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The Year of Understanding Influence

2010 was the year where we revisited not only the definition of influence, but also deeply explored its meaning in today’s social economy. What represented an ongoing series of virtual global summits on the topic, influence was scrutinized as a way of better understanding its role in new media.

It goes beyond academic study however. Influence permeated the realm of the masses and suddenly, we the people, were gifted with the opportunity to voice what moved us. In doing so, we also earned the opportunity to build networks around who we are. The quest for the meaning of influence emerged as something much more personal. Influence impacted digital societies and many were earning it without fully understanding why or how.

With the pervasiveness of social media, we were learning, and sometimes confusing, the differences between influence and new found, micro fame, celebrity and popularity. Suddenly the dichotomies of influence and popularity were blurring. And, the controversial Fast Company Influence Project only diluted distinction.

Unlike so many terms in Social Media, influence is not a new word invented or reinvented to suit the times. Its origin is Latin, “influere” which translates into something very interesting for the social era, “to flow into.” Almost everything we discover and share in social networks these days is done through our streams and to loosely translate the root of influence symbolizes the ability to flow into the streams of others.

The text book definition of influence is the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.


Effect is key in understanding influence and its role in societies online and in the real world. In social media, it’s the ability to cause measurable actions and outcomes. While popularity may help, this really becomes a study of the quality, caliber, and conditioning of an individual’s social graph where context plays an increasingly important role over time.

Understanding the relationship between cause and effect in new media also helps us better understand the shift from influence to influencer.

In 2010 and heading into 2011, influence will only continue to captivate attention and interest. With services such as Klout, PeerIndex, et al, we are now measured by how we interact online and whether we like it or not, our influence factor (IF) is also weighted. To introduce a sense of urgency into the subject, many businesses are placing great importance on these scores, which in the real world is not new either, but here, we still have much to learn about social currency and individual capital.

Looking back to 2010, I’ve assembled a few of my favorite discussions on influence.  We learned many lessons and sparked significant insights that will help us continue the discussions in years to come. And, we’ll learn every step of the way.

Please read and share…

The 2010 Series on Influence

Exploring and Defining Influence: A Study with Vocus

Please Repeat: Influence is not Popularity…and Popularity is not Influence

Influence is Bliss: The Gender Divide of Influence on Twitter

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Facebook

If you’re looking for a way to FIND answers in social media, consider Engage!: It will help

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33 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Year of Understanding Influence”

  1. Great post. I completely agree that influence will continue to grow in importance and help to shape how we interact with social media. Understanding how influence works will make people think more strategically about how they engage and may even elevate the conversation. I would hope that it would also mean fewer Twitter spammers, but that’s probably just a dream of mine…

    • briansolis says:

      If only one day this dream would come true. On the bright side, we’re in control of our social streams, so we can filter those people/bots right out of our social graph!

  2. Nice and also surprising how Twitter Influencers are almost equal draw between Males & Females.

  3. Thanks for this post. I really like the quote “influence is not popularity”.

    Taking your definition, Character is also key in understanding influence. One has different effects on different characters. Therefore, influence has to be measured in a context of a group.

    In the social world, let’s call it a “tribe” of a “community”. That’s we think where the complexity lies, in finding the communities in which influence is active.


  4. Check of proof: Ben Bernanke is not Kim Kardashian… and Kim Kardashian is not Ben Bernanke.

  5. To your point, I didn’t know who Brain Solis was until today. You influenced someone, who influenced me and they told me to find out who you were before someone ask me “Do you know Brian Solis” and I didn’t know. So I came here to find the answer and you also influenced me. Awesome!


  6. Brian I love your insight you offered in our interview when I asked what would you tell listeners to watch for in this next year. “The Individual”

    How are you seeing that recognition happening on a mass level so far?

  7. Peter says:

    Hi Brian, good to read your thoughts as always!

    Klout says I’m influenced by you and I’m pleased about that.

    We’re a tad slow with regards to Social Media here in the UK, when will you be visiting? Have a peaceful & prosperous 2011!

  8. Great insight here. When will we be able to provide some kind of measurement or ROI regarding influence? Or given the fluid, evolving nature of social media, will we ever be able to measure it?

  9. Ok, but it would be a stretch if we are to believe that completely automating influence measurement via social media gestures provides an accurate picture. In some cases, it’s a proxy to real influence, and in many cases it’s not. At least for sure, it’s not always accurate via automated ways.

  10. Reid says:

    In a field governed by many push/pull factors, to avoid the tug of undercurrents one must exert energetic authority and/or charismatic impact on people’s interests. It’s not a matter of content, one must assume extraordinary social currency and individual capital in order to make a wave on the internet, or have the backing (influence) of those who do. While the rumblings of the virtual microcosm itself influences the world of users and non-users alike, if given the opportunity to rise to the surface, for most of us, (who are generally under the influence of someone else’s ideas,) our own influence will typically be brief–in no time our own interests are usually overwhelmed, co-opted or swamped by the massive interests of REAL POWER.

    • CrC says:

      Wow man, you really sound intelligent. Tell me, how does it smell up your own ass?

    • Translation: Kim Kardashian has social currency and the rest of us little people can only hope for our 60 seconds of relevance.

      Implied recommendation in order to gain/wield social currency: Have a sex tape of you leaked on the internet, be reasonably attractive, have a famous step-father and then solidify your no-brains, all-plastic image via your own reality show.

      Gonna be difficult, but I’ll give it a shot…

  11. Anonymous says:

    Interesting subject and one I have explored and continue to explore from a different perspective than most. I believe that human influence, much like human mental disorders, is barely understood, highly complex and most times misdiagnosed.

    I would put forward that popularity is a type of influence and that influence has many forms: popularity, situational, reputation, natural presence, societal-business position, ideas/things, emotional and logical.

    I have always viewed influence in layers that constantly ebb and flow according to what we are doing (situational) and who we are interacting with (presence/position/popularity/reputation) – further compounded by natural influencing layers within us and our surroundings (things/ideas/emotional/logical).

    I am not a believer in the current measurement tools and the more we try and automate measurement, the more our understanding of influence will focus on a very limited definition.

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