What is Influence: Thoughts on the addictive nature of Twitter

For the longest time I resisted joining and using Twitter.  I did not see the point and did not need another digital time-suck. mannequin1

Recently, for a couple of reasons I joined the movement and I have to admit Twitter is a fascinating microcosm.  Here I will rant a bit on one specific aspect of the whole experience.  I believe that aspect to be the main reason behind Twitters success, considering the ridiculously simple value proposition – micro blogging or expressing and sharing thoughts and content in 140 characters or less.

In one word … INFLUENCE!

Being a “Top Influencer,” often somehow ratified by Forbes or other entities of authority, seems to be a badge of honor on Twitter.  Implicitly, influence is being sold.  It is being measured by the number of “followers” one has.

Let’s step back and think about this for a bit.

It is easier to think about influence in the traditional, off-line, real-world sense.  The dictionary defines influence as: ‘the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.”

When going in my mind through people who I consider influencers based on the above definition, I come up with the following:

  • Elvis Presley – sold 207 million records – this is REAL influence; people went out and parted with their hard-earned money willingly; they were influenced by Elvis
  • Mahatma Gandhi – inspired civil rights movement and millions of people – this is REAL influence that has made a real difference in people’s lives
  • Oprah – hugely influential media personality and business woman – has REAL influence on millions of TV viewers; an aspiring writer who appears on Oprah’s show and is endorsed by her, becomes an overnight best-selling author.

This list can go on, you get the point.

Now let’s return to all the so-called “influencers” on Twitter and other Social Media outlets.  Compared to the REAL influencers listed above, those self-proclaimed social media influencers seem laughable.  “I have 120K followers and I am a Top 50 Forbes influencer.”

So what?  What does that mean?  What is the real-life effect of this influence?  OK, 120,000 people have clicked the ‘Follow’ button on Twitter.  Do those people read your tweets?  How many do?  Of those people, how many click on the links you are frantically blasting out?  Of those people, how many change their minds or better yet, HOW MANY PEOPLE ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING IN THE REAL WORLD?

Is Social Media influence measured with meaningful KPI’s?  ‘Number of followers’ is a meaningless vanity metric.

I am not saying, this “influencer-follower’ phenomenon is not real.

Twitter has created an interesting online expression of a very basic human need which is rooted in our DNA and is explained by Evolutionary Psychology – the need to influence and control our environment.  To the extent that we are social beings and our environment is made up of other humans, it makes sense that we are biologically compelled to influence or control them.

This urge is natural.  I just find the blatant bragging about influencing others as an end goal in itself pretty disturbing …

What do you think?

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