It’s Not About Influence, It’s About Trust
It’s Not About Influence, It’s About Trust
by

If you did a tag cloud on what was being bounced around the social media echo chamber in the last 14 days, the word “influence” would probably be the largest. Yes, even larger than “Old Spice.” Whether it’s the sadly lacking Fast Company Influence Project or the various voices in the social world trying to defend or attack it, we’ve suddenly become obsessed with measuring influence, finding out who is influential and figuring out how to generate influence.

Not a bit of it matters. If you’re looking at influence, you aren’t looking deep enough. It’s like judging a car by its color and not its engine. Influence is only a coat of paint. What drives influence is trust. He who has earned the most trust wins.

Do you trust Guy Kawasaki? Perhaps. But when you find out he has a team of people tweeting on his behalf, your trust in him is likely diminished. He has influence, but not as much trust as some. Do you trust Perez Hilton? I sure hope not … or at least not for most things. But Perez Hilton has a great deal of influence.

The difference in influence and trust is the difference in quantity and quality. Perez Hilton can get you a lot of eyeballs, but are they the right eyeballs and will they do anything with your information? Louis Gray won’t get you a lot of eyeballs, in comparison, but the ones he gets are golden. He gets them because his audience trusts him.

Stop looking for the candy apple red and start looking for the V6. It will make you a smarter PR pro.

About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at JasonFalls.com.
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  • Hey Jason,
    Sure, Trust begets Influence. Trust is the outcome, in part, of openness. Trust is the long game.

  • Networlding

    Thank you for calling attention to the Fast Company contest. I am a huge fan of Fast Company. I was one of their panelists on a nationwide tour years ago talking about their amazing presence. I am what they thought they were doing with this recent contest but it is one of the worst I have seen and it has turned lots of social networking zealots into, well, I don't use those words in public. I've been around as long as anyone building online trust and your post helped me tremendously reconnect to what matters most. This is my first time visiting your site. Keep up the good work!

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  • Excellent post! Too many have mistaken this now all powerful concept of “influence” and confused it with credibility and trust.

  • I think the way we operate our biz and conduct ourselves for the long term is what creates trust and influence, and that is exactly why I myself follow, admire or seek out. Just get out there and do good. There is no competition. There is no need to measure. No amount of titles, scores, badges, mentions or recognition need affect how trusted or influential – or whatever – anyone is. Ideally, each of us goes out into the world and we each do our absolute best with full integrity and professionalism.

  • Courtney

    Really great post, Jason. How do you measure Trust? At Traackr, we measure it through reach (traffic to their site), resonance (engagement with their community) and relevance (variable based on goals of outreach). With these measurements, people like Perez Hilton would only make a list of influential people if that list was identifying celebrity gossip influencers – which, in all honesty, could be useful for some people. However, the fact that Louis Gray could be just as important and influential is exactly what these measurements allow us to uncover.
    Courtney
    http://traackr.com

    • Who is this Louis Gray guy? Never heard of him. :-/

  • Recently, I was asked if the very popular names in social media circles was the best way to promote a product or service. My reply was a “No”. Why? Because they usually come with an army of detractors. As one begins to become aware of an individual's questionable ethics, it extends to their trustability factor.

    The game of golf is a good teacher. If a player needs to cheat on the course by “cutting corners”, i.e. moving the ball or not taking the appropiate penalty score then it highly likely this will also occur in their personal and business life.

  • You just started to earn my trust with this very right-on post!

  • Coachsue

    You know, I've been trying to peg this feeling I've had about this for some time and you just nailed it. Thanks for creating clarity for me. Now I can move on from this and trust that what I seek will be revealed by the trust I create in myself via authenticity.

  • Jason,

    Couldn't have said it better myself. You really nailed it.

    Cheers,
    Doug
    http://www.mindofmarketing.net/

  • I like this post because I had never really though of it in terms of the difference between trust and influence. But depending on your objective I imagine it sometimes doesnt even matter. If my objective is spreading the word about something (a special promotion, for instance) do I really care about picking out the trusted sources over the influencers? I want perez cuz he has lots of followers. I dunno how prudent I'm being here. Thoughts?

  • Very true indeed and I only trust people that has already proven themselves, content that truly comes from people who already has a name to start with not in terms of popularity but a track record. Excellent article.

  • Very true indeed and I only trust people that has already proven themselves, content that truly comes from people who already has a name to start with not in terms of popularity but a track record. Excellent article.

  • I couldn't agree more!

