Measured Influence

On January 3, 2012, in HRExaminer, by John Sumser


Influence in HR and Recruiting

For nearly two and a half years, we’ve been measuring and talking about influence. As services like Klout, EmpireAvenue, and PeerIndex have come along, influence measurement has taken on a new credibility. It’s also taken some pretty silly turns.

Yesterday, we looked at a word cloud that showed the trending topics in the online universe that cares (publishes) about HR and Recruiting. The underlying structure is pretty straight forward. The size of the word is a function of the number of times it was mentioned. A word cloud gives you a picture of the terrain: the more the word is uttered, the larger its representation.

Within recent memory, this was better than anyone could imagine. Successful dissemination of a message was measured by the number of press clippings. Tracking the number of mentions of a story was an admittedly impossible task. Press clipping services (later, media monitoring services) prospered by helping organizations understand some of what was being said about them. Polling companies tried to grasp the trends that drove popular sentiment.

Today’s measures are an outgrowth of that clipping service mindset. In theory, you can start to calculate the impact of a piece of text (and it’s author by proxy) by looking at references, tweets, retweets and so on. This is what is meant when online influence is measured.

Even though we’ve been working with the issues for a while, it’s still very early.

What can be measured today is a very narrow and specific form of influence. The combination of content, repetition, references and distribution is the stuff that makes it likely that you will get one point of view or another. Much of what is called ‘influence’ is  the likelihood that you will find person X’s material at the top of the search engine results. In this way, so-called influence is little more than a second cousin of SEO (and you can sort of tell that by the way people try to game the analysis.

Recent studies from Harvard and Pew are starting to suggest that influence operates differently online than we’ve been led to believe. Friends don’t inherently influence the way that friends absorb new ideas.

In the flow of ideas, there are a spectrum of kinds of people. Curators identify and move information to audiences. Creators build the material that gets circulated. Lots of people straddle the middle between those two points.

Over the next year, we’re going to look closely at the types of people who move ideas around our industry.


The latest Pieces on Influence

  • Anonymous

    I’m just as curious about the effects of influence as you are John. However, the difference is I’m less willing to study it and would just prefer that you tell me 🙂 Anyway, is there something to be gleaned from the research of who influences children, teens and young adults.

    A few years back, there was a study that scared the cahooties out of a bunch of parents, basically stating that parents had far less influence on their childrens’ actions than the children’s peers. Unless I am mistaken, I think more recent studies have come out indicating a huge jump in how media influences kids. Which takes influence out of the personal individual realm and puts it back where I’m guessing it was in the tribal or feudal days, square in the hands of the loudest, strongest, oldest groups of people etc. (mob mentality??)

    This is truly a comment as I have no  real answers, just curious if any of this has played into your research.

  • Influence is situational.

    In parenting, the argument is always about whether the quality or quantity of time has the biggest influence on the development of kids. While I’m really tempted to say that it’s all about quantity, what I’m learning is that gross generalizations don’t work very well in this area. There is a strong argument that suggests that, all things being equal, the best parenting involves a lot of just showing up. But, I know of an enormous number of cases in which single incidents shaped the child’s life.

    As I watched my own kids grow up, it was clear that the peer group did a lot of the raising. But, the kids’ personalities and ethics seemed to come directly from their parents. Kids have always raised themselves to some extent.

    In our industry, some things that get repeated like mantras start to feel like they are true. This is what it looks like when the peer group does the raising. I find it interesting that much of the innovation in our business comes from outside the industry. That’s another symptom of our peer group raising itself.

    In the upcoming edition of the Top 25 Influencers in Recruiting, we looked at the data in a way that focuses on quantity, more or less. Like the idea that media can influence the market (or the kids), the results have to be
    taken with a grain of salt.

    What you get in the new analysis is a view of the market as if al things
    were equal. That’s as erroneous as the alternate perspective. The truth is
    a blend of these things.

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