Micah March 25th

A Community of Influence

I have spent the last several weeks thinking, talking, testing and speaking on measuring influence, trust and expertise online. Its a subject that I find wildly interesting (and entertaining based on responses), and luckily dovetails nicely with my work at Lijit.

Here is my last deck from WordCamp Denver (which I did while fighting a bad back and after taking some Vicodin. I cant wait for the video…):

In it, I spend some time talking about HOW to increase influence (which I probably should put in a blog post somewhere).

Here is the presentation in three easy points:

1) Influence is a combination of expertise, brand and trust.

2) Influence is a single action by one person, which affects, positively (or negatively) a single action of another single person.

3) Influence is truly a 1:1 relationship. Reach allows that 1:1 relationship to occur rapidly and appear to be one:many (even though its a bunch of one:one interactions).

Ok, so we all agree, right? (If not, lets discuss in the comments, and pretend we all agree so the rest of my post doesnt go to hell.)

So, how does influence manifest in a community? What is its place/value within a community?

Certainly an influential member of a community can help shape the character of a community. Look at Andrew Hyde in Boulder. The events he has spearhead (StartupWeekend, StartupDrinks and IgniteBoulder) have all contributed to the startup character of Boulder; of Boulder being a place for young entrepreneurs to cut their teeth on the tech startup game. (It has also help validate us old people, and our work with startups…) Andrew’s effect on Boulder has always been something that I have respected and admired.

But what if the influence of that community member doesnt extend beyond the community itself?

Or what if there is no community to start with?

I suppose before we can continue, there has to be a definition of community.

If we ask Google (define:community), we get:

  • a group of people living in a particular local area; “the team is drawn from all parts of the community”
  • common ownership; “they shared a community of possessions”
  • a group of nations having common interests; “they hoped to join the NATO community”
  • agreement as to goals; “the preachers and the bootleggers found they had a community of interests”
  • residential district: a district where people live; occupied primarily by private residences
  • (ecology) a group of interdependent organisms inhabiting the same region and interacting with each other

Is all community is, a group of people that live near each other? I actually believe that community is a couple of these things. It is proximity (online that would be around a site) AND “agreement as to goals.” (which I would extend to “common goals and/or intent”).

Take my current favorite community, Threadless. 900,000 designers and art lovers all interacting around art.

(This might be the worst chart in social media.)

How Influence Works in a Community
How Influence Works in a Community

Here is what that image is saying. The circles are influencers. Most influencers have overlapping spheres of influence. A single influencer attempts to exert influence.

He is only successful if he influences another influencer, who must also influence another influencer and so on…

Each influencer than has some influence internally to the community, but also externally to the community, which attracts new members to the community. Thereby, increasing the community itself, and bringing in new resources (and potentially future influencers, who will–probably–always be influenced at some level by the original influencer). Whew.

For a single member of a community to truly have an influence on the community itself, she must first have the ability to influence other influencers. As she is able to apply more influence over the community, the more she is seen as an influencer and her sphere of influence grows, requiring less other influencers.

Now, if I was an advertiser, I would be interested in not just the influencers themselves, but the of influencer of the influencers, the Influencer Patient Zero of a specific community, if you will…(but I digress)

Influence’s place within a community then has three distinct functions:

1) Self-policing. Interestingly, I would imagine that the influencers in a community have influence, in part because they feel extreme passion about the shared goals and focus of the community (super users), and its in their own self-interest to ensure that those goals/focus dont change (to ensure no loss of influence).

ICanHasCheezburger is a great example where the community itself polices comments and other aspects of the content to ensure it lives up to the standards set by the community.

2) Attraction of new resources and people to the community.

With Threadless, the vast majority of their community members start by submitting a tshirt design. The influential members of the community (those that have been printed, for example) are attracting other designers to submit designs. They attract a certain “type” of community member, who is quickly taught the rules (see point #1).

3) Drive the community’s character.

Andrew, with StartupWeekend and Ignite Boulder. David Cohen with TechstarsBrad Feld through his blog. All of these members of the Boulder community really influence the character of the community. The character of the community helps to also define who can apply influence (a vicious circle!) and ultimately attract people and resources to the community, who are people who share the community’s character (ah! its an infinite loop!).

Influence and influencers, serve the primary purpose of fostering community, by both attracting people and resources (growing the community), and policing (protecting the community).

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