Influence : a presentable outer garment that shows one gets nothing about value

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Summary : in a world of conversations and relationships, influence is the new Grail anyone has to acquire and measure. But influence is nothing as long as it does not make people undertake an action that impacts the business. Considered alone from usual business indicators it proves nothing except except a vague ability to spread a message without any idea of the impact of the message in question on decisions, acts and behaviors.

Should we talk about internauts or  employees, what matters is that they develop their influence. Consequence : businesses must learn to measure influence to know who to talk with and recognize. Too bad for those who think that what matters is to measure tangible things like production, sales etc. We are in a world of conversations and relationship so all these old concepts are dead. Long live influence !

But what is influence ? I would define it as the ability one person has to make others adopt a point of view or a behavior. How to measure it ? Obviously, if I have a look at the many services that offer you to measure yours and other’s on the web through complex and mysterious algorithms that rely on things that are as simple as the number of people who listen to you, those who spread your message and to how many etc… Whatever is done with these numbers don’t change anything to the nature of the rough materials : it’s all a matter of audience and propagation.

So influencing is communicating. At least partly. As a matter of fact, if I come back to my definition, it’s communicating to cause an action that will impact the good old indicators of the pre-conversational world. In fact what’s the interest of being influent if it’s not to sell oneself or one’s products. I dont think that being influent, jobless and running out of money by the 20th of the months is a situation anyone would enjoy. In the same way, a business that improves its reputation and influence (to get in touch with…influencers) does it to improve its image, its notoriety, make its spread by word to mouth to, in fine, sell more or attract better candidates. Image only matters when it causes an increase in sales and has no value per se.

Today influence is only seen from a communication standpoint. And even if work, execution, and communication tend to be more and more different sides of a single reality, that means overlooking a big part of this reality.

Bottom line : influence is a biased and irrelevant way to measure anything. Defined and measured as it is today it’s as best irrelevant, at worse a swindle. As a matter of fact influence should not be seen globally but in the context of the pursuit of a specific goal, audience and take into account one’s ability not to spread a message but cause positive actions.

Example : Justin Bieber being more influent than Barack Obama, than any economist or Nobel Prize and even than my Grandmother, he should influence more my actions than any of the other people I mentioned. It’s easy to understand that such an assumption is nuts. But that’s what’s being sold and, even more scary, that’s what some buy.

In short, as long as we won’t be able the number of actions caused by an influencer (either internal or external) he’s only a megaphone that’s is expected to make people do things because of the law of large numbers. To some extent, probability would be more relevant than what looks rather like lottery. This clearly show the limit of social and 2.0 models applied to communication, marketing, collaboration or organization  : for lack of ability to track actual value, we rely on vague tricks that only show the superficial part of things without going deeper. What’s scary is not this situation, because it’s logical not to master everything when a new discipline emerges, but that everyone seems to be very happy with it.

So we must move from “such person est often mentioned and his message spreads well” to “such person has directly or indirectly caused 3 sales because of what he said” or, in the workplace “by sharing this information he caused a x% saving on this task or process”. This will take a lot of work but, without that, businesses will only focus on measuring the hot air they blow without any idea of where they’re heading.

In may, during the Social Business Forum in Milan I had the chance to talk about value traceability with Peter Reiser. Today we can measure the impact of sharing and collaboration when it’s about structured information. With metadata it’s possible to track the life cycle of a document and now where he was shared. From this point it’s possible to know in which processes he’s been used and measure the impact of reuse on a given process. That’s tangible and undisputable. Now the challenge is to do the same with unstructured information which is more volatile, scattered, less traceable in order to link any piece of information to its impacts on relevant and significant indicators.

If we don’t succeed we will never be able to measure the impact of new work models so either we’ll implement them without being able to manage and measure anything or we will simply not implement them at all.