I find it interesting how the question of influence is always addressed from the influencers' point of view. It's always, how big is someone's social network? how many people they reach? who is the most connected?
Very rarely, we talk about following.
This is, of course, not entirely surprising. In our culture, influence is equaled with originality, creativity, uniqueness, creation, and all of that. In contrast, following is about imitation, receptiveness, replicating, adopting, etc. Naturally then, everyone wants to be (or to think about themselves as) an influencer. No one really wants to say, "I am a follower."
Yet, we all are.
Some of the people I enjoy following on Twitter the most are those who are easily influenced themselves - they are curious, they like exploration, and they always discover unexpected things. Everything seems to influence them - new ideas, new stuff, new content. They don't really create any of that, they are just really receptive, really imitative, and really susceptible to influence. Truth is, if they weren't so easily influenced, they would be able to share so much stuff with others.This is of course not incredibly new. My friend Duncan has been talking about "easily influenced people influencing other easily influenced people" for a while now. But what reminded me of all of this is actually a recent Fast Company article "Is Imitation the Hidden Key to Creativity?", and its (much better written) original source, "The Curious Threshold for Creativity". They talk about a social study that explored how ideas spread and discovered that about "30% of people should create while the rest imitate." This may sound weird taken out of context, but it points out to a bigger idea of the article: "organizations and societies that spend too much time on ideas see their overall fitness decline." Which then reminded me of the exploration/exploitation balance thing from some time ago...
More interesting, tho, is a conclusion that creative ideas can spread if they are actually adopted by others. This means, in order to encourage adoption of an idea, you don't need a handful of influencers, you just need a really lot of followers.
p.s. And sometimes, a mere exposure to something actually works really well. Which makes all those "let's create a cool ad campaign", "make something interesting", and "do big ideas matter?" discussions a little bit, well, irrelevant. Too much creativity and not enough imitation "makes ideas die, because there are so many of them and few ever catch fire." Imitators, as it turns out, play an important role in society: they act as a kind of memory, storing the successful creative stuff for the future. I'd really like to hear someone to say, let's reach the followers.