The inherent weakness of online influence

by Simon Rees on May 21, 2012

In his latest cartoon, Mr. Fishburne has nailed it again, I think you’ll agree. These days anybody who is anybody (and quite probably anybody who is nobody too) gets plenty of lazy, unsolicited connection requests from people they don’t know.

Mr Fishburne's cartoon

And the questionable nature of online influence is not just a matter of connection spam. I have over 500 Linkedin contacts, none of whom are complete strangers. Would I be sure to recognise one of them at random, if she/he were to pass me on the street when I nip out for my lunch? Of course not! I’m human; I have an average memory for a human. Humans are governed by Dunbar’s number. As a result, all but a small group of my online friends / followers / connections are unlikely to influence me very much.

But it ain’t quite that simple. Offline interaction drives online interaction drives offline interaction so we shouldn’t write off online influence as unimportant. It’s just that face-to-face (or even telephone) relationships have a depth that online-only relationships very rarely match. That’s why I’m eagerly anticipating the publication of Ed Keller’s latest book on this subject. Here’s an interview with him by my friend Mr. Justin Kirby. So beware of the fashion for maximising your number of followers, friends or likes and look instead for real relationships and real influence.

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