What is the difference between 'leadership' and 'influence' in social networks? (part 1)

What is the difference between 'leadership' and 'influence' in social networks? (part 1)

My last Network Analytics post discussed how group “leaders” in World of Warcraft can be very different from successful “leaders” in off-line communities.

I received good feedback on that post (some of it quite entertaining!) but it indicated a general blurring of the terms ‘leadership’ and ‘influence’. Both concepts are important for social media marketing, but they are poorly understood and tend get mixed up.

This post will try to offer some useful distinctions between what it means to be a “leader” and what it means to have “influence” within a social network.

Dollywagon is deeply involved in the study of complex social networks and has developed an “Influence Search Engine”. This technology can pin-point the individuals and communities that make the weather in any given market or field of interest.

The science and mathematics underpinning our “Influence Search Engine” let us define social network “leadership” and “influence” in many subtle and interesting ways. Concepts such as “authority”, “centrality”, “prestige” and “connectivity” are real and empirical measurements in network science that use numbers to profile the significance of any individual in a social community.

And we don”t need to collect intrusive behavioural data to do it.

We recently completed Hier lees je alles over het online roulette spel. two studies of specific “communities of interest” on Twitter – namely “Environmentalists” and “Smart Phone fans”. In both cases we identified people with clear “leadership” or “influence” characteristics.

The network “leaders” tended to exhibit “strong” social ties, which can be thought of as the ‘social glue’ that holds together tightly-knit groups of family, friends or associates. In the fields of “environmentalism” or “smart phones”, the leaders we identified were topologically central within cliques of people who shared similar concerns or interests. In Network-Analytics parlance, these guys tended to have (amongst other things) high scores for network betweenness, closeness and prestige.

In light of these results, I think of ‘leadership’ as a localised phenomenon that describes an individual’s direct impact on the people around them. We usually find ‘leaders’ at the heart of their groups and they tend to be strongly tied-in to the people they are close to.

When planning a social media communication strategy, ‘leaders’ can be an efficient first-stop for any brand that wishes to propagate a simple message or news item. This is because ‘leaders’ tend to have more direct links to more people in their immediate social group, which means messages are less likely to get bogged-down or altered by ‘network inertia’ (i.e. Chinese whispers).

Finding and then communicating with leaders can be an efficient way to help a brand message soak right down into the grass roots of a social network.

However, the results of our two studies suggest that ‘influence’ differs from “leadership” in that it implies a more pervasive effect that is founded upon entirely different network characteristics. I”ll discuss my thoughts about “influence” in my next Network Analytics post.

Person read this post and left a comment

  • Ben Waugh 11/02/2010

    I must say this is a great article i enjoyed reading it keep the good work :)

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