Authority vs. Influence

Authority vs. Influence

Spurred on by a post from Mack Collier, Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell posted an interesting vlog post yesterday on the idea of authority.  I believe this concept of obsessively counting Twitter followers is the idea that touches off this debate.  For example, if you have 25.000, does that mean you are an authority?  I think Mack, Jackie, Ben and many other are all agreed that the answer is no.  Alone, Twitter followers doesn’t even necessarily mean you have great influence, it is only a  base brute measure of “reach” (you could also add in reach of the RTs for total reach) in the same way that media has measured reach for years.

There are some other interesting nuggets in the Ben/Jackie interplay in that video that piqued my interest.

Does a book indicate authority?: When Perez Hilton comes up, they reconsider whether or not he may be an “Authority” when the fact that he has a new book up gets mentioned.  Initially I chuckled at the idea of having a book giving you street cred in the church’s eyes, but then I reconsidered.  Writing a book usually indicates that the author has done a huge amount of research into a particular topic and (often) has some personal experience or connection to the topic that gives them further credibility.

Are authority and influence the same thing?: Jackie asks this as “Are the things that you say retweeted?” Ben by positing that “You are an authority if you have people who take your word and take action”.  I think both of these are less about authority and more about influence.   From the wikipedia entry on this authority: “What distinguishes authority, from coercion, force and power on the one hand and leadership, persuasion and influence on the other hand, is legitimacy.”  I do think that its possible for an authority to not have a large group of people listening to them.  Similarly many people can take action on what Britney Spears telegraphs, but I’m not sure this makes her an authority at anything other than influence.

Have online celebrities convinced themselves they are real celebrities? Ben and Jackie included some fun Twitterati mentions of folks that I really enjoy who really are caught up in their follower count.  Stay tuned for G4’s “Twitterati: Where are they now” series in 2014.

Thanks to Ben & Jackie for the inspiration this morning!

5 Replies to “Authority vs. Influence”

  1. Good points!

    I agree that authority probably has more to do with retweets and links than just followers. As mentioned, retweets and links are examples of “people who take your word and take action”.

    So, being popular doesn’t necessarily mean you have authority. However, I guess there still is some positive correlation between the two. And, the narrower the topic you write about, more followers probably also means more authority. I assume the correlation is stronger for narrower topics.

    Maybe that is implicit though, in the fact that a narrow topic by definition hardly can be very popular! =)

  2. Anybody can have a bunch of followers if you follow enough people who automatically follow back. But, only a select few have the influence to make another take action. Last night Chris Brogan tweeted one of my blogs – he must have caused quite a fright to my Goog Analytics! I have been tweeted and retweeted before by others – who have less influence but a good number of followers. Followers, impressions are not what counts – it is the action that takes place. I don’t count the people who saw the tweet but didn’t visit my blog…

  3. This topic seems to have gathered momentum after the Watts/Gladwell “influencers vs. other” debate broke some months ago. I would seriously question whether Twitter followers has any validity, particulary given the ‘auto-follow’ nature of the medium. And ‘re-tweets’ are more a function of your followers propensity to ‘re-tweet.’ While Ben’s point of ‘action’ is the best (and really only) measure of influence, it’s pretty hard to distill from a distance – so shortcuts are a natural fall back position.

    The point about authors is true, though: I’ve heard that ‘author’ carries more influential weight than “Phd” or “doctor” does at this point. This is probably due to the fact that getting published requires an authority figure (a publisher, with choices) has given you their stamp of approval. Note the difference in your own mind between two authors, one of which is self-published and the other from a top tier house. No comparison, is there?

    In the Cialdini school of thought on the subject, “authority” matters more in areas of objectivity — which is factually better, between two choices? — while “consensus” matters more in subjective areas of taste — which fashions/music/food do many other similar people to me choose?

    Given the rise of choices we all have in most all areas – from purchase decisions to reading choices – it’s hard to say what is purely objective at this point. Is an iPod better than a Sansa? Debatable. Will I poll my friends or tweet about my upcoming surgical procedure? Not bloody likely.

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