Passion, Influence, Relevance and Bubbles


Yeah… bubbles. Stay with me… you’ll see 🙂

After another furious #blogchat on Twitter where smart people were discussing the differences between passion and influence as it pertains to blogging and why (if?) it mattered, some things I’ve been thinking about began to crystallize. And because it’s what I do when that happens, here I am writing about it.

Before we dive in, thanks to @spikejones for inspiring some of this, @MackCollier for #blogchat (and lots of inspiration over time) and @edosegal, who wrote the ambient streams post I read recently.

First, some definitions (well, mine, anyway):

Passion (in the marketing sense) = commitment to/attachment to a brand, product, idea or position regardless of compensation.

It’s a feeling, an internal condition. It cannot be manufactured or externally created. Passion is a choice the individual makes… I choose to love Godiva dark chocolate. Godiva hasn’t asked me to love it, paid me to love it, and doesn’t particularly care that I do so… I, on an individual level, am not influential in their marketing planning. (Oversight on their part? Perhaps… )

Influence = ability to affect other’s perceptions or awareness.

Influence CAN be purchased/created. It’s an external perception… Billions of ad dollars are spent every year trying to influence the awareness and perception of potential customers. Is it possible for an individual blogger to have influence in a space he or she is not passionate about? Long term, I think the answer is no. Bloggers who have influence in a particular space usually have earned that right through good information, solid community, earned respect. Not always… because, as we’ve already said, influence can be purchased. Programs and tools and schemes exist to “grow your blog” and “get thousands of followers” to jump-start influence.

At least initially. Some of the current “stars” of the social media world, for instance, may not be around in a year or two. If they aren’t passionate about the relevant, interactive web, they will run out of things to say that resonate with the community marketers are hoping to reach through their influence. If they stop resonating, they will lose influence, and their relevance.

Someone who is passionate about an idea or product or brand keeps on learning, and loving, and sharing experiences and interactions born of the love affair. And those shared moments will typically only resonate with those who are interested in the same brand or idea. Maybe the audience isn’t in love yet… maybe just experimenting or looking for a first date. That’s where passionate people and influence intersect.

I can be influenced only by those people or messages I choose to pay attention to. Repeat… I can only be influenced by those people or messages I choose to pay attention to.

Why do I care what TechCrunch thinks in general about [insert brand here]? I don’t. I don’t care about what TechCrunch thinks about a lot of things. But I <3 Apple products. I tend to pay attention to what TechCrunch says about all things Apple… I am passionate about that brand and TechCrunch’s opinion is more relevant to me when they are talking about Apple than when they are talking about XBox360. I choose to pay attention… and then TechCrunch has a chance to influence me and my opinion.

What is missing from all this influence and passion is a way to filter relevance. It’s a fact that humans filter information and stimuli all the time. The web’s current model is based on active search:

Random thought triggers question…

Brain can’t supply answer…

Enter phrase into Google, or more typical for me, Twitter (or your weapon of choice)…

Scan results… (FOR WHAT… ?)

Click on choice that seems THE MOST RELEVANT to me (I trust the source/know the source or believe Google’s method for determining importance and value)

The future of the web, I believe, won’t be based on active search, but on ambient streams. Already, who I choose to follow on Twitter creates ambient streams that bubble up the information I care about. As more and more of the web dabbles in relevance… more information will find us rather than us going to look for it.

Who we choose to be influenced by (who we let control our information streams) will matter a great deal more than it does now. I suspect we’ll get more picky, too. More fragmented as a marketplace, more determined to know what we want to know and not see the rest. How will we determine who makes the cut? Passion… who we believe. Influence… who we trust. And relevance… who we perceive to “understand who and where we are in life.”

Already, the web can tell where I’m located, who is tweeting or geotagging near me, what sites/locations/stores I’ve visited recently (and if I positively or negatively reviewed them), and who I’m choosing to be influenced by (who am I connected to on Twitter, Facebook, Ning groups, LinkedIn, etc). How far off is that one app/program/site that will analyze that info, assign relative relevance scores to the possible streams of info, and show me what is relevant to me based on ME, not on Google’s basic algorithms?

Heady, and scary, stuff. What do you think… what’s next?


