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What is influence?

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One word out of you, buster, and I'll fly over there and poop on your head by Ed Yourdon via Flickr

What is influence?

At Social Media Week in London last week, Brass Agency asked Twitterati, “What is influence?” Fifteen leading social media buffs replied.

I want to ask the question in another way – like a social psychologist, to be precise.  I ask


  • “What do we do to be influential?”


  • “What does influence look like?”

I ask a question which is, on the face of it, quite threatening, but I take off the threat quickly with the sub-question.

  • “Who accepts our influence? (And, on what terms?)

On what terms do people accept our influence?

Harvard Scholar, Herbert C. Kelman studied this question for over 50 years in different settings and he found a 3-way typology worked for him: Rules, Roles, Values.


We’ll follow an undisputed authority or celebrity.  We allow ourselves to be influenced (at least superficially) and we bring little of ourselves to the relationship.  We follow, but we aren’t followed back!


We take part in an enterprise, or game, with a shared goal to win a valued prize – a championship, say in sport, or a big sale in business, or a mission in computer game.

To bring all the skills together that for our team to win, we need ‘levels’.  Levels are important because they allow anyone to join in at the bottom, as a newbie, and to work their way up, in a psychologically safe way, to a position of respect in a respected team.  That is what we are after when we join – working our way up into a position of respect in nice easy chunks, that aren’t so easy that they hold no status, and not so hard that we can’t get it after a little bit of practice

Influencers in these systems look like players at the higher levels.  The real influencers are almost invisible.  They are the designers – the managers and games designers who create the levels and keep the whole system  co-ordinated and flowing.  Without them there is no game to play.

In systems like these, we re-tweet people on higher levels than us, and we are re-tweeted by people on lower levels than us!  And we are little irked when our members re-tweet people in other teams.

We sometimes re-tweet the influencers.  They might read our tweets, but they never re-tweet them except as an example of what is useful or not useful to the group.  They are as distant to us as a celeb.


When we are influenced by values, we are very self-directed.  Our goal is to  expand our connection with the universe, however we interpret that.  In the process, we expand our own horizons and we get better at better at what we like to do.  We are picky too. We only get involved in situations that are meaningful to us  and that offer sufficient resources for us to follow our calling.

People who don’t  share our values think we are nuts, if they see us at all.  People who share our values notice us and their attention perks up.  They learn from us and we learn from them.  Following is mutual.

Re-tweets in this kind of influence are used as quick references in a conversation.  Re-tweets here aren’t likes; they are abbreviations!

What kind of influence do you specialize in?

As social media pundits, I think specialize in two ways: domain of influence and terms of influence.

Domain of influence

We work in a particular domain – politics, technology, arts, science, education, music, FMCG, light industrial, etc.

Terms of Influence

We probably have a particularly interest in one of the three influence mechanisms.


For example, classical broadcast, radios, magazines,  large festival, FMCG B2C marketing


Sport, education, professional community management, relationship marketing including frequent flyer programs, games design


High value goods (typically not seen from the high street including the post-graduate corridors that produced Google).  Situation-led events like the Egyptian revolution

Which terms of influence interest you?  I can almost guarantee you can rank order the three in order of preference.

The influence interests of London Twitterati

I tested out the Kelman’s model of rule, role and value by classifying the definitions of influence offered by London’s Twitterati and collected together in such a delightful mashup by Brass Agency.

Let’s see if they think that I have read their interests correctly!


@ally_manock @benjaminellis @drewellis @toodlepip @eba


@gemmawent @lesanto @azeem @whattleydude @sophiebr


@marketsentinel @joannajacobs @josepholiver @mazi @c_draper

I trust they will let me know if I’ve added anything to their understanding!

What is social influence?  (By Brass Agency and others)

My theme is aggressively wiping off this video.  If is has disappeared follow this link to Brass Agency while I sort out the code.


Published in SOCIAL MEDIA & IT


  1. Hey Jo… great blog post!

    It made for very interesting reading and is great to get your viewpoint on influence.

    Can you talk a little more about why you have categorised me into ‘Rules’ – what made you do that?



  2. Hi Ally,

    It was good of you to leave a comment!

    Some background first: I did some work in a different context to try to explain why some events did not work as well as we thought they should and I found a social psychological theory that explains what the punters want from us – that is, who accepts our influence and on what terms.

    Much to my surprise, sometimes people want a broadcast model. They are looking for the minimal engagement of ‘rules’ or the distant relationship they have with celebs. Hence the ‘rules’ level speaks to the minimalism wanted by the punters. Using the 90:10:1 rule of thumb, I suppose this is most of us, most of the time. Of course, the punters chatter among themselves and there is some feedback to the broadcasters but the connection is lightweight compared to the other two types of relationship.

    Why did I put you under rules? I think because your verb was ‘make’ – make someone take an action or have an opinion.

    The roles type is more like a game – the game allows an action. The value type – well people are driven by their own schema and pitch up when it makes sense to them.

    I am not necessarily right, of course. But I couldn’t resist trying to to see if the model added value in our mediated world. It was also quite interesting that the views were equally distributed 5:5:5.

    The word ‘rules’ does have an unfortunate connotation – can’t think of a better one just now. It does remind us though that it is the consumer who wants the minimalism of rules or certainty or low involvement. It also reminds us that a huge chunk of our lives is conducted in this type of relationship and we need to be good at delivering these kinds of relationships!! I am not particularly good at this type of relationship which is associated with the consumer world.

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