    The value of having a transparent, one-on-one conversation is incomparable in terms of creating credibility. You never know who is actually behind a tweet or wall post…but when you are chatting face-to-face, you know the communication you're getting is quality stuff.

    It's hard to have this type of rich relational marketing in standard social media channels – BUT that is soon to change! Live video chat offers a new opportunity for brands to create customer loyalty. Check out “SpeedFeed Video Chat” on Facebook. The beta version is available right now at http://apps.facebook.com/speedfeedlive/ To learn more about the SpeedFeed business model and plan to create live market channel engagement, go to http://www.crunchbase.com/company/speedfeed.

  • Kelley

    Thanks for this topic and the comments..as I'm interested in helping marketers connect with women on health….I say “Trust is the New Black Dress”.

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  • hi Jason! nice post! I agree with so many of the comments and love the debate… lot's of valid points!

    I will say this… I think the way we operate our biz and conduct ourselves for the long term is what creates trust and influence, and that is exactly why I myself follow, admire or seek out those around me who I trust and allow to influence me, because I have observed long term (as much as possible) behavior and attitude that I agree with.

  • hi Jason! nice post! I agree with so many of the comments and love the debate… lot's of valid points!

    I will say this… I think the way we operate our biz and conduct ourselves for the long term is what creates trust and influence, and that is exactly why I myself follow, admire or seek out those around me who I trust and allow to influence me, because I have observed long term (as much as possible) behavior and attitude that I agree with.

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  • very well put.

  • JustinAtSmile.ly

    Excellent post Jason, couldn't agree more. People get hung up on the numbers and think they have it all.

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  • Gah, I subscribe to this blog, and I hate that I get the emails a day late. I need better alerts for this blog :)

    Late to the party, but here it goes. Yes, agreed that true influence comes from trust. One of the commenters said that they are sequential, and I agree. If I don't trust you, you can't influence me to do anything. To your example, Perez Hilton has a broad-based sphere of influence, and even if you don't trust him, the folks who are influenced by him, do probably trust him. I think the two are inextricably linked.

    The whole Fast Company contest (yes, it's a contest) is not about influence at all. It's about a badly executed measure of reach, with the end goal being generating buzz (pretty negative, I found – I reference sentiment towards on the Attensity blog) and pageviews. Folks who got suckered in ended up inadvertently losing their own “street cred”, as has FC to many of us in social media. It essentially did the opposite for their trust and influence. The whole thing bothered me so much, I wrote it up here a couple of weeks ago http://socialsilk.com/2010/07/08/social-media/c

    – Maria @themaria

  • Gah, I subscribe to this blog, and I hate that I get the emails a day late. I need better alerts for this blog :)

    Late to the party, but here it goes. Yes, agreed that true influence comes from trust. One of the commenters said that they are sequential, and I agree. If I don't trust you, you can't influence me to do anything. To your example, Perez Hilton has a broad-based sphere of influence, and even if you don't trust him, the folks who are influenced by him, do probably trust him. I think the two are inextricably linked.

    The whole Fast Company contest (yes, it's a contest) is not about influence at all. It's about a badly executed measure of reach, with the end goal being generating buzz (pretty negative, I found – I reference sentiment towards on the Attensity blog) and pageviews. Folks who got suckered in ended up inadvertently losing their own “street cred”, as has FC to many of us in social media. It essentially did the opposite for their trust and influence. The whole thing bothered me so much, I wrote it up here a couple of weeks ago http://socialsilk.com/2010/07/08/social-media/c

    – Maria @themaria

  • milesslow

    The point you should have made was that no one is getting influence right.

    Some people measure popularity and call it influence. Others measure influence but only general influence, which has extremely limited value, compared to true contextual influence.

    Trust and Influence are not even competing concepts. Trust is a catalyst of influence. You make a really good point: influence means almost nothing without trust. But I think I could also argue that, in social media, trust doesn't do you much good without influence.

  • milesslow

    The point you should have made was that no one is getting influence right.

    Some people measure popularity and call it influence. Others measure influence but only general influence, which has extremely limited value, compared to true contextual influence.

    Trust and Influence are not even competing concepts. Trust is a catalyst of influence. You make a really good point: influence means almost nothing without trust. But I think I could also argue that, in social media, trust doesn't do you much good without influence.

  • I don't have trust for most people, but it is something that I have to get used to

  • I don't have trust for most people, but it is something that I have to get used to

  • Trust is like a bank. You build trust by being trustworthy and you have to pull some out from time to time. Guy used up some when he hired assistants. Most of us can't afford to

  • Hmm, while I certainly see the correlation between trust and influence, I'm not sure I 100% agree with ya here about one or the other, Jason. I don't buy that Guy's trust is diminished because he has a team of tweeters. I see that as savvy marketing. But, as you know, we have different opinions of the Fast Company Influence Project!!

