What is social influence?


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Last week I took part in a hearty debate with Andrew Gerrard, Joanne Jacobs, Benjamin Ellis, Matt Rhodes and Azeem Azhar for social media week hosted by my friends at Likeminds. The clever folk at Brass got their mic’s on and recorded a few of us telling them what we feel the definition of influence is, following which they turned us into amusing cartoon feathered friends and created this video. Cheep Cheep.

  1. For me the language is interesting, and how much of the conversation is about ‘getting other people to do things’ that a) you want them to do and b) they might have otherwise not have done.

    Influence is something I actually regard as the ability to inspire other people to do things they want to do for themselves. That’s where the value of a brand is and what social leadership asks of businesses. Those people and organisations who really do influence, inspire. It’s inspiration which is where the groundswell comes from, and how true loyalty is achieved. Everything else is gaming, to some degree or another.

    Many people say they know all about social media… yet they tend to spend less time working on what’s inspirational about themselves, what they’re bringing to the party, how their distributed platform makes a difference, than how they can use media to get the end results they want for their own means. That isn’t influence, it’s manipulation.

    The phenomenon of social media and its ultimate value is that it allows organisations to be lead by their constituents. If that’s underpinned by rigorous user-centric business modelling it is a smarter and much more failsafe way of successfully doing business, but the inspiration’s got to be there first.

  2. Well, I’m not surprised most people are confused by influence, especially when they treat it as a synonym for persuasion. The real problem, it seems, is that people want to attach it to a person, when it really belongs to an action.

    Ergo, Asmaa Mahfouz in Egypt was not an influencer but had tremendous influence. (


  3. Gemma Went says:

    Thanks Anne, and I agree, the language is interesting (mine included). I think the term influence can mean different things to different people, and this is where the problem lies. Inspirational influence is the holy grail, I agree. This is what we should be aiming for and something I, hopefully, do myself. But the reality is that brands and people are trying to force action in the same way they have for years through things like advertising etc. I guess the beauty of social is that it can show up manipulative methods for what they are.

    And anyone that says they know all about social media are talking out of their … platform.

  4. Gemma Went says:

    Interesting thoughts Rich. Does the person not create the action (or influence) though?

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