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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

Cutting the current

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, particularly since I never actually seem to keep them. But I start with good intentions, so I suppose that is at least something.

In 2009, I vowed to read less, but better. That sort of happened, but the mass of information makes it difficult to resist.

In 2010, I attempted to widen my reading sources, by rotating my online sources of news. I lasted for about a fortnight, but more pressing priorities meant it quickly fell by the wayside.

Nevertheless, I return once again with a resolution for 2011.

It is quite similar to the 2009 resolution in that it is another attempt to combat information overload. But rather than simply say I will try to read more but better, this is hopefully a process that will help me achieve it.

In 2011, I will take a conscious step-back from real-time content consumption, and intentionally read (most) news and commentary much later than their time of publishing.

I’m not going to be as prescriptive as saying it will be 12 hours, or 48 hours, a week or a month. Particularly, since posts on MediaGuardian will be more time-sensitive than those on New Yorker. But I’m going to avoid the regular refreshing of Google Reader, and let links build up.

The last couple of months has proven the efficiency of this appraoch to me. An incredibly busy November and December meant I had to cut down my reading and surfing. Over the Christmas break, I have largely caught up on my RSS feeds and bookmarks. Google Reader trends tells me that in the last 30 days I’ve read circa 2,500 items. That would previously have been circa 3,500, while the current figure also includes items over a month old.

But there are many other benefits.

In the character of C’s, here are five interrelated reasons why I think this approach will suit me.  No fancy graphics. Sorry.

SIDENOTE: I’ve exaggerated it for the purpose of this post, but what is with the proliferation of lists consumed with Cs – is it the most alliterative word for media and technology related content? Whether Brian Solis5 C’s of community or Srinivasana et al’s eight factors that influence customer e-loyalty, its popularity is clear.

1. Concentration through centralisation and classification

What I found most striking in my catch-up of links was that I was far more selective in what I chose to read. When caught in the fire-hose, I may have read the same story four times from four different sources, not knowing who else would be picking up on the topic. Now, I’m able to select from a complete list of sources on my radar. A more discriminating selection process will also free up more time to do other important things. Like sleep.

It also benefits long-form content consumption, since I’m no longer in a hurry to steam through articles. Recently, I’ve been enjoying Vanity Fair, Atlantic and New Yorker pieces courtesy of services such as Give Me Something to Read – here is their best of 2010

2. Curation through collation and compilation

I’m not totally sold on curation – services like paper.li just annoy me. But trusted editors can make a difference. I don’t necessarily need to scour every link looking for the most interesting pieces, when people such as Neil Perkin crowdsource recommendations or people like Bud Caddell point to interesting things.

Incidentally, I may once again resurrect my link updates. I may not. It depends how this experiment goes.

3. Conversation through community and comments

Although the number of comments might be dwindling (or merely refocusing on the biggest sites with an active community), they can still be incredibly valuable.

Initial comments tend to be from sycophants or – in the case of social media monitoring blogs – companies such as Alterian or Radian 6 proving their scraping technology works but later comments can be insightful in their critiquing or extending the authors points. Helpfully, Disqus now sorts comments based on popularity (I should really start voting).

4. Context through critique and connections

Whether it is through comments or from myself connecting different commentaries or posts, different items can be combined or juxtaposed for context and additional understanding. And often it is the connectors that are more interesting than the nodes themselves.

5. Contemplation through consideration and cogitation

Finally, moving away from real-time motivates reflection and critical thinking. The need to rush into a response has been marginalised. I can ponder and muse before I decide whether to write a response to something or not. Nicholas Carr would be proud.

To make this work, each person will have a unique system that works for them. Mine is using Read It Later – a bookmarking service that syncs across devices. It also works within Google Reader, though I suspect I may need to also use stars if the volume of bookmarks needs additional features to distinguish information (on time-sensitivity, if not topic)

Of course, there are drawbacks to this approach.

  • It effectively makes me a lurker rather than an active contributor, so I’ll be taking more than giving.
  • I will continue to link, comment and blog but most likely after the fact, once people have moved on and the topic has lost some relevance. A balance will undoubtedly need to be struck.
  • I’ll have lower visibility through not being not being an early commenter or tweeter, and link-baiting my wares – though Twitter does seem to have made blog commenting and responding far more infrequent anyway. I think I can live with a lower Klout score, since I’m not doing this to reach an arbitrary number of undifferentiated people.

Let’s see how I get on.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36593372@N04/5198073390/

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