This article on social media New Influentials raises an interesting question regarding “influence” in the social web and in social commerce: what’s the core driver of influence? A person? Her community? Or both? The article profiles six individuals who have variously used YouTube, corporate resources, quasi-anarchist tactics, and curating to attract and sustain dedicated communities. Indeed, the question of “what constitutes influence in a social network” has captured the interest of researches, as is evidenced by the articles “A model of influence in a social network” and “Learning Influence Probabilities In Social Networks“. Similarly, Brian Solis has written an excellent post on the genesis of the social consumer. According to Solis:
When a brand does its job right, it creates an emotional connection. The affinity it engenders contributes to who we are as individuals and how others perceive us. In the social web, sharing our purchases and experiences serve as social objects which are essentially catalysts for sparking conversations. At the center of this discussion is the product. Experiences, impressions, and perceptions cast bridges that link us together. As the conversation unfolds, the hub connects the product to individuals who not only respond, but also consume, where information directly or indirectly influences behavior and opinion. This form of subconscious empowerment seemingly builds confidence according to some new research. As social capital factors into the equation, these conversations represent touchpoints where positive experiences take the shape of endorsements and ultimately c0ntribute to the overall branding process.
Going back to the original question I posited, I’ll say “influence” is a combination of brand (personal or corporate) and respect and empowerment of one’s community, but where community is the main driver. Solis describes how American Express empowers its community by facilitating conversations along with promoting commerce (and doesn’t this remind you of fundamental concepts discussed in the Cluetrain Manifesto, particularly chapter four?). But for an empassioned–and spending–community, American Express would not necessarily be influential. Thus, the core question of what defines “influence” hinges on how committed you are to your community, what value you bring to your community, and how well you are developing and fostering that community.