You can clearly see the different modes of influence by looking at network topology.
In network science, it’s called centrality. The idea is that central nodes in a network are the most influential. But there is more to it, we have different types of centrality and use different algorithms to surface value, opportunity, and predict changes.
When we think of influence, we often think of popularity.
For a large network, a popular node/component/person/entity will have a lot of “influence” in the sense that it is highly connected and can rapidly disseminate information to a large group.
In a TEI roundtable on content amplification, networking and getting content in front of people who curate the most significant industry newsletters was cited as the most effective way to grow an email list.
To me, the mechanisms here is quite brilliant.
Have good enough relevant content that those with the most popular industry newsletters would share it. Connect with those influencers curating popular newsletters and let them know about your content.
So simple, and you get your thinking quickly disseminated among a large group of people, many of which by nature must to be in your target market, or at least adjacent to it.
This can be meaningful, it can turn a tide, or occasionally, make an impact. But there are lots of prerequisites there. Not only do you have to pass a sniff test of your content being relevant enough to get curated, but then the message has to be sticky and portable and resonant enough to carry itself forward from that initial dispersement.
The challenge then, as far as influence as popularity goes, the more popular, the more that impact gets diffused, the less relevant the message is to more people in the majority of the network.
It’s inefficient. It’s the same reason you see Seth Godin and James Clear writing short, crisp, almost cryptic emails now. It’s the only thing they can get disseminated effectively to their massively varied followings.
If you’ve ever had clients get featured in the New York Times, you’d know that while the NYT is a big popular thing, being featured in it results in pretty much zero business value, besides, maybe, getting to say you were featured in it.
So popularity matters, but mostly for those with a lot of popularity, and even then, the ability to direct the value of that popularity in a meaningful way brings its own challenges.
Like how celebrities are all kinds of sad in a way.
Popularity only works in as far as its protected by importance and difficulty in being replaced.
In most networks, if one of these big popular nodes disappears in a highly connected network, not too much changes. Similar nodes become more popular to fill the void. It’s like physics that way.
And yet, it’s the type of influence people chase.
The next type of influence (centrality) to discuss and the one I’m excited about is betweenness.
In network analysis, betweenness uncovers a different, very subtle, but very powerful measure of a certain key characteristic of influence. It seeks to uncover bridges between clusters in networks, gatekeepers, middle men. More on that tomorrow.