Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Popularity and Influence in Social Media (Part I): Do You Know The Difference?

Popularity and Influence.
If you are developing your social media presence, whether for your business or yourself as a professional, it’s important to be able to recognize the difference between influence and popularity, two terms that are often wrongly interpreted.

As always, we start by defining the two terms:

Popularity: To be liked, admired, or enjoyed by many people or, at least, by a group of people in particular.
Influence: People who have the ability to impact positively or negatively on a particular subject. According to another source: “People with power or authority with whose intervention an advantage, favor or benefit can be obtained.”

From this point on, the difference is crystal-clear: A popular person is loved, admired, and enjoyed by many. An influential person is someone who can make a difference, promote a change, and enjoys the confidence of its surrounding group, whether large or small. 

And notice that popularity and influence are two concepts that have so little in common, that the person you least expect can be very influential in a particular topic and help you make some decisions.

And it happened to me personally some time ago: I had doubts about whether to buy some accessories for my bike and talking to a close friend of mine, who has all my confidence, I mentioned my concerns and, to my surprise, it turned out that this friend of mine, Alberto Polo Positivo, knew a lot of things about bikes and the accessories I was planning to buy, far more than I ever imagined.

And he influenced me so strongly that day, that not only helped me make a decision but anytime I have questions about bikes, I go back to him without hesitation. That’s influence.

An influential person has the ability to generate a change of opinion.

You have to clearly understand the difference between popularity and influence so you can use them properly to promote your products and services. Going back to the exchange I had with my friend Alberto, as you can see his opinion was so important to me that helped me make a decision.

And my decision had nothing to do with Alberto’s popularity, nor with how many followers he’s got  on Twitter or anything like that.

My decision was based on the confidence I put in Alberto and the knowledge he showed me when we were talking about bikes and the accessories I was planning to buy.

Popularity does not determine influence.

As you can see, influence is strongly linked to two elements that are worth mentioning:

  • Trust: It’s obvious that for a person to be influential to you, it must have earned your trust. If there is no trust, that person will not be able to influence you in any way.
  • Authority: The knowledge that person proves to have about a particular topic.

And although it’s very important to have authority on the topic at hand, showing knowledge and skills, if the person hasn’t earned your trust, nothing will happen.

Every so often we get on the web lists highlighting the most influential people, as it’s the case in the article I recommend you to read at the end of this post. However, it’s important for you to know that a very popular person isn’t necessarily influential in a specific topic. It may be retweeted hundred of times per day, mentioned in every conversation, but that is not necessarily a true index of that person’s influence.

How important it is for your product, an influential person within your industry?

And now you will see why it’s so important to know the difference between popularity and influence: A person who is influential within your industry can create a wave of favorable opinions for your product, which will therefore lead to more sales. Period.

Please note that if your product is really good, offers value, is different from what others offer, an influential person (or what people like to name: “an industry expert”) will want to know about it and share it with others.

It’s a mutual exchange: The influential person gains knowledge and increases its reputation within the industry by talking about a new product that perhaps few people know, and your product gets the endorsement of an “industry expert” or influential person. A real "win-win" situation.

The same is not necessarily the case with a person who is only popular.

I included herein a link to the post by Douglas Karr in Social Media Today, that develops this theme in an extraordinary way, using plain and simple language.

Now that we have talked about Popularity and Influence, How are you planning to use it to promote your products or services?

Recommended Reading:
We Should Stop Saying Influential When We Mean Popular People

Click here continue reading part II and III of this post:
Popularity and Influence in Social Networks: You Choose What Works and What Doesn’t.
Popularity and Influence in Social Networks: Create Your Own Voice

Related Article:
Correspondence and Influence: Why Do We Share Content?

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