    This may sound ironic – perhaps hypocritical to some folks who do not know me personally – but attempting to measure ANY *soft* skill doesn't really prove that much. Who really cares who's the “most” trusted, influential, dynamic, powerful, attractive, yada yada… it's all subjective. Just get out there and do good. There is no competition. There is no need to measure. No amount of titles, scores, badges, mentions or recognition need affect how trusted or influential – or whatever – anyone is. Ideally, each of us goes out into the world and we each do our absolute best with full integrity and professionalism. Then, the results speak for themselves regardless of any third party measurement. Call me Pollyanna. ;) I'm just an eternal optimist.

  • thatwoman_is

    People forget that influence is just that. It's the ability to have people see you not for what you are but for who you want to be. People who earn trust and “demonstrate trust,” don't necessarily look to influence.

  • I tend to agree here too! The success of your online presence is based on trust, although influence does play a part in the puzzle. However, trust is a major factor when it comes to online credibility. You mention Guy and how he has a team of people doing his tweeting, but he still tweeting and building his trust in followers eyes making him influential nonetheless. I like your use of quality vs quantity when comparing trust with influence, great thought provoking post.

  • Very interesting topic… I'm inspired while reading this post also this is inspiring to anyone! Trust is the very best in our lives. It have a deeply meaning…

  • Jason,

    It's just about doing the right thing. Perez Hilton should have taken 5 minutes to think things through before he put out a photo of an underage star. It does NOT matter if the photo was retouched or not. It was poor judgment. (Plus, he's a goof.)

    As for Guy; It bothers me a little that he is not doing all his Tweeting etc. all by himself. But..it doesn't bother me enough not to consider him damn good at what he does, and very influential. I've learned a lot from him.

    I don't think that there's any gray in most people; either you do the right things, or you don't.
    (Allowing for mistakes, of course)

    If you watch someone long enough, you know if they are trustworthy, and ethical, or not.

    JL

  • I like what you said. I would like to agree with it. But practicality tells me, no. It's not all about trust. Maybe in some circles, but in others, people are greatly influenced by others whom they place zero trust in. Examples abound in the entertainment industry, in politics, and yes in the corporate world. THere are a lot of people who don't trust anything Mark Zuckerberg says, but they are greatly influenced by what he says and does. So yes, trust is nice, but influence is … influence. I think the point you may have been trying to make is better stated as, “Influence is nice, because it works; but it's even better to be trusted.” And yes, I would agree with that.

  • Jason, thanks for writing this! I started off commenting, but you inspired me to write a post. One thing we should all be concerned about is the impact that Klout scores will have on this new race for faux influence. Both the Influence Project and Klout are putting “influence” at the front of the conversation and encouraging everyone stop focusing on doing the things that naturally create influence, and begin to do things that artificially manipulate the perception of influence.

    I also find it ironic that Fast Company, who's supposed to be all about praising and fostering the speed of ideas and growth, would launch a contest that encourages people to stop focusing on the ideas that build success and influence… and start focusing on “get-influential-quick schemes” and spamming. It's off-brand and at odds with the purpose of Fast Company.

  • fichtnerbass

    It would seem that Coco agrees with you – “It’s not about how many people watch you for how long, it’s about the connection you have with those people…”

    See the last section in the story http://techcrunch.com/2010/07/18/conan-o%E2%80%

  • Agreed. Gone are the days of growing a brand by marketing to the masses. Loyalty is no longer a commodity that can be bought rather than earned. Brands today are built on the currency of trust, which requires approaching your audience as people, not numbers. Read more about this concept here: http://www.famefoundry.com/1356/trustcasting.

  • Kathy

    You can tell the folks that are tweeting themselves and have folks doing it for them. It's not really hard to spot if you are a serious follower. After awhile, I end up unfollowing them. I don't need to hear their spin doctors.

  • Something that a number of organizations miss is the “over time” component of trust/influence. Once you get someone's trust and gain influence, it can, and likely will, change over time. There is a care and nurturing relationship that has to continue or influence will wane and trust will stagnate. It is not a one shot deal, but a number of companies treat it that way.

  • Jason,

    There absolutely is a difference. And I mostly like how you framed it up. I still think influence better sticks to an idea whereas trust is usually part of the individual.

    I'm not sure Guy Kawasaki has influence as much as popularity. There is a difference there, too.

