Sometimes, the way we think about influence is wrong. Or not wrong, but maybe our perception of what influence is isn’t quite correct. Generally, when you think of what influences you or what influences those around you, you think of movements, of shifts in sentiment based on experiences and inputs, and those shifts – at least to me – generally feel like wide, sweeping logic, a definitive sense of change. Influence ‘feels’ like it’s an incredibly big concept. Our decisions and actions are based on a wide array of factors, too numerous for us to even contemplate. But in reality, influence often comes down to very specific, targeted things. A single person might have a lot more influence than we tend to contemplate.

A Person of Influence

This came up recently in discussions about Australian politics – there’s a level of controversy in Australia due to suggestions our Prime Minister is being heavily influenced by advisors within his party. This is largely due to the fact that his main advisor is also married to the party president, and the suggestion is that this adviser is able to exert a significant amount of sway in the Prime Minister’s decision-making. Now, much of this controversy has been played down and criticized as a sexist attack – the Prime Minister’s advisor is a woman – and that’s largely how I had read it, without looking into it too much. But then I read an article which talked about how, exactly, this advisor is thought to be influencing the Prime Minister’s decisions.

So, let’s say you’re a campaigner, looking to get your message onto the Prime Minister’s agenda. You campaign to the minister relevant to your cause, you send in your literature, your research, petition data, etc. You’ve got a strong case, and the minister seeks to take it up with the Prime Minister to discuss possible outcomes. But that minister can’t get in to see the PM – his path is blocked by the PM’s advisor. If the minister can’t even raise the issue with the Prime Minister, your campaign is going no-where. There are, of course, other lobbying options, but this example did highlight to me, in its most basic form, how one person can hold significant influence in the fate of national issues. Sure, it seems rudimentary, it’s basic logic that the path to the relevant audience is a necessary element of outreach, but the controversy here is that this is not an inter-office debate over approval to buy new stationery. This one person can totally sway the momentum of national issues. One person, massive influence.

A Map of Human Emotion

In considering the significance of influence, I did some research into how doomsday predictors suggest artificial intelligence and machine learning may one day take over the world. One post suggested that if computers are given the capacity to learn at a significantly higher level than humans, then they will also know how to manipulate us into doing what they want. The machines would know human psychology – it’d be the equivalent of us making a dog do tricks. A super-intelligent machine would know our ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ and would understand the power of influence.

To do this, however, computers would need a wide ranging dataset of human psychology – what we like and don’t like, how we respond to a vast array of inputs. A complex, but computable, log of human emotion. Something like, say, social media. Facebook’s already provided the blueprint for this – remember that controversial experiment they conducted where they restricted positive posts from the news feeds of some 689,000 users to ascertain if they could manipulate people’s emotions?  You know what they found? They could. Altering the content users were shown absolutely did change their behaviour. Such a finding, in itself, seems minor, there’s no immediate, practical application for you or I in that discovery. But what if Facebook wanted to use it’s power to influence the results of an election? What if that type of influence were harnessed in order to alter public opinion on any given topic? It could be – the research shows that we can all be influenced by our social media inputs. Our perception is shaped by the information we process, and a growing amount of that information is coming from social platforms. The map of human emotion already exists, and is expanding every day.

Active Influencer Marketing

These two examples underline the significance of influence. If you’ve not looked into influencer marketing, looked into the individuals who are influencing your online communities, it’s worth considering the power that individual voices can hold. Targeting and working with the right influencers can have a significant impact on brand perception and success, especially in the new world order of social media interaction. Our emotions, our moral perceptions, they’re shaped by what we see and hear, and increasingly, people are seeing and hearing that information online – the significance of influencer marketing in this scenario cannot be over-stated. If an influencer says something is important, then it is – brands need to understand this and work with the data they have to reach the right influencers in order to utilise that influence to spread positive messages throughout their networks.

The next question, of course, is how do you identify the right influencers? Follower counts and Klout scores aren’t necessarily indicative – base metrics can belie the true sway a person holds. The best approach is to treat everyone like an influencer. Now, that’s not always possible, particularly at scale, but the complexities of the social graph mean that word-of-mouth is more powerful than ever – everyone is, essentially, a broadcaster in their own right. In extension of that approach, analysing and understanding your online communities is key, tracing the data to see how information is disseminated and spread across your social communities. Understanding where and how messages are communicated is an important part of your social planning – wherever the conversation goes is where you need to be, so you need to trace the data flow and contextualize your mentions.

And when you do find these influencers, how do you work with them? Interact with their content, ask questions, be part of their community. Becoming part of the wider social conversation is a great way to build your own influence and expertise in itself, but in order to get on the radar of relevant influencers, it’s important to understand who they are, why they do what they do. If they’re influencing the people you want to reach, it’s likely that they’ll be able to teach you a lot about the expectations of that community.

The Forming of Opinion

The power of influence can boil down to one single person, and that single voice can massively alter perception and how your messaging is spread. It’s important to consider social influence in your social planning, and how to reach and appeal to the people who can amplify your message. A movement or change can come down to a single mention, just one connection reaching the right target. Sentiment can change based on the right vehicle – understanding the power social media has in this regard is crucial in grasping the true importance of the medium.

This is where opinions are being formed. This is where you can play a part in the wider conversation.

Andrew Hutchinson

Andrew Hutchinson

Freelance Writer/Social Media Consultant at adh
Andrew Hutchinson is an internationally published author, award-winning blogger and social media consultant from Melbourne, Australia. He has more than 12 years experience working in media monitoring, helping clients locate, evaluate and action keyword occurrences in all forms of traditional and digital media. He's also a Hootsuite Ambassador for the APAC region and one of the 'Best Thinkers' on leading social media news website Social Media Today. If you're looking for a writer for your business, or advice on how to maximise your digital media presence, please go to www.andrewhutchinson.com.au for more information.
Andrew Hutchinson