I commented on Amber Naslund’s recent blog post titled, ‘Fleeting influence on the web‘, but I’m still not finished with this thought process; it deserves a blog post.

One of the definitions with which Amber explains influence goes, ‘…encourage and compel others to listen and take action‘.

Staying on the ‘web’ related influence, I agree with her first part – ‘encourage and compel others to listen’. This is bang-on. I listen to people on my twitter stream, for example. But, I don’t listen to all of them – I’m selective, based on the supposed value gained from a choice few, in earlier tweets. This includes people with whom I have conversations.

But, do they compel/ encourage me to take action? I cannot answer that with a simple yes or no. Action, to me, is a much broader topic and has so many other criteria to work – ease of action, cost associated with the action, time required to fulfill action, to name just three.

For instance, if Ehsaan Noorani updates his Facebook status with a concert in Bangalore – I’m tempted to buy tickets quite immediately. The forces at work include, my liking Ehsaan’s (Shankar Ehsaan Loy) music, my having met him, my having occasional conversations with him. Not because he has a impressive set of followers or that he updates Facebook regularly.

It’s a personal thing really, but the point here, as Amber says, is a very human thing – influence is hardly a matter of number of followers, the number people writing about you/ referring to you, the number of connections you have made online or even the number of times you’ve got yourself in mainstream media with a quote or two. It is perhaps the number of people who’s state/ frame of mind you end up altering. (Of course, for argument’s sake one can say that a ‘follow’, a ‘referral’, a ‘connection made’ or a ‘quote gained in press’ are indeed someone’s state of mind altered! Righto!)

That could be something really, really simple – as simple as a retweet or as complex as a motivation to purchase a brand of a product. Could this be specifically measured? The simpler things (like the retweet – from what I’ve seen http://danzarrella.com/ + @danzarrella is THE man for this topic!) could be measured, but most of the larger influence metrics are either assumed or implied.

That was about the relationship between an influencer and his/ her audiences.

How about the relationship between a supposed influencer and a brand? I see a lot of messages online that ask a brand, among others, for things like, ‘I’m planning to buy 3 LCD televisions – <@brand_name> can you give me a great deal?‘ or ‘Give me a free headphones and I’ll become your fan on Facebook‘ or even, ‘Thanks for the information – could I get a twitter discount for the <product>?‘!

Should a brand pander – assuming other things, like budgets, are taken care of? Why should they and how should they? Because they make a sale with no/ minimal cost associated with the lead (assuming the case of a discount)? Because of a possibility to get another tweet/ blog post praising the brand? The former is a very sale/ marketing-driven decision and can justify the costs involved in the social media engagement for that brand. The latter, however, is based on a supposed-influence web that the brand might want to utilize. So, how do they find influence worthy enough of pandering? Back to follower count, conversations held in the past and retweets?

Let me take this topic beyond web, now. When I see Aamir Khan endorsing Titan or Toyota Innova, I view it very differently from the way Shah Rukh Khan endorses Sona Chandi chyavanprash or Dish TV. This is based on personal perceptions about those actors that I may have read, but that is the point – who they are, beyond that endorsement, matters more than how well the ad has been shot. Would Saif be influential enough to make me buy Airtel Digital’s new cock-and-bull MPEG XYZ technology? Personally no, despite that tantalizing, come-hither look that Kareena gives towards the end of the new promo.

Regardless of the medium, influence has to be gained, the hard way, quite like it is in real life – by being yourself, saying things of some value to others and doing both consistently. But thanks to social media, all this can be done demonstrably well, with a much larger set of people than what the physical, real-life enables.

PS: Amber’s post was titled, ‘Fleeting influence on the web’. I came up with a horrendous PJ with that – what do you call the act of someone who flogs the social web trying to increase his/ her alleged influence? Fleetulence! Nope, even I’m not amused!

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