Posted tagged ‘Sue Waters’

The nature of digital influence

14 May 2012

Earlier this year I was honoured to scrape into Bob Little’s Asia-Pacific’s list of e-learning movers and shakers.

This list “is compiled on the basis of a person’s perceived current influence on the e-learning industry – as a practitioner, commentator, facilitator and/or thought leader.”

To the cynics out there who claim this is a PR stunt: I say you’re right. This kind of exercise is obviously geared towards lifting the profile of protagonists in the region.

And of course, the omission of certain names has caused a few ripples. For example, Bob was contacted by people in Australia and New Zealand, while a fellow in Malaysia vented his frustration on Twitter.

All this got me thinking, what is the nature of influence? This isn’t a novel question, but it’s one that hasn’t been answered satisfactorily IMHO.

To me, the term influence refers to someone’s ability to change someone else’s behaviour. If you are “influential”, you prompt someone with whom you have had some form of contact not only to think about things differently, but also to do things differently and – hopefully – achieve a better outcome.

The emergence of digital influence

In today’s world of the interwebs, one of the primary vehicles of influence is social media – hence the adjective digital. Platforms that spring to mind include WordPress, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.

Facebook friendships visualised on a world map

I find digital influence intriguing because of its scalability. For example, an expert from Shanghai could influence many thousands of practitioners in China, but is he or she influential in the Asia-Pacific region? Or is the spirit of lists like Bob’s meant to highlight people who are influential across the region? Social media can facilitate that.

In a similar vein, you can exert influence by speaking at conferences, consulting clients, teaching students, and publishing research; but unless you use social media as a lever, I expect you will struggle to sustain influence on a continental scale.

The subjective measurement of digital influence

The next obvious question, then, is how to measure digital influence? Another old chestnut, and again one that hasn’t been answered satisfactorily IMHO.

Measuring tape

To me, digital influence can be measured either subjectively or objectively. Bob’s perceptive measure is an example of the former: the respondents were literally asked who influences their work. It is beautiful in its simplicity.

However, I can see that a subjective measure has weaknesses. For example, an individual respondent might be prejudiced, or parochial, or insular, or driven by a personal crusade. There wouldn’t be too many of these types among educated professionals… right?

The good news is such weaknesses can be mitigated by the design of the survey. If it reaches a sufficient cross-section of respondents across the region and its answers are replicated, the weight of numbers should win out in the end.

Furthermore, I consider the breadth of the respondent pool to be infinitely more important than its depth. Even if the number of respondents is relatively small, the fact that a particular name has not made the list while others have speaks volumes!

The objective measurement of digital influence

Some readers will scoff at my line of reasoning and will instead promote the use of objective metrics to measure influence. Numbers never lie… right?

Klout icon

Klout calls itself “the standard for influence”. According to their website:

Klout measures influence online using data from your social networks. Anywhere you have an online presence, you have the opportunity to influence people by creating or sharing content that inspires actions such as likes, retweets, comments and more. The more engagement your posts receive, the more influential you are. Klout uses this information to provide you a Klout Score that measures your overall influence.

Sounds reasonable, but when Klout changed its algorithm last year, it was discredited by an avalanche of commentators – all of whom, I suspect, had experienced a reduction in their Klout Score.

Nonetheless, 90% of Bob’s e-learning movers and shakers have a Klout Score of 40 or more.

Twitter icon

So how about the number of Twitter followers? This seems like a no-brainer, but have you seen the no-brainers who top the Twitter follower rankings?

Even if we restrict our criteria to e-learning professionals, does the number of followers really reflect someone’s influence? They might be entertaining or even thought provoking, but if they rarely change anyone’s behaviour, they could hardly be considered influential.

Then of course you have people with massive Twitter followings who aren’t quite in “e-learning”. I’m thinking of fellow Aussies like Ross Dawson, Jeff Bullas, Laurel Papworth and Darren Rowse. Surely they influence e-learning practitioners, but would any metric say so?

Indeed we see cross-pollination among Bob’s e-learning movers and shakers: 60% work in corporate e-learning, 20% in higher education, 10% in K-12, and 10% in telecommunications. All of them have a Twitter account, and 80% attract a following of over 1000.

WordPress icon

OK, how about the number of blog visitors, blog comments or RSS subscribers? This is starting to make more sense, but again I have concerns – particularly around the nature of the content.

For example, can a blogger who typically posts links to other people’s work be considered influential? Maybe, indirectly. Like a news reporter, they are awareness agents.

To me, though, the true influencer occupies the top of the food chain. He or she is the one who generates the original thought and contributes it to the world.