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15 Responses to “Passion, Influence, Relevance and Bubbles”

  1. Brandon Cox December 21, 2009 at 10:34 am #

    I think it’s all part of some whacked out government conspiracy… just kidding. I think this is the future and I’m not sure if I’m scared or excited, but probably a little of both. It’s the semantic web that will read our minds.

    • Mandy Vavrinak December 21, 2009 at 10:42 am #

      Me too, Brandon. Part of me can’t wait to see what new things I discover once the mechanisms are in place and part of me is sure the government is a little worried about the level of information that will be floating around in databases out there.

  2. Disa Johnson December 21, 2009 at 10:50 am #

    I think this puts into words something I’ve craved in all my years of search. Although search acts as a sort of filter for the Web, it is often far too blunt an instrument to uncover what I really want. I can filter to brand and it’s still overwhelming until I further refine the result set.

    Twitter may have a similar issue. They change the dynamic considerably though. I follow my own influencers by choice. I don’t often seek it for an answer to a search yet. That’s because I like certain websites that I am already familiar with (CNET for electronics as an example).

    My favorite search engine ATM that I hope grows to include more information and a more forgiving search interface is WolframAlpha. When I need highly specific information, I can use it for an answer. I can even use it to solve complicated problems. It calculates too!

    Even while WA is not commercially viable for addressing the wide audience Google (and a future Bing) with answers, I hold high hopes for it as an application that powers more than the major search engines. I especially like the API availability for webmasters who can generate results of interesting, relevant calculations.

    I’m still going to check Twitter or Google for timely product information or news. For consuming news, even while Twitter, Google and Bing are indexing news at increasingly rapid pace, I far prefer to read the resulting, authoritative journalism offered by valid news organizations. For that, I’m a big fan of NYT for creating the Skimmer (which approximates actually reading the paper but online). I love it!

    Those are my immediate thoughts. Thanks for the article!

    Best wishes,

    • Mandy Vavrinak December 21, 2009 at 11:04 am #

      I still peruse traditional and trusted news outlets (I don’t trust them all, however!) but mostly via RSS feeds on my iPhone / Google reader. Makes sharing stuff I find that I think might interest others easier and faster.
      Intuitive search is a double-edged sword, I think. Will be more focused, relevant information, but possible less vetted/verified? We’ll essentially narrow our own focus and perhaps lose some perspective?
      Much to think about.

  3. Suzanne Vara December 21, 2009 at 12:39 pm #


    You touched upon something here that was not touched upon during blog chat, or I did not see if it was. We are influenced by who we allow into our stream. That is more of what influencing is about. Take Mack for instance he is Dr. Pepper so Pepsi trying to get him to do anything more than be annoyed by them is a waste of their time. You are Godiva, I am M&Ms. Godiva can send me free choc for a yr and they would go uneaten (sent to you of course). It is not that I do not trust them so influence is not about trust in that sense when it comes to product but what about service? Does trust play a role in that area?

    Nicely done here to bring out what more influence is. Social media channels are permissive and we let in who we feel connected to in a certain way. That leads to trust and loyalty.

    • Mandy Vavrinak December 21, 2009 at 2:06 pm #

      Suzanne, I am a pretty big M&M fan, too 🙂 I agree… Influence isn’t just trust at all. And I think you’re right that perhaps the trust comes first, then, as evidenced by our choices to follow/friend/fan/engage, we allow influence.

      Spike, you’re welcome. Enjoyed the convo. And yeah… I’m guessing as PR and movement-focused promotion continue to converge, the Holy Grail will be figuring out how to ignite new passion within trusted influencer communities… And knowing who those influencers in question really can reach.

  4. Spike Jones December 21, 2009 at 1:26 pm #

    Thanks for the shout out, Mandy.

    And I find this line particularly interesting: “I can only be influenced by those people or messages I choose to pay attention to.” That’s a good point, but who is influencing them? It would be fascinating to chart that. Then again, I guess that’s what those companies that aim to identify influencers try to do.

    Nice post.

  5. Mack Collier December 21, 2009 at 11:21 pm #

    Clay Shirky had a great quote about this, he said (paraphrasing), “These tools become socially important when they become technologically boring”.

    I think a lot of what is happening on Twitter and other social sites is still being pushed by the bleeding edge. And by the time that technology reaches the point where the mainstream uses and is familiar with it, HOW we use it could have changed drastically.

