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.)
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 Techstars. Brad 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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- Follow Friday. Oh My! (learntoduck.com)
- HOW TO: Measure Online Influence (mashable.com)
- Geek Spring Break! (lijit.com)
- Entrepreneurship in Boulder in 2009 (feld.com)
- What’s the job market like in Boulder? (coloradostartups.com)
- WordCamp Denver (Feb 28th, 2009) (alexking.org)
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I didnt grow up in Boulder. I didnt even grow up in Colorado.
Me? I was born in Fort Collins and moved to California when I was less than 2 years old. I grew up in California in the heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose. (My family also spent a lot of time in Mountain View and Palo Alto – my dad worked at Stanford University for 25 years).
Needless to say, I am a firm believer in the fact that California rocks. And, in terms of technology and technological advancement, the Silicon Valley rocks harder.
Not Colorado. Especially not Boulder.
But over the past year of working at Lijit, mentoring TechStars companies and countless time spent with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, developers, and the like, my thinking changed. Boulder became “ok” in my California-centric view. (I still think everything is better in California, dont get me wrong).
Then, last week, Sarah Lacy came to visit. On camera, during an interview with my friend (yes, my friend) Matt Galligan, in writing on her blog, and to my face at dinner, she said two things that for some reason have really struck a chord with me:
- Boulder initially gave her a cool reception; and
- She held the belief that for an entrepreneur to be successful, they had to be an “off the charts” self-promoter (I am paraphrasing both points).
Her point was: How could any company in Boulder ever hope to compete nationally or internationally if they dont constantly sing their own praises?
The general feeling I got was that she, who had interviewed hundreds of startups and receives hundreds of pitches daily and traveled to many cities both domestically and internationally, had seen what it took for a startup to become successful.
As a reporter, you certainly have the ability to see and record what has generally been successful. Yet, lack the actual experience of being inside the cauldron where true success stories are grown.
Success is independent of location and comes with hard work, which engenders recognition, and while recognition can precede success; success is only a by-product of respect and trust (especially in a web 2.0 world, where usage always equates to success).
Whats the outcome? How has the “humbleness?” / “silence?” of Boulder affected the success of the companies here?
There is one Boulder startup that I have true insight in, Lijit Networks. When we use Compete.com (yes, everyone can say its a bad measure, but even a bad measure used equally is apples to apples) to compare the unique visitors and page views of Lijit versus two “hot” Valley startups, Twitter and FriendFeed (both with much more buzz), we end up with:
If you cant see the numbers, year to date:
- Lijit‘s monthly Unique Visitors are 3,927,455
- FriendFeed‘s monthly Unique Visitors are 566,641
- Twitter‘s monthly Unique Visitors are 3,478,239
Again, I just used compete. If we use QuantCast, the numbers break out this way:
- Lijit‘s monthly Unique Visitors are 673,000
- FriendFeed‘s monthly Unique Visitors are 140,000
- Twitter‘s monthly Unique Visitors are 1,900,000
I, of course, like Compete much better… :)
But, if you look at the growth curve on the Compete.com graph, Lijit and Twitter follow a very similar trajectory.
What about pageviews? Not surprisingly, Twitter is the king:
Yet Lijit’s pageviews are more than double FriendFeed.
Doesnt make a ton of sense given the use cases (Lijit is a search service and FriendFeed is a lifestream aggregator). I assume that Compete is counting actual daily searches as pageviews (since the search engine results pages are on lijit.com), especially since I doubt people enjoy (no matter how well designed) our homepage that much.
It, of course, could be that we over estimate how many of our publishers use our stats pages or check their earnings, but I digress.
The point is, that with minimal fanfare, Lijit competes nicely with two of the hot Web 2.0 Valley companies. Shoot, with minimal fanfare, we are the second most used search widget behind Google’s Custom Search.
Is Lijit different than other Boulder companies? Not really (except that their Business Development guy looks fabulous in a pink hat). We know some of the successes, Left Hand Networks going to Hewlett Packard for $300mm plus, SocialThing going to AOL, and Intense Debate going to Automattic. People forget often that Blue Mountain Arts ($780mm to Excite), ProFlowers, Celestial Seasonings, WhiteWave, Gaiam and Crocs are also Boulder companies or have Boulder roots. Even my favorite t-shirt company (other than PleaseDress.me) Threadless has set up shop here in town.
TechStars has seen 20 companies come through its program, with 3/4 of them getting funded and all of them learning more than they ever would on their own.
StartupWeekend, started in Boulder, as the brain child of one mop-haired designer, and now has gone to take a microcosm of the Boulder entrepreneurial experience to dozens of cities domestically and internationally and hundreds and hundreds of people.
Gnip, when deciding where to locate, chose Boulder over San Francisco, even though their founder and CEO, Eric Marcouiller has developed deep roots and relationships in The City. (Eric helped found MyBlogLog which was sold to Yahoo!) because of the resources provided within the community, as well as the community itself. Jud Valeski, Eric’s co-founder and Gnip’s CTO, is also a transplant to Boulder.
Boulder entrepreneurs dont have to be wild self promoters, because unlike Silicon Valley, there isnt a deafening amount of noise to battle through.
As the end of the day, Boulder companies just dont spend a lot of time (and money!) on banging their own drum.
And for all the analysis, it could be as simple as knowing that putting our heads down, working our asses off and supporting each other, coupled with a real desire to see Boulder (not a company, not our reputation, not our place in history, but the entire community) succeed, will always lead to an outcome that bears more a valuable, satisfying fruit.
