Embrace the noise – its where the influence is

A parting post for 2009.

I was recently sent this by  Influencer50, an organisation in the business of influencer marketing.  It makes some interesting points about failures in on-line influencer measurement and the many organisations claiming to have offerings in this area.  However, this report itself fails because it falls into the same trap as many of those approaches it is also criticising – namely the belief that influence is all about “screening out the noise” and finding the “needles in the haystack”.

That was the way influence was organised.  What the social media revolution is doing is shifting influence away from institutions and individuals even, into the processes of connection that are generated within a crowd of individuals.  Far from being screened out, the noise is what we should be looking at because it is where influence is moving towards.   Expertise will no longer remain the preserve of experts – as James Surowieki has shown in his book “The Wisdom of the Crowds” (a book that is not explicitly about social media, but is essential reading if you want to understand social media).

Bad news for Influencer50, obviously, because its business is set-up around identifying a small number of influential individuals and connecting with them off-line.  It’s why, in a recent blog post, one of the report’s authors states that, “Frankly, I think there’s a lot of tosh and assertion on the importance of social media in influence”.  A sutiable epitaph for this organisation’s tombstone I feel, for this is not an organisation that will be around in five or 10 years time.  Of course, social media doesn’t excert influence when you have determined in advance the rules through which influence must be excerted (i.e. through individuals and institutions).  But when you realise that the rules of influence are changing, and when you look at influence as a process not a person, and when you realise that this is being driven by the social media revolution – then the picture starts to look very different.

So an exhortation for 2010 – embrace the noise, celebrate the “Pointlesss Babble”, revel in the “endless narcisism of the blogosphere”.  It’s where the future is.

5 comments

  1. Duncan Brown

    Hi Richard, Just picked up on your post after an extended (snow-related) break. Anyway, thanks for your comments on influence and its changing nature.

    I guess I’d make three points: firstly, we don’t say anywhere that influence is only offline. But neither is it online only – it’s a mix, and marketers are in danger of emphasising one over the other. It’s about balance, and we think the balance is markedly skewed.

    Secondly, our focus (of Influencer50 and of the paper) is mainly on B2B decisions. I can guarantee that here the majority of influence is still exerted (a) by individuals and (b) offline. However, it’s true that online channels have increased the accessibility of some influencers to their advantage.

    Finally, noise is not the same as influence. Even Surowiecki agrees here, and cites very specific conditions that apply for the wisdom of crowds to be wisdom indeed.

    As for our epitaph, in fact our firm is growing fast so your prediction of our imminent demise, while amusing, is unlikely to transpire.

    Best regards,

    Duncan Brown

    • richardstacy

      Duncan,

      Likewise – I don’t think the on-line / off-line distinction is really relevant. The separation of information from distribution (i.e. the social media revolution) is changing the nature of influence – full stop. It is therefore making an approach that focuses on fixed points, places or people of influence less relevant.

      You are right – noise is not the same as influence – but influence can lie within the noise – and as the changes in the nature of influence roll-out, much more of it will be found in the noise than in the signal.

      Lastly, congratulations on your growth, but don’t forget that the growth of one organisation is not necessarily reflective of the sector in which it sits. It is possible to achive growth within a sector that is in decline (up to a point of course). Advertising has been in decline for years – but there are still (a few) growing ad agencies.

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