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 spent the last couple days with two people that I not only admire for who they are as people and what they have accomplished, but because they are both wildly more competent and knowledgeable about things that I want to gain competence and knowledge in.
The concept of sucking is an interesting one. Most people, especially entrepreneur types, hate the concept. The younger the entrepreneur the more they hate it.
Our American society teaches us that failure is not an option. We must persevere. We must overcome. The American Hero archetype is one that succeeds against all odds.
Americans, you see, dont suck.
But sucking, at some level, is important. When at ServiceMagic, we used to talk about failure, and the acceptance of failure. It was a lesson I learned well, and took with me to my company.
I still tell everyone that works for me the same thing: “Failure is okay when you learn from it. Failure is not okay when you repeat it. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting different outcomes. Dont be insane.”
Failure and sucking is easy to spot, but hard to accept.
Famously, Brad Feld’s motto at his first company was “We Suck Less.” He has written about sucking extensively: here and here are great posts. Another mentor of mine, David Cohen, and I have spoken about the concept quite often in relation to the TechStars teams (not in that they suck, although some do on occasion suck, but how sucking at something can actually be a positive.)
But knowing you suck is only 1/2 the battle (yes, I too, say “GI Joe!” in my head). Understanding how to suck less is the other half.
Compensating for your suckatude just isnt that simple. We can do anything if we put our minds to it (Yes, my mom told me that too).
The first step after realizing that you suck at something is finding people that dont suck at it. Then do two things: Ask questions and listen to the answers.
I try and do that a lot. I try to find people that are great at what they do (designers, musicians, investors, entrepreneurs, developers, parents, bloggers…the list is rather long), and spend time with them. Watch them. Listen to them. Ask questions.
Last week, I was asked to change my role at Lijit. The change came about because I am really good at one thing, and kinda sucky at another. When the discussion began, Todd said to me, “I know you have a lot of pride around what you do.”
I thought for a second.
After all, there are many things I do that for which I am proud. But, if what I suck at was holding back the organization, was I really helping myself? Was I really as competent as I thought? Was what I suck at (project management / organization) something I could fix, or was it something that I needed to take a step back and ask for help?
I replied, “Todd, I have no pride around what I do, just the results. If the results arent there, then I am open for adjustment.” And, from there the discussion continued and what we came up with, I know, is better for Lijit and for me. Now, I am even more excited now about what we are doing and where we are going in 2009.
There is no one that cant list something that they suck at.
It may not directly affect the job that you are doing, but it is something that you must recognize and accept and actively work to reduce the impact. Its that last part that people seem to forget.
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.