What Is Influence and Do Freelancers Really Need It?

Influence…it seems like everyone is talking about it. But what is it, exactly, and what does it mean for freelancers?

In this post, we’ll look at the meaning of the word “influence” and discuss whether freelancers should be concerned about it.

What Is Influence?

In a nutshell, most dictionaries define influence as the ability to persuade someone else to take a specific action. (That’s my own paraphrase, of course.) Technically, that’s really all there is to it.

Of course, the internet and social media have expanded and/or changed this definition several times over. Now, what influence means depends on who you’re talking to. Influence could mean anything from having a lot of social media friends/fans/followers to getting people to purchase a product.

I first noticed all of the online attention that influence was getting last year when Fast Company ran their experimental Influence Project. The project is now closed, but Fast Company‘s premise was simple. People competed to get others to perform a simple action (clicking on their photo). The more clicks your photo got, the more “influential” the project deemed you.

Was the project accurate? Was it a true measure of influence?

Probably not. (And in fact, there was a backlash to the project.) It’s easy to see that there’s a great difference between getting someone to click a link on a photo and making a sale or inspiring someone to change the way that they live their life. However, the exercise does illustrate how the meaning of influence has changed over time.

Influence for Freelancers

So what about freelancers? Is influence important for us as freelancers?

The answer is: probably.

The ability to influence someone is a part of selling, and like it or not, as freelancers selling our services is part of what we do. Fortunately for most of us, maintaining a good quality relationship with a few prospective clients is more important than making a huge number of contacts who aren’t really interested in what you do and have no intention of ever using your services.

Of course, if you sell a digital product online (such as a WordPress theme or an ebook) you may need a slightly larger number of fans. Even then, you may not need as many contacts to succeed as you might assume. A few years ago a meme went around the internet that stated that all an internet marketer needed to succeed was a thousand true fans. I don’t know for sure who originated the meme, but here are some excellent posts that discuss it:

Now, the number itself isn’t really the point as far as I’m concerned. (And, in fact, the meme sparked some lively discussions.) The point is that it’s not how many people you are connected to, but rather how involved they are in what you are doing that determines your real influence.

Social Media Tools to Measure Influence

The measurement of social media involvement and influence are often considered to be related. A number of tools have emerged due to this concept. Some of those tools include:

  • PostRank. This tool has recently been acquired by Google. It’s geared towards bloggers and other online publishers. Among other things it allows you to track and measure how frequently your material is mentioned in social media and where it is being mentioned.
  • Klout. This popular tool evaluates your social media interactions across multiple platforms (such as looking at how frequently your information is shared and who shared it) and assigns you a score.
  • PeerIndex. Another popular tool that examines your social media interactions. It is also assigns a score based on your results.

Now, as I explained earlier, social media may not be the best indicator of influence, but that does not mean these tools are not worth a look. If you publish material online as part of your freelancing business, they may provide some crucial insights.

Books About Influence

Do you want to learn more about influence? While none of these books are specific to freelancing or social media, they do have a lot of information that you may find interesting and useful. Here are some books about influence that you may want to read:

Your Turn

How do you define influence? How important do you think it is for a freelancer? Do you think social media plays a role in who is influential? What additional resources do you know of about influence?

Share your answers in the comments.


  1. says

    Great post, Laura!

    Influence – for me, it’s being able to create a partnership with a potential client in under two minutes, to bring them to my side by genuinely caring about their business enough to offer concrete suggestions. It’s foregoing the hard sell for the sake of the relationship I’m about to create. I hate hard selling, so that’s easy. :)

  2. says

    Lori, Wow! Two minutes is a very short time-frame to build an agreement with a client. I’m impressed. :) I think that a lot of freelancers would agree with you about hating sales.

  3. says

    What is influence? Hmm…as you stated before, it’s a definition that changes depending on who you’re talking to.

    To me, influence is the ability to engage your audience. It doesn’t always mean selling. It doesn’t always mean getting someone to click a link. It doesn’t always mean getting the most RTs on Twitter. Influential people are able to get their “followers” to do these things on command. Why? Because that person is seen as an expert advisor in the field…because that person has a history of helping people/paying it forward, etc.

    Take Klout for example. Anyone can get a high Klout score with a little bit of random content and one good post that gets about 30 RTs (I’ve done this), but how long will that last? The RTs are not consistent and thus a temporary measure of influence. My “audience” is not well engaged. Thus, my Klout score doesn’t remain high on a consistent basis…

  4. says

    Thanks Elise–I think the definition of influence is sort of in flux right now, especially as it relates to online interactions, because no one is sure exactly how social media fits in. That being said, the books in my final section are very valuable for learning about influence in more traditional interactions.


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