sources of influence

The Edelman Survey and Karen Keller’s Reaction

An interesting new study on influence was recently conducted on the topics of trust and influence by the Edelman group.

In this study, the global population was divided into two groups.

1) The INFORMED Public

15% of the Global Population

  • They are the top 25% earners in their age group in their country
  • College Educated
  • Report significant consumption of engagement of business news

2) The MASS Population

The rest of the 85% of the global population not included in the INFORMED Public.

Emerging Sources of Influence

An emerging trend is that 2 of the top 3 sources of information (and thus influence) the Mass population uses are peer-driven: Social media and search, both of which are influenced by the users. Social media, of course, is peer-created content and, at a minimum, peer shared. Search results are generated by peer usage with the search engines taking into account what people are searching. TV also remains in the top three of the highest used sources of information.

59% of both the MASS + INFORMED populations recommended a business online, while 75% of the same group relied on these peer sources to make decisions, to overcome concerns and to consider risks.

Therefore, all of the population is showing a shift in who influences them with 85% of the MASS population of the globe showing an even larger degree of shift.

Everyone the Influencer

A very interesting finding is the survey’s revelation about the sources the participants most trusted for information.  In the Edelman Survey, the percentage listed below is the number of people saying they trust the source. (The number in parenthesis is a significant change between 2015 and 2016.)

1. Technical Expert 68%

2. Academic Expert 67%

3. Someone Just Like Me 67% (up 8% since 2015)

4. Financial Industry Analyst 57%

5. Employee 52%

6. CEO 49%

7. Board of Directors 44%

8. Government Official 33%

Edelman reveals this continues the historic shift away from authority figures to peers as the key people whom others most trust. Keep in mind that the more people are trusted, the more influence they bear.

We see the shift to peers occur in 2005, and it continues today. What is also interesting is the INFORMED Population places higher trust in the classic institutions of NGOs, Business, Government and Media by an average of 12%.

As you reflect on your own influence, consider that one factor that helped institutions be trusted more is if the institution or business showed proven concern for societal benefit as well as for profits.

Here is the most vital note of the Edelman report - the inversion of the influence pyramid.

. . . the traditional pyramid of influence - with elites on top - has been up-ended. Today, influence decidedly rests in the hands of the mass population. The net result is a new phenomenon where the most influential segment of the population (or 85 percent of the population) is at the same time the least trusting.

What This Means In Practical Terms

The Decline of Centers of Authority Can Be To Your Advantage

In the “old days,” we had centers of authority including business, churches, NGOs and others on whom the society trusted and relied on for information for decisions. These have declined radically in their influence ability.  Think of the shift in the nightly network news as it has experienced a massive decline as an authority.  For decades, Ed Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings and others were the primary sources of our news as well as  the major paper in each city.

This shift has created room for newer influences to arrive on the scene through non-traditional streams and power structures. This means you can earn influence as you gain attention and enter the conversation via the new channels, especially social media.

What once required a publisher to be heard now requires only a WiFi connection. Information is no longer a controlled flow, but dynamically re-aggregated based upon the end user’s preferences and worldview. Users decide what and who they will allow in as an influencer.

This divided trust and dispersed authority allows new influencers to emerge, uninhibited by previous power structures. You have the opportunity to exert influence more than ever before.

Engage in Authentic Conversations

Part of this is engaging in authentic conversations and not presenting as a “know it all.”  Social listening is an important piece of this conversation. This takes patience in getting to hear other people’s perspective before you share yours.

Identify With Those You Seek to Influence

It is important that the listener identifies you as “like them.” Sharing similarities is key. Perhaps this is the biggest breakdown we currently see in the lack of political trust. The term “fat cats,” those who live above the rules and means the rest of us must live under, is perhaps held with more disdain yet expected of authority figures more than ever before. Honesty is vital, as the internet and ability for anyone to publish ensure that nothing will be hidden for long, including scandals, comments made by an individual, or any other self-serving action of the influencer.

Look For Creative Inroads

It is important for you, the influencer, to stay abreast of current trends in how others gain the information they need to make decisions. For example, just this week Snapchat, a sharing social media app, surpassed Twitter in users. Are there ways you can use Snapchat to engage your audience? Did you even know Snapchat existed?

Piggyback on Genuine Influencers in Your Niche

Look for ways to piggyback off the influence of others. Getting your opinion shared by a key social influencer can skyrocket your position as an influencer yourself. Interact with social influencers in a way that isn’t always self-serving. Seek to share influence with those you like, trust, and respect. Don’t try to merely gain celebrity influence. There are key influencers in any field or topic that many outside that niche won’t know. Get to know the players in the niche in which you seek influence.

Build on Values and Advocacy

It isn’t only our job as for-profit influencers to drive revenue and lower expenses. Promoting and fighting for values is crucial in growing influence. With the large amount of distrust present in the general population, particularly the 85% MASS population, holding on to deep values in a consistent manner gains their respect.

In addition, advocating for others (customers, employees and even those who aren’t connected in that way) is correctly perceived as unselfish. Involved, caring organizations and people are gaining influence in profound ways.

Invest in Search Engine Optimization

A growing number of people view the search results they get on Google, Yahoo, Bing and others as the most trustworthy as they perceive rightly or wrongly that the search engines are neutral in their presentation of information. If you can gain organic search results on a topic in which you need to influence others, you WILL see your influence rise.

Divided trust and dispersed authority have opened a new door for ANYONE to become an influencer. Will you take advantage of this growing opportunity to make a difference as you grow your personal and organizational influence? Are you willing to work at developing your own influence abilities and to start in a specific niche?

A Helpful Tool

The Keller Influence Indicator is a scientifically based assessment tool that can help provide a benchmark of your influence abilities and provide ideas for specific ideas on how to grow your influence. Take your free trial KII® today.


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From regional manager to international executive with quadruple the pay, Karen Keller’s unique blueprint carefully outlined the step-by-step process for creating high-impact influence and let me know when I was being influenced in a way that didn’t serve me.
Lloyd Moore
Global Director Supplier Quality & Development - Lear Corporation – South Carolina