A fascinating post by fellow 90:10er Stowe Boyd (... The Dark Matter of influence) has been rolling around my head since I read it yesterday.
Stowe discusses this Arvix Post, titled Best Connected Individuals Are Not the Most Influential Spreaders in Social Networks.
To summarise; influence is derived from how close you are to other influencers in a network - how low and short the number of links from you to how many other influencers (not the number of your connections, as often assumed).
Which validates why network analysis is such a crucial element when trying to 'identify influencers'. (image via Beth Harte)
The subtle, dark-matter mystery of social networks is that influence is oblique, and not easily determined by the sorts of tools we have today.Influence is fluid. It resides less in the node and more in the interactions between the nodes. It is the interactions which change the state of the group, not a change in the condition of the nodes (think water H2O molecules and ice, water, steam - an example Mark Earls (another 90:10 collaborator) refers to in his book Herd. (Update, Mark has now posted his own response)
It is not your follower count, or who you follow, per se. But, instead, do you have short paths into other social scenes, both incoming and outgoing? That is the deep structure of being truly connected: bridging over different social scenes, acting as a conduit, a vector, a filter and amplifier for ideas good and bad, the best insights, and deadly viruses.
This means that giving interesting things to people to do together - bringing them together around things they care about (through shared purpose), to act on those things, has more value than spotting the influencer and giving them some sort of message you expect them to go off and influence others with.
Influence has a certain value: in crisis management, identifying those with the likelihood of having their voice heard by a greater number and in giving likely start points for the real job of peer to peer distribution. If you're going to try to turn the flock, you're bound to think it best to start off by working with the big birds.
And to Stowe's point about the tools, influence is complex, but not complicated. It can be deconstructed nuance by nuance; function by function.
One day - and perhaps quite soon - we will have the tools to fully understand it in real time. And that concerns me. Because at the point we can truly understand influence we're but a tiny step from using that power for ill. Manipulation, springs to mind. It could all become very 'broadcast'.
People influence each other. They change the state they are in. Help them find each other, support their conversation, help them act on it. That will always generate more value (for ALL parties) than an influential voice.
Be the platform.