To Be an Influencer, You Must Lead; to be a Leader, You Must Have Influence
What is Influence?
If you search for “how to be a social media influencer,” you will get hundreds of thousands of results. The sources vary from marketing platform providers, educators, marketing firms, and news organizations. They all highlight the same essential components. This article from Forbes is an example. The typical steps are to: Identify Your Niche, Choose Your Platform, Build Momentum, Stay Engaged, and Build Alliances.
None of them make an effort to define influence. Dictionary.com defines influence as:
The capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others
To understand influence, we need to break the definition down.
Capacity or Power – This is your leverage and comes in many forms. Power comes from positions of authority. CEOs, University Presidents, and other senior leaders set strategies and focus their teams on pursuing those objectives. Fame and name recognition will cause people, at least in the beginning, to stop what they are doing and listen. Expertise is another lever; Master Class is a platform that enables experts to educate and inspire.
Persons or Things – The distinction is important. Influence always begins with people creating a product, service, or cause. Over time and with success, a brand is formed. Brands like Costco, NFL, and Tesla all generate a response. A person’s name can become a brand as well. People notice when they hear that Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, or Oprah Winfrey are interested in something.
Compelling force on or produce effects – Influence is always indirect. Flags flutter in the wind because the wind blows; the wind influences the flag. The butterfly effect describes the idea that small changes applied from great distances can result in major changes.
Actions, behavior, opinions – If you cannot drive change, you do not have meaningful influence. Getting people to try something is different from getting them to adopt something new.
At the risk of oversimplification, influencers fall into two categories – retail and cause. When we think of social media influencers, we mostly think of retail. These are people who promote themselves, their products, and the products of others. This infographic shows the top influencers in this category.
Many important influencers do not start with name recognition. They build that recognition over time. Jane Goodall is an influencer on issues related to environmental and wildlife preservation. She grew her influence over time based on her anthropological fieldwork in Africa. Throughout her career, she has become a major voice in wildlife conservation. Draymond John and Gary Vaynerchuk have turned their business successes into social influence. There are thousands of influencers who have large followings but little name recognition.
Becoming an Influencer
With a clear understanding of what it means to have influence, you are now ready to act like a start-up CEO. You need to make a business plan.
Identify Your Niche – You need to pick a target based on skills, experience, and passion. In the beginning, it needs to be narrowly defined. If automotive is your main interest, decide whether to focus on classic restorations, Formula 1 racing, repairs, safety, etc. If fashion is your thing, are you interested in fashion shows, purses, shoes, fitness wear, or something else? Craft brewing and distilling are popular, and thousands of social media sites are dedicated to tasting, home brewing, and cocktail mixing. You have to be more interested and knowledgeable than the average follower.
Know Your Audience – There are several key questions to answer. Whom do you want to influence? Where can you find them? Why do you believe they will be interested in what you have to say?
Define the effect – What actions do you want people to take? What behaviors do you want to change? Do you want them to buy products you review, read your book, or take a trip to your favorite vacation spot?
Create a Relevance Strategy – When you launch your plan, you need to know how you plan to evolve. To be an influencer, you need to keep people coming back. What are the next steps in the audience’s journey? You must understand how you and your followers will change and grow over time.
The first four steps are iterative. As you work through the process, ask for the advice of others. The first impressions are critical to your long-term success. With your plan in place, you are ready for the next steps.
Choose Your Format and Platform – Some content is best suited for blogs, newsletters, and other forms of the written word. Short-form videos are best for Instagram and TikTok. YouTube is better suited for long videos. If the spoken word is your choice, be sure to choose the podcast providers that already reach your audience. Invest in recording and editing equipment and software.
Create Content – Create a backlog of content to establish early consistency. Posting content on a predictable schedule makes it easy for people to get into the habit of looking for your content. Use follower feedback to improve your messaging and identify topics for future posts.
Measure the Results – Your campaign started with the goal of influencing your followers to take action, modify behaviors, or change opinions. If you are not meeting your goals, understand why and adjust.
Create Alliances – Once you have established your presence and have measurable results, you can build relationships with others. You can get invitations to product launch events or sample products. Others may repost your content to their audiences.
Social media influence is an important form of leadership. Leadership is in all of us. All we have to do is unlock our potential.
Mark Rapier is the Managing Director of The Rapier Group LLC. You can follow him on LinkedIn and read his biweekly newsletter. His book, The Leader With A Thousand Faces, (CLICK HERE to get your copy) describes the leadership journey we all experience and gives perspectives to consider before you find yourself needing the answers.