Does this sound familiar?
Your alarm goes off and you immediately reach for your phone. First, to silence that awful sound; second, to check for notifications and scroll mindlessly through your social media feeds until you convince yourself to get up (or you’re going to be late). Sure enough, you come across one of your favorite bloggers and click on a link they shared about their favorite iPhone apps. Before you know it, you’re downloading three new apps and excited about the possibility of boosting your productivity. After all, if they worked for that blogger, surely they can work for you?
The ability to influence others is quite possibly the most powerful quality one can possess. Thanks to social media, though, everyone now has a platform on which to use his or her voice and, therefore, the potential to influence. As a result, it is more important than ever to be cognizant of what makes someone influential and how are they gaining and using their influence.
Despite the prevalence of this word-of-mouth marketing, according to Traackr, less than 3% of influencers yield 90% of the impact online. In order to make a true impact in your niche, it’s not enough to just claim credibility and tweet viral articles anymore. To be in that 3%, you need to adopt a new approach to influence. So what is influence really, how has it shifted, and how do we gain and exercise influence in a way that makes us stand out? Let’s break it down.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines influence as “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something.” In short, to have influence is to have the ability to impact, and possibly sway, others.
“Influence is the art of triggering action.”
- Aaron Lee, Grand Master of Customer Delight, Post Planner
Thanks to the accessibility of social media, anyone and everyone has a platform on which to exercise influence with varying levels of impact. Whether it is used to convince someone to try the latest beauty product or to make an investment in the influencer’s product or services, there is an element of social proof that is shaped by how influential a person is and what type of influence he or she possesses.
The Word of Mouth Marketing Association believes social media influencers can attribute their influence to characteristics such as (but not limited to):
frequency of communication
size of and centrality to a social network
And they’re right. Certainly, there is a cognitive bias that unconsciously forms when we see an active Twitter user with thousands of followers or a Periscope broadcast rife with a steady stream of hearts. We, as humans, automatically associate our trust with social clout.
For a long while, these network numbers were the only metric companies and consumers cared about. For example, in the past, many bloggers were chosen for influencer campaigns based solely on the number of Instagram followers they had, rather than selected based on the quality of their content or the engagement they receive from their network. In his book Putting the Public Back in Public Relations, Brian Solis asserted that while the top ranked bloggers assist with the credibility of a brand, “it does very little in generating new customers and enhancing brand loyalty. The true influencers are the peers of your customers.”
While maintaining an active presence and having a large audience can certainly impact the amount of influence one possesses, these attributes are merely the starting point to creating a high-quality and long-lasting impact. Kevan Lee, Content Crafter from Buffer, puts it this way: “Influential people are those who can make an impact on others: by sharing big ideas or teaching or sharing tips. It doesn’t always have to be big social media followings or name brand personal branding. Anyone can be influential in a way.”
One scroll through your news feed and you are bound to find a few so-called “influencers” shamelessly promoting only their own work to their large and disengaged audiences. Even if these individuals are well-meaning, their influence is weak and fleeting. To stand out among the masses, true influencers need to focus on helping others, being a respected resource of high-quality content, and continually building their own network.
Jarratt Isted, CTO of HelpDocs, suggests an alternative approach to building and utilizing influence: “Craft valuable content that people will share and learn from. Talk to people; ask for their opinion and feedback. Respect others and connect with other people in your industry. This path takes a long time, and it’s grueling, but ultimately you’ll gain much more respect and you’ll get further.”
This is what we call the Dale Carnegie approach. Heard of him? If you haven’t heard of his name, you’ve probably heard of his most famous work, How to Win Friends and Influence People. (And if you haven’t heard of either, go ahead and get it from your local library ASAP. We’ll wait here until you’ve finished it.) In his book, Carnegie shares the keys to understanding human nature and how to use that knowledge to become an effective and compelling leader. Brilliantly, he recognized that removing his ego and defaulting to letting others be “right” would earn him long-term respect and ultimately win people over to his way of thinking.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
- Dale Carnegie, American writer and lecturer
Shifting your focus from your own personal gain to how you can help and learn from others will form lasting connections and, as an added bonus, position you as an esteemed and trusted leader.
Wondering how you can implement this principle even through social media? Copyblogger wrote an excellent article on how to apply Carnegie’s people-first approach to social sharing.
Note: While you should absolutely extend the principles of helpfulness to all as stated above, be sure to narrow in on a very specific audience. You will lose your relevance or spread yourself thin if your audience is too broad. Influence is shaped by context. Focus on the 20% of people who align with your goals, not the 80% who do not understand.
With all of the outlets for producing and sharing content these days, it is no surprise that people are battling over-consumption and “noise” on a regular basis. Not only do people not have time to read a lot of content, but they also do not want to waste the time they do have on content that does not provide value or entertainment. To become a stand out influencer, focus on consuming and sharing the best content consistently. Aaron Lee of Post Planner believes there is a three-step process to becoming a high-quality influencer:
Build trust. To become influential, one will need to build “trust” within a community. To do that, you will need to be the go-to guy or expert on a particular niche. Casting your net too wide will only make it more difficult as people aren’t able to associate you with a particular niche.
Be in-the-know. Pay attention to current events and know the latest news in your niche. People are always searching for what others are thinking. You need to eat, sleep, and breathe your industry.
Be consistent. Consistency is KEY no matter what you do in life. With social media moving at such a quick pace, anyone can be forgotten easily. Unfortunately, there aren’t any off days.
Instead of reading and sharing viral content that everyone else has already posted, make content curation a priority, both for your own personal learning and for the benefit of others. Using tools like UpContent will help you find the hidden gems of content that you care about most without having to scroll through endless pages of Google results.
In addition to staying on top of industry trends and reading high-quality, relevant content using your own research, it is also beneficial to continuously seek new insights and knowledge from your own group of go-to influencers. Just as a teacher perfects her craft through ongoing professional development conducted by educational trailblazers, investing in your own network will assist in your growth as an influencer.
Finding the right influencers can be difficult. If you are looking to expand your network, here are a few ways you can target the right influencers that will make an impact on you:
Consider those life-changing industry-specific books you have read. Chances are the author (if he or she is still living) has an online presence.
Use your curation tools to find key thought leaders. For example, creating a specific topic in UpContent will help you find the most relevant and shareable articles and blog posts in your niche. Pay close attention to the authors of your favorite suggestions, especially if you regularly consume and share from the same source.
Search by keyword and/or hashtag or participate in an industry Twitter chat. Read through the results to identify users who actively post great content and engage with their community.
Once you have settled on a small group of influencers to follow and learn from, take it one step further and engage with them. Building a relationship with the people you admire will not only increase the opportunities to learn, but it will also provide insight on the best ways to exercise your own influence on your audience.
So long as humans are in relationship with one another, influence will always be a key component. Though social media has forever changed the landscape of influence, by focusing on helping a targeted audience, showing up consistently with high-quality content, and investing in your own network, you can stand out and make a true impact.