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The Age of Influence

September 13, 2010

In the 20th century we were taught to be passive consumers. We sat through commercials on TV, flipped past ads in magazines and newspapers, and listened stoically as the radio dispensed advertising between sets of pop music. Advertising, media – it all focused on someone telling us something,  and us happily, obligingly eating it up. Today’s consumers, led by the Millennials, are different. (Rebekah Monson wrote an insightful and poignant post on Millenials here.) Today’s consumer is more active. Still sitting on the couch, maybe, but actively pursuing, monitoring, and filtering content for personal consumption. They are harder to sell. What’s their trigger? Showing how much they know. They give away assistance. Their currency is reputation. Their currency is influence.

Measuring Influence

Influence is not a popularity contest. Having 10,000 followers on Twitter doesn’t necessarily make you more influential than someone with 500 followers. Influence is more complex. Are you a thought leader? That helps. Do you engage your audience? That helps as well.

There are dozens of tools that attempt to measure influence: KloutTwitalyzer, and TweetLevel, to name a few.  They attempt to quantify qualities which include “reach”, “engagement”, ”popularity”, and “trust”.

In their new book Empowered, Forrester analysts Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler identify what they call Mass Connectors and Mass Mavens – individuals who appear to have influence because of their ability to connect with others and create and give away compelling content.

Crowdsourcing

The key value of influence is your ability to solicit collaboration. That’s the work model of the 21st century.

The 21st century worker is a collaborator. She wants to help and be a part of something. IT professionals have often gone to Experts Exchange for help with particularly challenging hardware or software issues. “Experts” fall over themselves to answer questions on the forums. Why? To earn “points” and free services. To earn reputation. To earn influence.

Jeremiah Oywang (@jowyang) asks a question on Twitter and gets hundreds of volunteer responses. True, he has to cull responses to find what he needs, but his audience is self-selected as already being a) interested in what he has to say and b) likely to have some expertise in his areas of concentration.

It’s called crowdsourcing. As Jeff Howe put it back in 2006, it’s “everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R&D.”

Corporate R&D? Sure. There’s a concept in R&D called “Beta Testing” where a company releases a “near production” version of their product to a limited group to work out the kinks. It’s become so popular that is has become a form of crowdsourcing. Tom Fishburne lampoons this nicely, discussing products as being “always in beta”.

Herding Cats

It’s clear attempting to manipulate the needs and desires of the 21st Century consumer is a complex prospect. In a recent #custserv chat on Twitter, Roy Atkinson used the term “herding cats” as he attempted to reign in the chaos of the boisterous and eager participants. This term most aptly describes 21st Century marketing. Consumers are active. They have access to more information than at any other time. They are finicky and demanding. If they don’t like something they have the ability to shout it out with the largest megaphone in history.

Whether you’re an employee or employer, business or entrepreneur, understanding influence is a critical success factor in the 21st Century.

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