If you’ve been popping by here for awhile, you know that the word “influence” as it applies to Social Media has been something I wrestle with quite a lot. Well, you know how they say, “What you are looking for will always be found in the last place you look”? It’s true. The answer to “What is influence” can be found in Stephen Covey’s fifth habit. The only thing is I’m not 100% sure if anyone would really agree that this is how influence exists in the world of Social Media.
Habit 5 is actually called “Seek to understand, then to be understood.” Again, you’ll notice that the emphasis is outward first. People first, right? As I was listening along, something really struck me, however. Dr. Covey posits that in order to be influential, you need to let other people know that they have influenced you.
My brain kind of turned into a pretzel.
Let’s think about the famous (or infamous) Fast Company Influence Project. Does that match this idea? In order to be influential, you had to get a lot of people to click your link, right? Well, that’s really more about showing your influence on them. So that wouldn’t work.
What about Klout? Klout measures how many people respond to your posts, how many people retweet what you tweet, things like that. Is that demonstrating how your community has influenced you? No. Not really. Ultimately, it’s still measuring how you can and do influence other people.
In fact, it seems like most of our Social Media metrics rely on the idea that we are influencing other people. We are writing stuff that people comment on. We are tweeting things that people retweet. We are posting Facebook status updates that people click “like” on. So what does that all mean? How could we turn things around so that Social Media influence would be more about how we are being influenced by other people?
I think Dr. Covey would call that a paradigm shift.
Back to first things first
Ultimately, I think the kind of influence Dr. Covey defines in his habit 5 chapter is, in Social Media, dependent upon whether you can really prioritize people, relationships, and your community above all else. If you are approaching Social Media using the steps we’ve talked about up to this point, then you are not really tweeting in order to just gain followers. You are out there trying to create win-win situations, right? And creating win-win situations is important to you because those relationships are important to you.
So if Dr. Covey’s definition works – if the influential person is the one who shows how they have been influenced by others, then one could say that really, the most influential people in Social Media (using these guidelines) are the ones who don’t give a rat’s you know what about being influential. It doesn’t fall into their priority list.
All well and good, but how do people know that they have influenced you? And given this framework, how can you tell someone that they have influenced you or inspired you while maintaining your no strings attached integrity?
Well, you just have to talk to people, I guess. You know, like humans. You can tell someone, “Hey, that blog post you wrote totally changed my perspective on how I’ve been approaching blogging.” You can tell someone, “I had always thought x, but you made me realize that it could be y or z.”
Kind of a tricky game, isn’t it, this notion of being influential as long as you don’t concentrate on being influential? It’s like the person who desperately wants to fall in love and will literally throw themselves on the mercy of anyone who seems interested. It’s only when they love themselves that all of the prospects seem to come out of the wood work, right?
Influence in Social Media could change radically if we made it about how people are influencing us. I think it would make Social Media better, because we would be after telling other people what they were doing right rather than promoting what we are doing right.
I am sure there’s a lot to be said for the fact that you can get someone to click on a link, but ultimately, wouldn’t it be nicer to tell someone, “You really influenced me to go in a direction I hadn’t previously planned on”? I would think the latter would be a little more satisfying, at any rate.
So what do you think? Could Social Media work for you if you changed how influence is currently framed out? Would people who are thought of as influential now still seem that way?
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this as I’m still noodling it a bit myself!
1st Image by Steve Todey. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/sjtodey
2nd Image by Manu Mohan. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/leocub