How to Promote Your Brand

Wendy Kelly
Aug 13, 2015

GOOD READ! Influence Like George Dyson: How to Make an Impact

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Influence Much?

How's your influence lately? Have you connected to influencers in your field, and, more importantly, do people listen to you when you reach out? Is your stuff shared, in other words? My husband makes handmade skin-on-frame iqyax. That's the proper term for the type of Aleutian Island kayak he has taught himself to build and paddle. (More accurately, the plural form of iqyax is iqyan). He's certain that everyone knows George Dyson, and that most of us have an opinion on the color of our willow branches.

Influence Like George Dyson

Influence Like George Dyson

In the world of iqyax, George Dyson is nearly god-like. He's quite the influencer, in other words. George Dyson* says something and people listen. And, as you may imagine, there aren't a lot of George Dyson's out there, so his book on kayak building is close to revered in some circles. Biblical. So is he an influencer? And if so, what does that mean?

The Evangelical Influencer

Well, and this is fairly obvious, it depends. And, more to the point, what do you need to know? If you're a certain (very specific) kayak maker, George Dyson is your guy. Exclusivity is one key to influence, and if you can get someone of Dyson's stature to exclusively evangelize your stuff, you win. On a broader scale, if you are Canva and Guy Kawasaki likes you, you win.

Influence is Complicated

An example of the level of complexity in the research on influence is this, from a study published in Nature: "These are topologically tagged as low-degree nodes surrounded by hierarchical coronas of hubs and are uncovered only through the optimal collective interplay of all the influencers in the network." Look, you can pretend that you know what the heck that means, but at the end of the day, you don't. No one does. Or what about this, from Microsoft Research: "it is always among the best algorithms, and in most cases it significantly outperforms all other scalable heuristics to as much as 100%--260% increase in influence spread."

We're Not Lazy, We're Practical

And that complexity is why I believe most marketers "go with their gut." We're not lazy. Well, okay, maybe some of us are lazy. But really? We're not lazy, we're practical. Just tell us how to get the word out about our amazing product, and we'll do it. We know influencers are important. Of course they are. They must be. Way back in his best seller, Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell riffed on Stanley Milgram's famous 6-degrees experiment and extrapolated from this that there are gatekeepers, people with large Rolodexes who can give access to influence. This got us thinking. Scary to think about if you feel you have a small, um, Rolodex.

Math, Science and a Huge Sample Size

The Duncan Watts comes along with math and stuff and blows that idea out of the water. Talking about small sample sizes. Fair enough. Of the 160 people Milgram used in his original experiment, only a few actually completed the experiment (sending a letter to a stockbroker in New York from Kansas). Watts repeated the experiment with 61,000 people and couldn't replicate it. Hmmm.

What's a Savvy Marketer to Do?

Should we try to appeal to those rarified hipsters who can somehow make our shiny new thing cool? Should we give our new app to 100 cool moms and hope they share with all their cool friends? Should we try to get that really smiley upbeat person to like us? Maybe if we give her a copy of our book she'll tell all her friends about it and then, you know, because influence, we'll be rich. And popular.

High School Popularity Contest

According to Watts, that idea of a few rarified uber popular people who can turn your crappy app into the "Next Big Thing" is bunk. It sounds good, but it doesn't actually work that way. What works, according to Watts? Mass Marketing plus Word of Mouth, actually. In other words, he sees the ideal analogy to be like a wildfire spreading, rather than a disease. [I'd just like to point out, you know, the obvious here: If you are trying to get buy-in, if you're trying to get people to get excited about your idea, why obsesses over terrifying, horrid things like viral epidemics where millions die, or mass conflagrations which cost billions and wreak havoc? But I digress.]

Influence Like an Arsonist

So wildfires. It takes one match, lit at exactly the right time and place. You as the marketer (arsonist?) have no idea where that lucky match strike needs to happen, so you need to light a lot of matches. You need to tell as many people as you can about your great product. Tell George Dyson. Tell your mom. Tell everyone. You need reach. Social reach. This is where Gladwell, Watts, and common sense all converge. Start with a great product. You aren't sure it's great? Vet it. Get a few people to actually buy it. Okay, scratch that. Get a few people who do not love you to buy your product and then ask them for some feedback. These will either be testimonials or solid critiques. Once you have a solid product that people have bought, you're ready to spread the word.

The Social Proof

The testimonials, the shares, the likes, these all add to the social proof your young product needs to show it's something people need and can use.

What About Going Viral?

Rarely should viral sharing be your goal. Why? Well, let's assume you want to make money. Sure, if you want to make money by being a guy who makes things go viral, like, say Jonah Peretti, then yes, it should be your goal. If so, there is a formula you can follow, according to Peretti. Certain types of funny sites, such as his "" are examples of this. But otherwise, most research points to the stark reality that virility is random at best. My own experience definitely gels with this. My most popular recent post, with well over 5,000 views, is a post on shipwrecks on Kootenay Lake. Who knew?

Cast a Wide Net

After all this, after reading study after study and after years of practice, you know what works? Cast a wide net. Be kind. Give of yourself in your writing and in your life. Share other people's stuff when it's good. Don't worry if they're "influential" or not. You know why? Because you don't know if they are influential or not. And they may very well become influential tomorrow. So connect with as many people as you can. Encourage them. Even the ones who you think don't need encouraging. I hope that's not too obtuse. But in my own experience, connecting with people happens when you give before you get.

*Come to find out that George Dyson of the kayak world is also George Dyson, the science historian.

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