Popularity and Influence: As They Are Manifested in Social Media


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You want to be popular and influential. You need to ask yourself some important questions to determine if this is the case. How important is it for you to be popular? Where do popularity and influence coincide? How do the benefits differ for popular vs. influential people?

These are the kinds of questions discussed by a great number of online writers in the past several months. In fact, Fast Company magazine conducted an Influence project this summer to determine the most influential people online. More than 32,000 people submitted entries, but the results merely gauged popularity – and sparked the online discussion over the difference between popularity and influence.

A recent case study on Twitter participation showed that celebrity Kim Kardashian has more influence than other celebs even though they have more followers. While Lady Gaga has 6.5 million and Britney Spears has more than 6 million, Kim hasn’t won more than 5 million; however, her website gets far more traffic, ie, more referrals from Twitter.

LinkedIn recently added a section to the discussion groups that lists the top influencers of the week. It is a good idea to pay attention to that. You can learn a great deal from those influencers.

The ability to direct website traffic is considered a sign of influence. According to blogger Suzanne Vara, the world used to depend on popularity for sales conversions. In today’s New World, “The web and all things digital have changed the game on us. Influence is quickly becoming the currency of choice on the web.”

Most pundits agree that popularity equates more with quantity while Influence is related to quality. Popularity is measured by hits where Influence measures actions and effects. We all like to think that quality wins over quantity.

But does it?

How important is it for your organization to be influential or is popularity really enough? To answer a question like that, you need to look to your overarching goals. For those companies with products aimed at the masses, the likelihood is that Popularity is critical. After all, how many purchasing decisions are made simply because your friends are buying something or everywhere you turn, you see the product in the media and on the streets.

Popularity, of course, is considered fleeting while influence tends to last and be more than just superficial. But popularity and influence are not mutually exclusive. In fact, achieving popularity, ie, getting the recognition of many, may just be the best first step to having the kind of influence that (a) builds a customer base, (b) keeps current customers, (c) maintains other relationships, and (d) changes behaviors.

The best thing for your organization, then, may be to figure out how to be popular – in the sense that people like and approve of you – and how to be influential, ie, get them to buy from you and act on your messages.

How to Influence Others

In Chapter 11 of Stephen Covey's Principle-Centered Leadership (a follow-up to his The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), he writes that our motive for achieving positive influence falls into three basic categories: (i) to model by example, (ii) to build caring relationships, (iii) to mentor by instruction.

Social media platforms, including the most popular ones like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and blogging are great for modeling best practices, building relationships, and offering valuable information.

Here are some tips on how to use social media from the tweets of online influencers:

  • “You don’t have to be a blogger to know how words can bring people to know each other’s head, heart, and purpose in life.” Gary Vaynerchuk @garyvee
  • “What you should do is create a great product or service…the goal is to change the world…if you do that, maybe you’ll be a legend.” Guy Kawasaki @guykawasaki
  • “An opportunity to be helpful is an opportunity to earn money.” Chris Brogan @chrisbrogan
  • “Stop talking about your products and services. People don’t care about your products and services; they care about themselves.” David Meerman Scott @dmscott
  • “We share lots of things that most companies would keep internal. By sharing both the good and the bad, you build digital influence.” Mike Volpe @mvolpe
  • “Consistency demonstrates commitment. You’re going to earn trust because you are consistent.” Michael Port @michaelport
  • “Follow better people. The better your inbound is, the better your output will be. And your output is what people follow.” Robert Scoble @scobleizer
  • “The most important action a person or brand can take to most increase influence is to create, post, or share compelling content.” Brian Solis @briansolis
  • “Ground your content in who you are. Don’t be afraid to have a point of view. But also give it wings to soar freely and bye shared.” Ann Handley @marketingprofs

You can check out more advice on how to be influential on the web by searching Twitter under #influencers.


In the discussion or controversy or strategic planning around the concepts of popularity and influence, especially in this new world of business and marketing, one factor needs to be abundantly clear, and that stems from the intention to offer people products and services that can truly help them lead better lives as well as enhancing their business lives.

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Shari Weiss is a writer, teacher, editor, and marketing consultant who is working full-time on All Things Social Media. With a journalism degree from Northwestern University and a master’s in PR from Kent State, Shari has taught college courses in journalism, marketing and English for 20 years. In addition, she has edited an array of publications from Harcourt Brace Jovanovich trade magazines to a city-wide student newspaper.

Currently, she is the Chief Blogger for SHARISAX IS OUT THERE, in which she writes articles on a variety of social media categories, including How-To Lessons for social media beginners; Interviews with industry professionals; reports on meeting presentations; and strategies for social media marketing. She is also the Community Manager for Performance Social Media and leads workshops for entrepreneurs, small businesses, and university students. Her website is http://shairsax.com.

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