An influencer is a person who has the ability to act like a force producing desired effects on the actions, emotions and opinions of others around them. Ideally the force should not be coerced. So if you are stripped of all your powers associated with your position – are you still able to influence?
- Do you have the ability to influence others? What would be the purpose?
A study of 27.4 Million Yahoo users found that maybe the traditional models of influence overestimated its power with regards to peer influence by 300–700%. The researchers in question, attributed this to homophily (like attracts like) which according to them explained over 50% of the perceived behavioral contagion. So the question above needs to be modified to say – are you able to influence others who are not like you? Especially in the workplace, organizational culture can sometimes be a great motivator to encourage conformism in behaviors and attitudes! But to succeed in a diverse organisation that spans the globe – you need to influence more than similar people.
If you want to influencer others – what is it that you want to influence? Their actions, their way of thinking or do you want an emotional response? Sometimes this means you need to be prepared to role model what you want them to do. There was a time 20 years ago (maybe still) that most aspiring new bankers would adopt golf because it was a hallmark of success. Was this because their senior managers played golf? Did it help networking and open the doors of influence? I quote from a woman of influence, “It’s still a great business skill to have,” she said, “and it might be even more helpful as a woman in business. I get a lot of invitations to play on scrambles teams, and I’ve made a lot of business connections and relationships because of golf.” Golf put people from different organisations and levels on a neutral platform (the golf course) and gave an opportunity to dialogue.
With social media there are many visualization tools you can use to look at your networks. In fact till recently LinkedIn had an awesome tool called IMaps which they discontinued in September this year. These tools can give you an idea of your networks, but not necessarily how far you can extend your influence. To break into new communities of networks you need to find a way to engage with their influencers. But before doing this you should ask your self why you’d want to do this? Networks are like brain cells, if you don’t use them, they die down.
- How far is your influencer reach? Increase your spheres of influence.
With social media there are many tools available to measure your “influence” – like the Klout Score (below). If you are an academic, we look at citation numbers. As a politician it the votes that count and maybe the bills you pass. As a leader…..I’m really not sure. There is an interesting paper by LeMay and Ellis that focuses on qualities of leaders for implementing initiatives like healthcare: scanning, planning, focusing, organizing, aligning/mobilizing, implementing, inspiring, monitoring/evaluating. Other important factors are employee engagement (Harter et al., 2009) and communication skills (Attridge, 2009). This sounds great but are these skills enough to influence people virally?
A study by James Fowler and Nicholas A. Christakis shows that personal influence is a short-range phenomenon that can dissipate entirely at three degrees of separation. They found this was applicable to feelings, health and behaviors like generosity! Over 20 years they studied 5,000 individuals and found happiness is contagious to three degrees, lasting up to one year. The results of who you can influence by being happy is also very interesting. In order of impact:
- for next door neighbors – 34 percent increased chance of being happy;
- a friend living within a mile has a 25 percent;
- siblings living within one mile have a 14 percent increased chance;
- a friend of that friend experiences a nearly 10 percent chance of increased happiness; a co-resident spouse experiences an 8 percent increased chance;
- and the friend of *that* friend (3 degree) has a 5.6 percent increased chance.
Luckily sadness does not mimic happiness! You can read more in their book “Connected” or listen to their TED talk. Also this study did not talk about employees. All the above people have a relationship with the influencer. So with your employees – do you have a relationship? What type? Obligatory (Siblings and spouse – which we take for granted) or more like the friends and neighbours (we do have fun with them occasionally and more open to helping). Think about it.
If you want to influence enough people so that your idea goes viral, you may need to ask a few questions. How homogenous is your network? If it is full of similar people, it maybe a disadvantage. Great leaders are comfortable in a variety of settings and with different people. They fail when they lock themselves in ivory towers as they reduce their spheres of influence.
- How can you create influence? Communication is key!
In her TED talk, Nancy Duarte shares tips on how to structure great talks – on how to change the world with an idea. Communication is the key and the way you do it is by incorporating presentations with a story. She recommends having a three act structure (Beginning, Middle and End). Making the audience the hero of the story (as opposed to the presenter). The presenter is merely the mentor helping the hero into his adventure (adopting the idea). The presenter structures his presentation between What is and What could be, using the resistance to the idea to narrow the gap for adopting the idea, modeling the response he requires from the audience, and using a variety of presentations modes. The final part is a call to action ending in a world of new bliss (your vision which hopefully by now most of the audience shares) – and the audience is part of the solution. Ingrid Sundberg’s blog has some great ideas (borrowed from dramatics – see Figure below).
Storytelling has always been one way to call people to action. Using metaphors, repetition and putting the idea in relevant terms to the audience makes all the difference. It must be different, according to Seth Godin – I guess – simply put it must transcend the banal. Part of this means giving hope…seeing what could be. Edi Rama, who as a mayor of Tirana (now he is Prime Minister of Albania) tells of how he changed a challenged neighborhood by instilling pride in his citizens by transforming public spaces with ….paint. Other leaders have done the same – whether it was social change, organizational change or nation-level change. And you don’t need heaps of money!
To go viral according to Youtube’s Kevin Allocca (in this TED talk) you need three key ingredients:
- Adoption by a tastemakers (an influencer picked it up),
- communities of participation (the people have to engage – can’t be one way communication)
- and unexpectedness (transcend the banal – cut through the clutter)
And there are tricks to catch attention. You need to keep the idea simple and short. You could lose 44% of your audience in the first 60 seconds according to a survey published in The New York Times. The message must have social currency. It must connect with the audience and get reaction that have similarity, reciprocity, and authority according to Dean Rieck in his article on Social Proof.
There are many examples of viral movements– like the Arab Spring, Ferguson, Hong Kong, etc. Hashtags according to Suey Park are statements “…to remember we are not alone — or crazy — but instead part of a collective struggle.” But with a lot of things that go viral, timing is everything and sustainability is where the power is. Is your influence long-term?
We all have the capacity to influence. Some us us want to change the world for the better. It is not easy, you will make mistakes but if you believe in what you are doing, you will gather momentum and create great change.