Influence?

Endfield Dam on CT River
Enfield Dam on CT River

For those people who are obsessed with statistics, and there must be a lot of them because they have their own support websites, we have a new base for affliction – influence monitoring. Seriously, several leading edge yet somewhat primitive analytics services –Klout, PeerIndex and other such services are popping up, offering to score your “influence quotient.” While it was somewhat comforting to see that my score on Klout “suggests a strong, but niche, following”, according to a NY Times article, it strikes me that the score totally misses the point. Based on my Twitter (somewhat random) Facebook (rarely used) and LinkedIn (where about 50% of the discussions are thinly veiled ads), I hardly feel that my score represents anything about me. What I do find interesting though is the degree to which people are flocking to have themselves “ranked” and the fact that sure-fire methods to game these scores are already cropping up on the net.

What is wrong with us as a people? I know, “Social Media is the new PR mechanism, and what’s the point of doing something if you can’t measure its effectiveness…” Sorry, I’m not buying it. I follow over 700 people on Twitter, and I don’t think I would say that even 10 have influenced me. There is a huge difference between educate and influence. I had so many teachers in my life that I can’t remember half of the ones who “educated” me, but I clearly remember each and every one who influenced me. In fact, I could bend your ear for a while about every person who has ever influenced me, and let me be clear, the vast majority are not on Facebook or Twitter. Just because I retweet, reply to, Like or Fav someone does not mean they influenced my day, let alone my life.

What about the people I influence? Klout says there are over 300 of them – a number I seriously doubt. Influence doesn’t happen quickly, it doesn’t happen casually and it doesn’t happen in 140 characters. Please don’t be influenced by what I post on Twitter. Don’t get me wrong, I hope to influence people, but not in the megalomaniacal sense of having them “follow” me. I hope to provoke people to consider new ideas, reconsider ideas that may seem passé or trite, and open their minds to ideas they previously considered anathema. I would love to see every person I know commit themselves to being a lifelong learner, a lifelong reader, a mentor and a student of the arts. To accomplish that, I talk to people, I author several blogs, I spend time listening to people, interacting with people, sharing my experience with people and enjoying the experience they choose to share with me. None of that is measured by Klout and most of it can’t be measured at all.

Let me tell you about two people who influenced me. The first is my father. He influenced me by rote, repeating important bits of information over and over, like: “try to do your best with everything you do.” He followed that by pointing out examples whenever he could “…see, how well things turn out when you do your best?” He also influenced me by example; he always tried to do his best. I spent about 30 years within his sphere of influence, and today, I am very much like him. I don’t vote the way he voted, I don’t drive the kind of car he drove, I don’t live where he lived and I didn’t follow his career path – he never hoped to influence those aspects of my life. I am like him in the things that matter, the way I treat people, the way I treat myself and the way I approach life. The other person is Dr. Humphrey, PhD. Assistant Dean, Department of Chemistry, West Virginia University.  Dr. Humphrey was my advisor, and just before graduating with a BS in Chemistry, he told me I was “an adequate chemist.” In the discussion that followed, he influenced me to consider making a career by following my passion for computer science. His advice was the most significant career advice ever offered to me and accepting it was the best decision I ever made. While he influenced me in a single half-hour discussion, he had observed my work (chemistry and computer programming) for three years. He had gotten to know me and he had shared enough of his life story that I felt I knew him.

Can we hope to have that kind of impact via Twitter? Maybe someday. There are few people that I communicate with in social media that I feel I know well enough to trust, to respect and to believe – really believe. Over time, I may find myself moved by these people to change my thought process, my behavior, and my outlook. I don’t see this change happening soon, and I am sure it hasn’t happened 10 times this week, as Klout would indicate.

6 thoughts on “Influence?

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  1. I wouldn’t know anything about any rating facilities (by the way, how come I’m reading your post from 2011? Ohh, you linked to it, didn’t you!), and I’m not on twitter, but what you said simply wouldn’t do for me. I like being influenced by the worthy, and if I was to follow SO many people without any influencing happening, I’d consider the time going through their stuff ill spent. I’m sure Thursday Doors are very influential, for example, making people left and right click at the doors. But most of all I like people who are not afraid to tell it and show it like it is. I love your two examples of influencing. I wish I’d have the second one – maybe in that case I’d be working for a living.

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