Influence and the Social Web

I woke up with a word in my head this morning: Influence. I find it’s always helpful to start with a definition.

Influence: the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others.

Influence is a big player out here in cyberspace (yeah, I know, “cyberspace” – I’m feeling rather retro today). In some ways, it makes the social media world go round. Trends, memes, and buzz, though generated by anyone,  are typically proliferated through people who have a certain amount influence in the space. In other words, it’s one thing to have the ability to spread an idea to 100 people. It’s entirely another to have the ability to spread it to 30,000.

Too much of a good thing. Is it possible to have too much influence? Well, there is a down side to influence. If you have a community of people around you who are hanging on your every word, waiting for the next stroke of brilliance typed out in 140 characters or through your latest blog or podcast, what happens if one day you wake up and you’re not feeling so brilliant? Let’s say the ideas (or more likely, the time) dry up to the point that your usual prolificity just can’t be maintained any longer? What happens to influence then?

Smooch. I have a pet peeve to confess. If there’s one thing that really bugs me, it’s when 80% of the comments in a blog post are “Great post!” “You’re so terrific!” “I agree with everything you say, all the time!”. Why does it bug me so much? Because, while I think there is nothing wrong with commending someone on a post well written, it shouldn’t be the ONLY thing in your comment. The whole idea of commenting is to converse.

There’s a lot of virtual back-patting going on out here (and that’s the polite term I’m using – I could call it something else that contains the word “kissing”, but I’m too nice).  There’s very little value in that. Influencers are conversation starters. They want your contribution, not your gush.

The gold is often in the comments. One of the things that Influencers are particularly good at is getting people talking in a valuable way. There are plenty of great examples out there of the comments being better than the original post. This is what I love about blogging. Even my own less influential blog has been known to have some great comment streams. It’s so fun to get others’ take on things, to see different perspectives presented so well in one place. It’s one of the reasons I read influential blogs. Influence, in this way, is very useful.

You can’t please all the people… So what happens if suddenly, Ms. Influential does or says something that is decidedly unpopular? The more influence you have, the more potential there is for having to do damage control. Or is there? The great thing about the Web is that it’s a place where we all get to express ourselves – even if our opinion isn’t the most popular all the time. However, throw influence into that mix and after a while, your audience can start to become a bit fickle. They demand that you keep giving them more of the good stuff (read: the stuff that they agree with). And if you steer off track, and start doing something else? Well, in no uncertain terms, you’ll hear about it.

So, is influence a good thing? Certainly. There are many, many people out here doing and saying some really smart, compelling, thought provoking, and industry-altering things about marketing, communications and media right now. It’s important to listen carefully to what they have to say.


At the end of the day, what you see and read and hear out here is mostly opinion. Like this post. I’m no expert on influence. I haven’t done any studies. This blog post isn’t based on anything but my own observations of the space. The beauty of it is, if you think I’m full of crap, you can tell me. Then I can tell you back why I don’t think I’m full of crap.

Influencers are vital to the community, yes. But they are people too, and they are entitled to keep doing what they are doing without having to kowtow to the demands of those being influenced.

What’s your take on influence? On being influenced? Over to you, in the comments. (Oh, and feel free to tell me I’m full of crap).

Category:social media
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What My Students Taught Me About Online Communities


  • January 27, 2009 at 9:11 am

    Wow Suze! What a great post! I agree with everything you’ve said here!

    I keed, I keed.

    I think the danger comes when people start to consider themselves to be influential. It sets up a false dichotomy, as though one can only be an influencer or an influencee.

    When I write, I try to write like I know what I’m talking about. But as you pointed out, most of what I write (and most of what most people write) is based on observation and instinct. That’s kind of the point of the blogosphere. It’s a place for rumination and sharing options.

    But if there WAS an influencer/influencee duality out there, I’d certainly be in the latter category. And I’d be awfully suspicious of anyone who thought they were the former. Because it suggests you’ve got nothing left to learn.

    It speaks to what I’ve blogged about in the past (and what Dave Fleet wrote about today in a far better thought out post) – the idea that anyone can be an expert in social media. Being an ‘expert’ is like being an ‘influential’ person. It starts to create pedastals. Those don’t last long in this realm.

  • January 27, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Sometimes I get the impression that people limit their comment options to either pointlessly sucking up to the blogger or disagreeing with them (hopefully in a respectful manner). What about agreeing with the author, but elaborating on the point with more information? It isn’t necessary to have a contrary, or even all that different perspective in order to advance the conversation in a meaningful way.

    I’m not suggesting this is what you were saying, mind you. It’s just a general observation I wanted to weigh in with.

  • January 27, 2009 at 3:20 pm


    You have no idea what you’re talking about. Who lets you on the interweb anyway? I completely disagree all that you wrote here.

    (How’s that? I didn’t say ‘you’re awesome’ or ‘I agree with you’) …oops, just did! Dang!



  • January 27, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    “Great post!” (Etc.)

    Actually, I am tempted to say those things on occasion. Many times I want to encourage the blogger and agree with them, even if I don’t have time to come up with a pithy addition or energy to create a helpful disagreement.

    I think one (semi-unrelated) thing that no-one has written about is this: These days, there is so much information out there that the click-on-a-commenter’s-link-and-then-become-a-blog-devotee actions are mostly history.

    paul merrill’s last blog post..Questionable space



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