Among Bob’s e-learning movers and shakers, 90% write a blog. Each one of them produces their own content.

The 3 determinants of digital influence

So, if your aim is to influence e-learning on a continental scale, how do you go about it?

In light of my ruminations, I propose the following three determinants:

   1. Intend to change other people’s behaviour.
   2. Leverage social media to expand your sphere of influence.
   3. Produce original content.

As for measuring digital influence, objectivity is a false idol. While particular metrics may characterise influencers, they are by no means indicative and their role in comparative analysis is questionable.

It seems like such a redundant pursuit, when you could just ask your target audience one simple question:

Who influences you?

Heaven forbid.

My 15 favourite Australian e-learning bloggers

16 April 2012

Fay Moore made my day when she nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award.

I’m still unsure as to whether this is the blogosphere’s version of a chain letter, but in any case it gives me a good excuse to:

          A) Thank Fay for her support, and
          B) Promote other bloggers.

According to the VBA Rules I’m supposed to nominate 15 bloggers whom I have recently discovered or follow regularly.

Since there are literally scores of bloggers who might fit this bill, I have decided to narrow down my criteria to Australian bloggers who write predominantly about e-learning (or something related).

Here they are in alphabetical order…

Versatile Blogger Award button

Anne Bartlett-Bragg – Anne probably doesn’t know this, but she opened my eyes to the power of wikis at a conference in Sydney many years ago. Since then, she has joined Dachis Group where she and James Dellow write about social business on the Headshift blog.

Alison Bickford – Alison is an e-learning consultant with loads of experience in the government and corporate sectors. She extends her consulting wisdom via the Connect Thinking blog and helps other e-learning professionals via the E-Learning Academy.

Matt Blackstock – Matt is a learning professional who likes to produce. I keep up with his thoughts and ideas on his Virtual Lore blog.

Sophie Carter – Sophie is an up-and-coming HR superstar. I love following her journey via her Towards Erudition blog.

Stephen Colman – To be perfectly honest, I only stumbled upon Steve’s musings after his employer and mine merged and he started banging on about stuff on Yammer. He has clever insight on a range of issues, as his Long Straws blog attests.

Ross Dawson – Anyone interested in futurism will know Ross and his Trends in the Living Networks blog.

Michael Eury – Michael is a learning designer who thinks deeply about his craft. Open your mind at his Stickylearning blog.

Sally Foley-Lewis – Sally focuses on manager training at her Fast Track Manager Productivity blog. How is this relevant? Managers are often my target audience.

Debora Gallo – Debora is a passionate L&D professional who has defected to the dark side (higher ed). Her e-bites blog provides an honest account of her experiences.

Glenn Hansen – Glenn is an organisational and people development consultant with a psychology background. His What’s in my head today? blog reinforces the connection between learning and performance.

Jeevan Joshi, Robert Spence, Robin Petterd, Kevin Sinclair and Nicola Atkinson – I’ve lumped these learning pro’s together because, along with myself and pommy Mike Collins, they all contribute to the Learning Cafe. This community promotes thought leadership in L&D.

Wendy Phillips – Wendy develops e-learning at one of the biggest telcos in the Asia-Pacific region. Her “occasional mutterings” on her Noticed blog are painfully familiar.

Craig Simon – Craig is the Managing Director of Purple Learning, and he knows his stuff when it comes to engaging e-learning. He has recently started to share his wisdom via the Purple Blog.

Kerrie Smith – Kerrie is an education aficionado and the author of several blogs. I notice she hasn’t updated Smik’s Learning Space lately, and I hope that will change soon.

Mark Smithers – Mark is an educational technologist at a big university in a city that thinks it’s better than Sydney. In spite of this, I tend to agree with everything he says on his Learning and Educational Technology in Higher Education blog.

Sue Waters – Sue writes The Edublogger with Texas-based Ronnie Burt. Their target audience is teachers in the K-12 sector, but much of their writing is relevant to the corporate sector too.

Penny Wheeler – I suspect Penny is a member of Mensa. Penny’s joy in writing might as well be called Ryan’s joy in reading.

Robert Wilkins – I consider Rob a mentor. He hasn’t ruminated much on his Ruminations of a Learning and Development Professional blog lately, but when he does I guarantee it will be gold.

James Williams – James is a social media specialist, and he’s not afraid to share his extensive knowledge on his James Williams blog.

Tony Wilson – Tony is a high performance expert, and to me that’s what learning is all about. His Tony Wilson blog inspires me.

“Hang on” I hear you say, “That’s more than 15 bloggers!”

Ah, sue me.