Influence 1

Three definitions of influence

Alex Butler, Faisal Ahmed and myself were joined by John Nosta yesterday for an interesting discussion around the subject of influence which has now been published as a Digitally Sick podcast.

It’s a subject that has vexed me over the years, and which I have written about regularly.

During the recording, I sketched aspects of my current thinking around influence from a healthcare perspective.

Here are three key themes expressed from my point of view:

Influence is received, not exerted

One of the principle reasons legacy healthcare companies feel challenged by the social turn in business is that it has foregrounded their status as ego-systems rather than eco-systems.

With the destabilising, disorienting loss of control that accompanied the social evolution of communications comes a desire to quantify how influential a company still is.

As bizarre and contradictory as that might sound when stated so baldly, let there be no doubt: the reason conversations around ‘influence as a metric’ are still being undertaken so enthusiastically is a signifier of the fact that the subject remains a priority for inward-looking organisations with an unhealthy obsession regarding others’ perception of them. Placing such emphasis on external validation doesn’t say a lot that’s good about these businesses, of course, but that doesn’t change anything — for them, at least.

Hankering after a means of measuring the solid reassurance of an ‘influence’ expressed through proclamatory, monological, univocal press release-style messaging may have allowed third parties hundreds of opportunities to sell in dashboards, listening posts and bamboozling number-crunching interfaces, but unfortunately this isn’t the way influence works.

Rather than being exerted in this muscular, familiar, corporate-friendly manner, influence on the Social Web is received by means of ongoing observation of a user’s manners and habits, daily dialogues, impromptu conversations, helpful interventions, and just plain shooting the breeze.

Whilst there are exceptions to every rule, this isn’t something most pharmaceutical companies, for example, are probably ever going to be very good at doing as they’re just not organised to discover, reflect on, understand, and respond to these kinds of expectations.

Unless the industry demonstrates that it’s capable of taking longer, quicker strides towards reform by applying the precepts of social business across its enterprise, things aren’t going to change a great deal, and this illusory and inaccurate (in my opinion) definition of ‘how influence works’ will continue to hold sway, to no effect whatsoever.

Influence is unstructured or loosely structured, not structured

Beyond the acquisition of an understanding of feed management tools, social search protocols, and the effective use of Boolean operators (none of which are necessary, really, but make life easier) our own experience of searching for, encountering, assessing and possibly being influenced by the sources of information we seek within social environments is unstructured.

Disease-focused tweet chats and regularly used disease hashtags are examples of two influence-forming contexts within which health information is discovered and exchanged that are loosely structured.

Structured activities such as the scheduled, anonymous, alienating pulse of declamations that many healthcare concerns seem to specialise in publishing across the social web appear expressly designed to influence in a negative way, presumably contrary to the intentions of their architects.

Influence is applied, not calculated

Influence is not a number.

Influence is not an abstraction.

Influence is the outcome of being determining consciousness over time: what we see people doing defines how we perceive them, what we think of them, and how kindly disposed we are towards giving credence to what they say.

Any attempt to resolve such a complex set of personal interrelations into an algorithm is therefore not only defective, it is a category error.

The influence that matters

In the last instance, the only influence that matters is the influencing of health interventions from a professional perspective and health behaviours from a patient perspective that can be seen to demonstrably improve health outcomes.

Beyond that, really: why on Earth should anyone care?

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