    Best,
    Rich

  • Dshaffer2000

    Interesting post, Jason, but …

    Consider reframing trust and influence as sequential, rather than an either/or proposition. You can't influence people until you build trust, so trust comes first. But why do you want to build trust? At least in a business setting, isn't it usually so you can influence people in one direction or another? Think of influence as your objective and being trustworthy as your strategy.

    • I like that … chewing on it.

      • The very concept that Dshaffer2000 suggests is something I tackled a few years ago as it related to network news anchors (though the argument may actually be moot nowadays with the ever expanding 24-hour news cycle).

        http://dresramblings.com/2005/08/08/trust-is-ea

        While I agree that trust is more important (at least initially), we can't forget that those that we trust will most times have a significant influence on our thoughts.

        Cheers!

  • The problem being many measurements of Influence don't measure Influence they measure reach ie: any metric that uses # of followers in it is skewed by bots, multiple account holders and a host of other issues of data integrity. Trust is the basis of real Influence and aids in CTA's being followed and goals reached… real influence is the measurement of actions caused by an influencer and engagement by the audience the rest is nonsense peeps selling services propagate.

  • Trust is key. Regardless of how much influence someone has, it doesn't mean there is trust there.

  • It's true, this has been a big part of a lot of online discussions I've had lately.
    There is a big difference between trust and influence, but I don't think that it always matters.
    Take you r example of Guy Kawasaki. He's a big name in social media. When people are first getting into the social media game the first person you look to are some of the bigger names (I know I did). As time goes on though you learn that not all big names are necessarily going to be someone you trust. You have to build up your own network of people you actually trust.
    That said, both influential and trusted people become important. Influential people can affect people who have limited knowledge of who to actually trust in the social media world, while more power users know who they actually trust and aren't just following big names. I think that both are equally important categories.
    Some people follow the crowd (the ones who just listen to big celebrity names) and some people will only follow those that they trust (the ones who got to know their networks and learned from it). I think that marketers know both of these categories and choose their “influencers” accordingly.
    While both may not sound the same to people who work in the field like you and I, to the average person there may be no difference between those that influence them and those they trust.
    That's just my opinion though, and whether you trust me or I influence what you think is up to you.

    Cheers,

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  • Carol

    Short, sweet and right on Jason, right on.

  • marenhogan

    I'd like to see how trust and influence enter into their own equation of sales v marketing. Or how they translate into larger dollar sales. Does that make sense? Like someone that influences me may turn me onto a sale at Gap or a new bar in my neighborhood or a movie but someone I trust is more likely to influence my decision making in a larger purchase for work or how to implement a certain strategy or someone with whom I want to align in business. I haven't had much coffee but does this make sense? (PS Hi Jason!)

  • prosperitygal

    Boy this is gonna be a fun one. I love it when folks start spouting comments about followers numbers meaning nothing. I agree numbers alone mean squat, you cannot discount numbers as some folks have built TRUST and NUMBERS together, capiche. It's all in the intent.

    I agree Jason, trust comes after influence, like in networking, trust comes after time and experiences together. Some folks have it with a large number some have it with a small number, stop throwing out the baby with the bath water folks, it's silly.

  • mike_mcgrail

    Trust and transparency go a long way to establishing influence.

  • I was just having this argument with a marketer the other day. Things got nasty when it was suggested that marketing's job is to get the brand out there by whatever means necessary, while PR's job is to clean up sh*t that hit the fan in the process. No thanks. Let's begin AND end with trust over influence every single time, shall we? Thanks for taking my side, Jason.

  • Well stated, Jason. As you said, trust is far more important than number of followers, and influence really is, too. Just because I follow someone on Twitter, that doesn't necessarily mean they hold a lot of influence over me. If they consistently post reliable, useful information, then that builds trust which might then translate to influence, as I'm more likely to follow the links they provide and to listen to their opinions on matters of importance to me.

  • This is inspiring. My immediate reaction: Influence is Trust without the emotional component.

  • Jason – it's possible that the sort of obsessive focus on influence has its roots in old-fashioned relationship sales. As a bank branch manager, I made lists of “influencers” in my corner of the community — accountants, lawyers, doctors, small-business people, etc. — with an eye to building relationships with them to prompt sales.

    With that sort of frame around it, the trust concept underpins influence, with influence defined as something exerted on others for a purpose — thinking, feeling, doing something different, etc.