    But I will say this, I don’t think filtering information and sorting it is as useful as filtering the SOURCES of that information, such as my networks. I think that’s the promise of social media, it gives more people access to each other. And I think these networks will form organically, as people find each other.

    But in general, I think when early adopters talk about the future, we need to remember that if it REALLY becomes the future, it will have to go through the mainstream, and that often REALLY changes the final outcome.

    Nice post Mandy!

  6. Justin Goldsborough December 22, 2009 at 12:02 am #

    Extremely valid point you make, Mack, about how the mainstream can change our perspective and use of a tool…case in point, Facebook.

    Also agree that the network I’ve developed is the true value of Twitter and social media for me. My ideal would be a search of Twitter that yields results as fast as Google does. But I guess that’s not truly possible since what I find most valuable from the comments I get when I pose a question on Twitter is thought and perspective, both of which can’t be instantaneously formed and delivered like an algorythm-based search.

    Finally, going to play devil’s advocate on passion versus influence just a bit. I champion the “brand fan” idea, that brands should engage people who have formed a true affinity to their org or product. But I do think it’s a bit idealistic.

    People buy things, promote ideas, share opinions as fact based on influence all the time, especially when it comes from celebrities. There is a place for “pay to play” if you’re talking straight impact because it does work to influence a certain audience. Back to Mack’s point…remember we’re comparing our POV as PR pros who live and breathe this stuff every day to the mainstream. We’re on different playing fields with different visions — at least for now.

    Thanks for the post. Very thought provoking.

    Justin Goldsborough

    • Mandy Vavrinak December 22, 2009 at 12:50 am #

      Mack… I think you’re right that mainstream usage can and will change the way these theories are implemented in reality. And YES… filtering the sources is key. Who we’ve chosen to connect with, by what medium or platform or network… organizing & filtering all that knowledge and information as it relates to us personally… and helping us extend our networks in a relevant way (not just access to more people, but access to better – for us – information through more relevant connections) is the future I hope to see.

      Justin… Idealistic to say passion wins? Probably. But I still believe that passion will trump mere influence because long term other people, the ones whom we want to influence, will respond to passion (emotion) more readily and more fully than they’ll respond to influence (logic or who we’re supposed to listen to). In the case you reference (celebrities, for instance) I see the value of the influencer argument. You are right that we’re talking as PR pros, insiders, about how a world that is looking on from the outside views these ideas. Thanks for reminding me not to let the echo chamber resonate too loudly! 🙂

      Thanks to both of you for reading and commenting!

  7. Chris Jones December 22, 2009 at 1:23 am #

    As we grow increasingly flooded w/ information, the ability to filter on context & relevance are critical.

    Ambient streams are an interesting framing for that.

    Twitter with a viable working folksonomy (aka “hashtags”) is a decent proxy. At a minimum, its a great training ground.

    Props to you, Mandy, for reigning this in, and to Edo for his ambitious write-up of next generation delivery technology. It wouldn’t be the first time science fiction helped us glimpse the future.

    Feels to me like a future that’s just around the corner.

    • Mandy Vavrinak December 22, 2009 at 11:58 am #

      Thanks, Chris. I think your example of Twitter search is a good one. When I search a hashtag, it removes my “filters” because it pulls every tweet using that tag regardless of whether or not I currently follow that person. Then I have to manually filter for relevance…. relationship? Location? Reputation? Reach? And the context of the thing I’m interested in will determine what’s relevant. An event at a particular place (shootings at Ft. Hood, for instance) means that location/geography may carry more weight when I filter than relationship/reputation. But if I’m interested in a book or movie review/opinion, relationship is the key factor. Would much prefer a recommendation from someone who knows me personally or knows me well digitally.

  8. Daniel Gordon March 16, 2010 at 10:20 pm #

    Hands Down, One of the best blog post I’ve ever read. It explains how todays’ authenticity meets what we’re programmed to think or do in the past. The way of the world has completely changed, and really fast! This explanation totally breaks down what we are doing and how the results are formed. Authenticity will never, I mean never be replaced by anything going forward. Thanks Mandy for a post that really made me think. It’s stellar to say the least 🙂


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