Online Influence: It’s Not Just About The Numbers

by Susan Murphy

shutterstock_103753292A couple of weeks back I attended a great conference here in Ottawa called the Social Capital Conference. What I enjoyed most about this conference, aside from the great lineup of speakers and sessions, was that it introduced me to many new people who are doing some great things. It wasn’t a conference of “social media rockstars”, it was a conference of everyday people who are making a difference in the communities they serve.

Much of the conversation of the day revolved around influence, partly due to the fact that one of the speakers was Danny Brown, Co-Author of the great new book “Influence Marketing”. There are a lot of misconceptions around this term and it’s become quite the buzzword. Author C.C. Chapman said in a presentation this week that influence is “the word he loves to hate”. I think that’s pretty accurate.

You see, the issue is that many people confuse “influence” with “popularity”. That in order for one to be influential, they must have a large audience listening to them and hanging off their every word. That’s why a lot of people point to celebrities as being “influential”. But the truth is, there’s much more to influence than just having a big Twitter following.

Influence and Interest

Is your business interesting to other people? That’s a tough question to answer, but it’s a really important one. Because just having a few thousand likes on your Facebook page doesn’t mean that you’re all that interesting. When someone likes your page, they usually do so because you’ve done something to get their attention – either they already know you, they’ve seen a random interesting link to something on your page in their friends’ stream, or they want to enter your giveaway or contest. The one thing that people often forget is that people could also be liking your page because they are your competitor and want to check up on you. In other words, people don’t always like your page because they find you utterly compelling.

Therefore, you can’t equate influence to number of likes, because you can’t understand peoples’ motivation to like your page. What you can do, however, is continue to provide interesting, helpful content to the people in that community. You can encourage interaction and become a trusted source of information. Only then can you hope to start gauging whether you’re influencing others or not.

Face-to-Face Trumps All

I think the people who stand the chance of being most influential in a community are the ones who are visible in that community. If I go to an event in my city, I will often see what I call “the usual suspects” – the kinds of people that show up at many events. But they don’t just show up. They are active participants, as organizers, speakers, panelists, hosts, sponsors, or even as audience members asking questions. These people are not content to sit on the sidelines. They participate, contribute, and share their knowledge and voice with the community. It’s that kind of active participation that makes one start to have influence in their community. They are guiding and shaping the experience of the community through their participation. They are gaining trust and credibility because they are sharing what they know and what they do well.

Being visible to your community is one of the most important things you can do to be more influential. Show up to events, but don’t just run around handing out business cards. That’s the offline equivalent of racking up Twitter followers for no reason other than it makes you seem popular. People don’t listen to a business card. They listen to people who contribute and are helpful. So find ways to become more involved in the communities you want to be part of. Show up, participate. Offer to speak, or sponsor, or be on the organizing committee.

Gaining influence within your community is about much more than just building a volume of eyeballs. Find the people that really care about what story you’re telling, and then focus on them.

Who influences you, and how do they do it?

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