5 years, if not longer. I’ve also read his book. A few weeks ago I saw him Tweet about a behavioral sciences book that sounded fascinating. Immediately I added it to my Amazon wish-list, and I’ve been reading it ever since (if you’re curious, this is the book). It’s not influence that I decided to purchase it, it’s trust. I trust Steve isn’t going to BS a Tweet about a book being compelling (he didn’t even include a link). Because it hurts his reputation to do so, and trust is not easily repaired. Losing a member of your community who trusts you is extremely detrimental, you might never get them back.
Steve is popular, sure, but the above example of hearing a comment and taking an action has nothing to do with his popularity. I’ve taken similar actions from those who are basically unknown except to a small group of people. And similarly, it isn’t due so much to a direct prompt, but rather an emotional response from the person that naturally emerged combined with the fact the person was trusted on a subject. That’s qualitative and not really measurable through a score because it is not so simple to know the nature of our connection.
It’s actually not even useful. Too granular, why would you bother yourself with trying to figure out if someone is influential? If they want to connect with you, they are important, you don’t need a score to tell you that. Also if you’re building a community, you should take the time to know who your community is made up of and not rely on a tool to try and spit out a metric about a person. Be data driven, absolutely, but focus on the critical few metrics and get qualitative feedback where needed, don’t try and fit everything into quantitative. I am still struggling to find a case where something like an influence score could be considered part of the critical few quantitative metrics. There are so many more important, useful, actionable datapoints to trend.
The connotations of influence are wrong
Influence has connotations of exerting force over others. There is nothing “social” about influence, and in fact groups will rally against such motives. If you wake up everyday and start your social media marketing by thinking about how you plan to influence users you’re basically trying to take but not give. And it is unlikely this approach will ever lead to increasing returns.
Forget finding specific influentials, find real people and connect
Those who are the most influential usually are willing to help your brand the least. Don’t ignore those who are actively seeking to connect with you in favor of those who seem to have greater sway. It’s backwards to do this anyway. Because to some extent, the most influential people want to promote things that already are popular and have social proofing behind them. By building a close, interested community you create the right environment that influentials will come to you anyway.
Influence at scale dies with Oprah
Oprah was influential, and exerted her influence very directly. But I don’t trust Oprah. I’ve never spoken with her. I haven’t been exposed to her raw, unfiltered and unscripted feed of thoughts. Do you really trust those with the level of influence as Oprah?
For me, the difference between Oprah and Steve is trust. But it actually goes deeper than that. It’s the difference between direct, conscious influence and merely sharing ideas due to passion and not anticipating an action would be taken. Oprah knows an action will be taken. It is conscious and while influential there is no way for us to seriously trust it. It’s not that Oprah is disingenuous, we just can’t possibly connect with someone at that sort of scale. Steve’s scale is more workable to build trust.
There won’t be more like Oprah. She was the peak product of a mass media society, but in our fragmented media society the notion of Oprah is a dinosaur. Everyone isn’t praying to the same media deity any longer, people are organizing themselves around each other. We have to change our notion of influence because it now happens at the micro level and not the macro level.
Research backs this up:
And, of course, the most damning point on all of these attempts to declare certain individuals as “influencers” is the research — already a few years old — that suggests the people who are declared as “influentials” may not really have that much influence. That is, people are most often influenced by people who they really know personally, rather than someone who is “famous” in some form or another. Now I do wonder if that’s changing over time, and many people point out that Twitter and Facebook and the like often do make it feel like you get to “know” other people who you might not really know in real life, but it seems like in this rush to “grade” who is influential and who is not, we may have missed out on the fact that influence doesn’t work like that…
Yes, connecting takes work, and that’s the point
To give a personal example, I put a lot of time into connections with friends like John Boitnott, Louis Gray or Eric Friedman. If they ever asked me for something, I’d be willing to do it. They’ve gone beyond people I’ve merely connected with due to a shared interest and crossed over into being friends I very much trust.
Your community building should not be much different from that, and I know that’s hard to grasp but when done right it is very personal. Build connections and trust with those that matter. And the funny thing is, by focusing on less but higher quality connections you position yourself far better for growth than unartfully trying to persuade over-tapped influencers to get a flirting glimpse in front of their audience. This way, you make genuine connections that go beyond chasing shiny objects that don’t actually help.
No, this isn’t easy.
Yes, this is different than typical campaign-thinking marketing.
And that’s exactly why you should try it.