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Social Influence: How it Affects Your Business

Social influence is the influence a person has on a social media channel. Businesses need to learn how to use social influence to reach people.
Written May 18, 2010, read 6714 times since then.


One of the terms I throw around a lot in my blog and in conversations about social media behavior is social influence. Social influence is basically the level of influence a given person has on a social networking or social media site. Social influence is determined by a number of factors, which I've listed and explained below:

Number of followers: This is the least of the important factors, but one that should be noted nonetheless. Just having lots of followers doesn't automatically guarantee you have lots of social influence. Many people have lots of followers, but the real question is: Are those followers actually commenting or forwarding what you say? Answering that question determines the amount of social influence you have.

At the same time, numbers shouldn't be disregarded. There is strength in numbers and if someone is able to leverage those numbers accordingly, that is part of social influence. The number of followers you have also indicates the number of people you can directly touch, as well as the number of people you indirectly touch if those people choose to comment or forward what you've said.

Influence in the real world: The amount of influence a person has in the real world does effect the amount of influence that person has in the social media world, and vice versa. Celebrities such as Alyssa Milano or Neal Gaiman demonstrate this effect rather well. They get a lot of followers because of fans and their fame. They also "allow" those same people into their world a bit further, which is always a draw. Because people like their work, this also gives them an additional layer of influence. That level of influence can be used in different situations. Kim Kardashian, for example, offers to tweet about a product, but insists being paid $20,000 for it, due to how many followers, and her fame. Neal Gaiman, on the other hand, has helped an artist force a company to pay her for artwork they misappropriated from her, without charging her a penny to do so. Clearly fame in the real world translates into influence in the social media world.

Actual responses and/or retweets made: Social influence can be measured by how many people will respond to something you say by either forwarding the message or making a response to you or doing both activities. The length of the conversation is also something to consider. If a conversation can be carried out for a sufficient length of time, with you actively participating, this also can be used to measure social influence.

Influencers: Social influence can also be measured by how many influencers in your network respond and/or forward your message. These influencers can spread your message much further, if people in their network also pick it up. Usually when this occurs, the person who made the original post will get more followers as a result, because the new people will be curious about what s/he will write in the future.

Social causes the person writes about: People care about the underdog, in general. In cases, where social media has been leveraged against companies, it's usually occurred because the company has done something to discriminate against a type of minority. Several good examples are when Southwest airlines through Kevin Smith off a plane for being too fat, or the case of a disabled person who United air's customer service treated very poorly. In each case, the people who were discriminated against were able to get public apologies and the companies started looking at their policies for obese and disabled people respectively.

Poor customer service can also prompt social action on social media sites. When Maytag delivered poor customer service to a mom with lots of followers, they ended up regretting it when she tweeted about it. Within a couple weeks the president of the company called her and apologized, got the washer and dryer fixed and promised her free product. Now that's social influence, but it couldn't have happened if she hadn't been able to craft a message that spoke to her plight and how the company was not following through on its policies.

Personality: Just posting on a social media site or having lots of followers isn't enough. You've also got to have personality. Do your postings tell stories, offer thoughtful commentary, or make people laugh? Do you write responses and start conversations? People want to interact with other people and for that to happen you've got to be willing to do more than just post promotions about your business or quotes from famous people. To have social influence, there needs to be some kind of personality that comes through in your writing.

Site specific social influence: Social influence can and does vary from site to site. You might have a lot of social influence on twitter and have next to nothing on Facebook, or vice versa. The consistency of your interactions on a specific site will help determine social influence for that site. What will also help is actually doing site specific activities. Because each site has a different interface, there are some activities that need to be done differently depending on each site, to maintain and grow your social influence. For example, you won't get a notification if a response has been made to your fan page on Facebook, so you need to check your fan page a couple of times a day for responses, so that you can make responses to them.

All of these factors are important to consider, in order to understand social influence on social media sites. Social influence is a fundamental concept of the social norms that govern how social media is used. Understanding social influence can help individuals, organizations, and companies leverage social media sites to their advantage, because it provides an understanding of what motivates people to comment and respond to a given person's postings. With that understanding, a given person or company can develop strategies to target influencers, develop relationships, and leverage their social influence in different situations.

Learn more about the author, Taylor Ellwood.

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