    Trust (as often said) is earned, experiential in nature. Someone cannot be truly untrusted and still be influential. Perez Hilton is trusted by his fans as a quality source of gossip. Matt Drudge (who claims not to be a journalist) is trusted as a news source. Each of them is influential to some extent, but only among those who trust them. Until their material makes its way into other sources trusted by other people, they exert little influence broadly.

    Apologies, this is all quite unformed — it's something many of us want to understand better. . .

    Cheers .

  • Chris Syme

    Thank you. The confusion between trust and influence is so misunderstood. Stephen Covey wrote a great book called Speed of Trust–I wonder if there's one out there about the speed of influence. To me, the difference between the two is like comparing a pet rock to my golden retriever.

  • Jason – There have been many comments made about the funny (joke of a) project being run by the magazine. I disagree, respectfully, with the metaphor of quality/quantity. It is more complex than that. Trust needs to be earned, over time or over a beer. Trust is something that I give to you, you earn it, I give it. Influence is something I allow you to give me, by recommendation, or whatever. I may have a trusted relationship with you, as I believe you will do what you say, but that means nothing to your ability to influence me. Trust is earned, and can be easily lost – which is what the project risks doing to people who play.

  • Great post. Social media prowess seems too often defined as the number of followers you have. Influence can only go so far, whereas trust in an individual (or a brand) is much more meaningful.

  • Another stellar post Jason! I've been trying to express this issue with a client of mine and this post does a better job than anything Ihave tried so far. I've sent them the link for this post so let's hope they read it, listen, and learn.

  • Influence = Impersonal
    Trust = Personal

    Great post Jason.

  • Dana Webster

    The biggest travesty of the Social Media boom is that most people haven't taken the time to learn how it's different from traditional marketing media. Many just apply the same principles and justify their expenditures with metrics. Thank Goodness I had a few great mentors who taught authenticity, trust, transparency, and most importantly, never misrepresenting who I am or what I'm doing it all for.

    Excellent post today, Jason.

  • laurenfernandez

    I like this post, because it calls attention to the fact of how caught up we get into the name game.

    Trust and Influencer label are two different things, and should be broken down as such. Many never interact with an “influencer” but because of their name, pay closer attention to what they push out. So influencers can be broken down into two different categories: those you interact with and those you don't.

    Wouldn't the trust level be different depending on which of the two it falls into? Can it shift between if you do end up interacting at some point? Your specific influencers and those you trust are probably much different than the person sitting next to you.

    With this ideal, the influencer label can serve as a foundation of opening the door – but it's up to them how much you weigh influence and if you trust the information. Plus, it honestly depends on the person and the social cred they've built. Many, when linking to studies/stats/thought leadership, depend on the same circle of folks because of the people pushing them out. Do we always trust them, though? I've seen more and more challenge lately.

    That's where specific brands/positioning/benchmark goals come in – it's up to you to build your influencer trust range.

    Thanks for the points to chew on, J.

    Lauren

  • Mark W. Schaefer

    Doesn't is seem that on the social web influence = entertainment more than trust? Just occurred to me as I read this post. Thanks for the timely post Jason.

  • Well said Jason! Trust is what true relationships are built on. Trust is what keeps people (and customers) coming back for me. Trust is what turns creativity into business.

    My consulting business is successful because I earn the trust of my clients. I walk into any new project with the idea that I am in the “probationary” period of our business relationship. It is then that I earn there trust and grow my business.

  • Brian Babineau

    Nice article. To me, this means focusing on paying off relationships with a depth of engagement that scares some marketers. Social media marketers and influencers need to not treat social media connections like traditional ad impressions – that's taking the easy way out, and does nothing to build trust. I have clients who care more about reaching specific numbers of followers on Twitter instead of creating real relationships, and we have worked hard to get them to focus on quality instead of quantity.

  • This is exactly why all of the automated influence “graders” out there are majoring in minor things. “Influence” is nebulous. Even “Trust” has more than one dimension. I trust you about some things (PR, social media, bourbon) but not others (uhh…flying a plane.). Trust is a unique combination of actors, a topic and an approach. Nice one, Jason.

  • Jason – I'll admit that I get caught up in the “influence” game once in awhile. Thanks for the reminder about what really matters … trust. Trust wins – always.

    DJ Waldow
    @djwaldow

  • There's substantive influence (Louis Gray, among many others, is a good example) and then there's “popular” influence (eyeball reach and the thumbs-up votes of the masses). Frankly, having “influence” with groupies and People magazine readers is, at best, an ephemeral pursuit. Some of our social media “rock stars” do offer substance – maybe Fast Company should come up with a way to measure Value instead of Votes.