Whew. Now its time for me to contradict myself–I wouldnt be a good bipolar if I didnt.
So why does the concept that Boulder entrepreneurs are doing themselves a disservice by not being self-promoting bother me so much? I really dont know.
I do know that I consider myself the “Chief Evangelist” of Lijit, and as 2009 nears, I know that my function at Lijit has to morph slightly.
I look to others that have blazed that trail, people like Anil Dash and Matt Mullenweg (for bloggers); Guy Kawasaki and Robert Scoble (for technology), and I wonder what are the things I can do to emulate and learn from them.
I wonder what additional difficulties I will face being at a “non-Valley” company (to the point where I have comtemplated moving to San Francisco).
(On a personal note, I also wonder where the line between self- and company-promotion lies, and how hard I can push myself to do things that make me feel uncomfortable but are right.)
My job will, in some ways, become what I have outlined Boulder companies dont need much of and I am interested in seeing what that means for Lijit and me, and plan to blog about it (of course!).
Which means that you can plan to see my pink hat everywhere in 2009…
How hard will my job be in 2009?
Here is what I do know about Lijit:
- Lijit is a startup with a positive trajectory towards success;
- Lijit has a team that has the ability to make that happen;
- We are building some cool stuff (centered around providing publishers more control);
- Everyone has not heard of Lijit (yet); therefore
- We have a lot of work ahead for us in 2009.
And what will Boulder’s startup scene be like in 2009?
Heres what I know about Boulder:
- Boulder entreprenuers are doing just fine in the success department,
- And for those folks that dont believe me, I have a guest room you are welcome to come stay in to check it out.
What a disruptive question. The person who asks why constantly in an effort to learn always gets further than the person that accepts the direction and information presented them.
Here is why I have gotten involved with DonorsChoose. Dave Taylor, asked me to write an email to him as to why I decided to get involved:
About a year ago, I was beginning to read VC and tech blogs. During that time, I came across Fred Wilson’s blog. I had no idea who Fred Wilson was, other than a lot of people seem to read his blog. He was linked to by Brad Feld, and Brad was someone I trusted, so I assumed Fred’s content was equally trustworthy.
For a period of time, as I read Fred’s blog, I began to find most of the content pretty interesting and on topics that I found interesting.
Then one day he had a post about joining a “blogger’s challenge” by DonorsChoose. I was a new blogger, and was just learning what a widget was, etc., plus the power of blogging.
Having been an educational fundraiser for years early in my career (mostly colleges and universities), I always have held any philanthropic effort to help education in high regard, so I took a closer look at DonorsChoose.
Its a really interesting charity. It allows teachers to self identify things that are important to them. So music teachers will choose things like new guitar stands, a history teacher might select a trip to a local museum, a english teacher might select a series of books. Then individuals can contribute to which ever cause they find particularly interesting. The amount doesnt matter, and the contributor can designate the entire donation to go directly to the cause (with DonorsChoose getting zero).
I decided to participate and help Fred out. It didnt hurt that the winning blogger would get a lunch date with Jerry Yang, which Fred had decided to give to the participant who provided the best reason for giving. My dad, having recently retired from Stanford University, would love to have lunch with Jerry, so I jumped in.
DonorsChoose allows you to pick a school by geography, and I was very excited to see that my middle school, Morrill Middle School in San Jose, CA had a fundable project. So I sent in a small amount ($500 I think), to fund that project.
Fred did win the lunch with Jerry, and selected someone extremely worthy to get the lunch, but I had found a site that I felt had all the pieces of a site that could make a real difference. And over the next year, I made several donations, usually in the name of a family member. (In fact, for christmas, I gave everyone a donation in their name rather than gifts.)
A couple of weeks back, I got an email from Kris Murray, DonorsChoose’s Deputy Director, Northwest Region. She happened to be from Colorado and was out visiting family. She asked if we could connect, and, like a good Boulderite, we met over coffee.
She told me that DonorsChoose was going to have another Bloggers Challenge this year. She asked me to join Fred, Robert Scoble, Mike Arrington, Kara Swisher and others in the challenge. I knew that I would never be very effective on my own, so I offered to help in any way I can, which I knew was getting more people involved than just me.
In truth, its one of the best parts of the technology scene in Colorado. We are all more than happy to help one another. Unlike the coasts, where often the individual is the center, in Colorado its is usually a collective effort. TechStars is a great example of that. Lijit is a great example of that.
So, I asked the premier bloggers in the state: you, Brad Feld, Seth Levine, Ryan McIntire, Jason Mendelson, Andrew Hyde, Alex King and David Cohen; created a giving page called the Colorado Bloggers Challenge, and asked everyone to join in.
I am glad to see that everyone has decided to be part of the effort.
I took a couple of Jewish History and Religion classes in college. You know what separates the Jewish religion from the polytheistic religions? Jews asked their God why. Thats about it. Except for the one god thing.
Philanthropy is important to me for one reason. I have a lot to make up for. I was a bad person for a long time. As I start to write my book, I am thinking about my life in its entirety. Until recently, I was not a good person. I did not good things. I have much to make up for.
Community is evenly important. I have never lived on the top of a mountain as a hermit. I have always lived in a community. As I try to be a good person, I am also focused on trying to be a good member of a community. Colorado, more so Boulder, takes community to another level. I am struggling to keep up, but its important enough for me that I am trying.
Because I can. Because I can help. Because I can drive awareness. Because, goddammit, I should.
Because you should too. Add the widget. Give some money. Help others. Make a real change in your community. Be good. Its not that hard. And it is that important.