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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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The dimensions of influence

I recently discovered that I had made the inaugural version of The Br200 – Brand Republic’s list of the web’s most influential bloggers. Leaving aside the fact that it is a) industry specific and b) English language, it is still an achievement I’m surprised at and proud of. As more blogs get submitted, I’ll inevitably slide down the list to somewhere approximating my Ad Age Power 150 position, and so I’ve taken a screen grab to prove I once reached the giddy heights of 113.

The Brand Republic top 200 influential bloggers

There are a couple of reasons for my surprise.

Firstly, I’ve never considered myself as influential. I’ve always been open with saying that I started this blog primarily to formalise my own thoughts. The feedback I’ve received and connections I’ve made as a result have been very gratifying, but this wasn’t what I set out to achieve.

The second – and more important element – is the nature of influence and what it actually means.

Wiktionary defines it as “the power to affect, control or manipulate something or someone”.

It may be me being semantically pedantic, but I don’t agree with this. Outside of mind control, it isn’t possible. David Armano has his six pillars of influence but these still require receptive agents. And ultimately, people are autonomous. They can choose to be influenced, but I can’t automatically influence them.

As such, influence has to be derived, rather than measured directly. If ten people have been influenced by me, that can be converted to saying that I have influenced ten people. But it cannot be initially assumed that I am an influencer of ten people.

This leads onto the major question within this blog post – what is influence?

It is a tricky area.

One company that has done a lot in this area is Klout. I’ve read various discussions (notably the Bieber furore) where they have been very open in saying it is still a work in progress. I agree. For instance, being labelled a “celebrity” while having a Klout score of 41 seems somewhat contradictory. But can the definitions ever get adequately resolved?

I consider there to be five distinct dimensions of influence, which can be combined to infer an overall influence level.

Of course, I haven’t magicked these up independently. In addition to Klout, my primary influences have been:

Furthermore, I’m positive there are many other sources that I’ve absorbed over the years. I’m also positive that I will continue to be influenced by the many writers far more intelligent than I am.

Obviously, these dimensions come with the caveat that they are working definitions and ripe to be amended, altered, ripped apart, iterated and improved upon.

The five dimensions of influence:

  • Direct reach – how many people have been influenced directly
  • Total reach – given follow-on word of mouth (through social media or otherwise), what is the total reach of your message (“true reach” according to Klout). You could reach ten people who do nothing with the message, or a single person that passes on the message to thousands
  • Identity of influenced – how powerful (and “influential”) are the people receiving your message – is it a chief executive who might tell five equally powerful and affluent people, or someone who might tell twenty people – none of whom find your message relevant
  • Direction of influence – influence is assumed to be positive. This is a fallacy. If a divisive entity endorses something, it could actively turn others away. An additional dimension that can be wrapped into dimension is how aligned the direction is – for instance if I make a recommendation in sector A but it is made in sector B.
  • Outcome – it could be an action (e.g. purchase, viewing), discussion (recommending, promoting, a factual statement) or a thought that is stored in the subconscious

These five dimensions can be combined to infer a level of influence. The big question is how – which factors are more important, and to what extent?

I’ve attempted to display these dimensions graphically to illustrate this difficulty.

Consider these two examples (click to expand):

Dimensions of influence

In the above Example 1, only one person is being influenced. However, that person has a wide reach, is influential themselves and has been strongly positively influenced to take an action, Compare this to example 2.

Dimensions of influence

Here, many more people have been influenced but the pattern is more mixed. Some people have been negatively influenced, while some of those that have been positively influenced haven’t been prompted into an action.

Which example is better? Honestly, I don’t know. And this partially illustrates why the concept of influence is fascinating and frustrating in equal measures.

sk

Time to think

The pause between this post and my previous was unexpected, but inevitable given the circumstances. My first two weeks at Essential have been fantastic – involvement in several interesting and diverse projects, and a night out that the K-box may still be recovering from.

My arrival coincided with a particularly busy period of debriefs and pitches. In theory, a nice problem to have but priorities need to be set and resources assigned accordingly.

Businesses should be flexible to adapt when these situations arise, but they should be atypical and not the norm (at Essential, it is not the norm). Organisations shouldn’t overstretch themselves. Short-term revenue gains can be quickly counteracted by a lack of focus, quality and staff morale.

Quite rightly, we regularly talk about a work-life balance being crucial to successful and stable careers and businesses. Each person has their own unique balance – whether sixty hours of work a week or four. But I believe a third dimension should be added to the equation.

Thinking time.

We should be talking about a work-thought-life balance. Thought is the commonality between our work and life personas, and time should be scheduled to improve the quality of both.

Everyone needs breaks. Whether it is stepping back to think more strategically, or searching for outside inspiration to crack a problem, we can all identify multiple benefits of pausing for thought. It could be taking a walk, it could be reading a book, it could be taking a bath to wait for that eureka moment, it could be going to a baseball game as Jon Steel did. Our subconscious can continue to work on the issue, while our conscious mind diverts to not only rest but also to absorb new stimuli.

This is important in all industries (Google giving engineers 20% personal time has led to some enormous successes), but it is absolutely crucial in creative and knowledge industries. Even in research, there is rarely an objective truth easily uncovered, and so time needs to be spent formulating the best approach at each stage of the process.

I am now making a more concerted effort to build in thinking time into both work and life spheres. For me, blogging comes under thinking time. I mull over thoughts and then try to formalise them into a coherent message. This post, for instance, is a synthesis of thoughts jotted onto post-it notes over the past week and additional thoughts that emanated as I deciphered a theme.

I could have punctuated the aforementioned gap between blog posts by quickly writing up one of those thoughts scribbled onto a post-it note. But I chose not to. I don’t post for the sake of it. I write to improve my understanding of matters –  an incremental process that is boosted by the thoughts and posts from others whom I read and interact with.

It is a question of quality vs quantity. Unlike Twitter’s temporary ambiance, I view my blog as a permanent (WordPress permitting) record of my output. I aim to create an evolving, but ultimately a coherent and consistent, body of connected thoughts, ideas and statements – both my own and those of others I intersect with.

I hope my blog achieves this – I don’t want to undersell myself, even with something that could be called a hobby. When I visit someone else’s blog for the first time, I read their previous five posts to see if it is something worth subscribing to. It doesn’t matter if those posts were written in the last 5 hours or 5 months; it is the quality I care about.

A sidenote of interest to me is also the journey one undertakes when they discover a new blog. I see two primary routes – search and social.

A high quantity of posts will influence Google juice and deliver visitors from search. But a high quality of posts that people value leads to social recommendations; attracting people through overlapping spheres of influence. Fred Wilson has noted that he is getting more referrals from social media than Google – I put that down to the consistently high quality of his blog as much as the increasing influence of our online networks.

Furthermore, a recommendation is also more likely to lead to a deeper contact. Search is transactional – I find my answer and move on. Links and retweets are relationship builders. The latter is definitely more valuable.

Anyway, that was quite a large digression. But I’ve finally arrived at the underlying theme linking together my disparate points and post-it notes.

Commoditisation.

By taking our time, by taking a step back, by seeking advice and inspiration, we bring more thought to the process. We ponder, we ruminate, we deliberate, we mull, we muse, we meditate, we even brainstorm and thought-shower.

My contention is that a situation where work-thought-life are in equilibrium will lead to a higher quality of response. Quality is what we should aspire to in order to make ourselves distinctive and unique.

Whether it is research, strategy, marketing, music or blogging, we shouldn’t commoditise our outputs.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dharmasphere/

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