Online influencers and marketing campaigns, especially those geared around social media outreach, get a lot of buzz these days. In reality though, the underlying behaviors inherent to social and online mediums are the same that we’ve become familiar with throughout human history. People have a desire to connect with each other and form relationships. Through those relationships, trust is born. Without relationships, there can be no trust; without trust, there can be no influence.
What influences you when you’re making a major purchase decision? Odds are you ask people you trust for their opinions – friends, neighbors, coworkers and family members, for example. You trust their opinions because you have relationships with them, and you know that they have experience with the product or service that you might be interested in. Their feedback therefore influences your choice. But so do (more subtly and less transparently the opinions of other online influencers and marketing messages.
Case in point: Today, online connectivity and social media services also give us an opportunity to be influenced by people whom we’ve never met. But while technology connects us, it’s the human element that still drives trust. As organizations showcase their expertise, introduce audiences to the people (customers, employees, suppliers, etc.) behind them, and communicate their vision and values, they can create a closer relationship with consumers. Moreover, those that most effectively listen and respond to their customers have the ability to propel themselves to greater affinity and awareness faster, and enjoy more effective capabilities when it comes to driving innovation, providing better customer service and cultivating stronger brand empathy.
On the bright side, it’s not difficult to locate external influencers who already have a trusted relationship with specific audiences and to provide them with content, information, assets or hands-on experiences that can positively impact the messages they’re sending to followers and fans. What’s more, by letting such trusted individuals advocate and tell your story on your behalf, it also provides a boost in credibility. Why? Because people put stock in those they trust, and empathize with those they identify with. If they already have a relationship with the influencer you’ve engaged, then they’ll be that much more likely and willing to be interested in what he or she has to say about your brand.
Below are five additional reasons to cultivate relationships with influencers, as if the above weren’t enough:
Everyone can hold influence. The circles of influence that we affect from birth include immediate family and relatives, yet quickly expand to encompass friends, peers, classmates, colleagues, clients and vendors. What’s more, in an interconnected world such as the one we live in, the ability to influence anyone, anywhere the world over is quickly within reach, courtesy of any Internet-enabled device. Communications over digital channels are highly connected, capable of transcending countries and cultures, and can have powerful impacts on the way we live and work. In short, technology has enabled humans to spread their influence to reach far outside of face-to-face circles. Influence is now available for the taking, and at everyone’s fingertips, even as we’ve become more accepting of opinions and insights shared online, as they’ve become more commonplace. Ergo, the desire for human connections using scalable tools such as social networks naturally begets opportunities for influence. It’s a natural progression for modern professionals and consumers alike, and those that take to master the skill of cultivating influence will enjoy an edge over those that don’t.
Influencers can move mountains and spark radical change. Better still, they often do so by getting others—ranging anywhere from dozens to millions—involved. Consider influencers not only thought leaders, but also proud community servants, whether their community is defined by location, interest or area of professional expertise. By helping shape the thoughts and actions of their community, influencers help create exponential returns. As figureheads and leaders, their ability to create lasting, positive change can be immeasurable—even if they seem like unlikely candidates, and others’ reaction to their choices and words may surprise and shock influencers themselves.
Influencers provide tremendous value to their audience. Influencers provide illumination, insight and express the representative voice of the community. Through their actions and decisions, they can spur innovation, adoption, and value creation—as well as spark new ideas, topics of conversation and trends. Influencers not only have the power to start and shape dialogue. They can also provide continuing value by supplying audiences with information, insight, best practices, new concepts, and content curation, among other upsides.
Storytelling is their stock and trade. Who knew that storytelling, an art form that has been around since the dawn of time, would be among the most trusted, reliable and valuable assets in a marketer’s toolbox today. A story that is compelling, useful and/or entertaining is the kind of tale that gets spread around, which helps in reaching more people—and just the kind that influencers love to share. Shared stories lead to organizational growth and development. They can also promote awareness, and provide a number of other benefits such as greater search engine visibility, which leads to more links and more traffic. As an added bonus, they can also help you attract and retain audiences better than straightforward promotional efforts or thinly-veiled sales pitches.
Influencers make the best opt-in subscribers. If you look at the most successful organizations operating online, you’ll find that they’re not always the ones with the most traffic, but rather the largest levels of customer engagement. These leaders are laser focused not on likes, shares, or page counts, but rather developing relationships. As a result, activities include looking for ways to develop a larger audience that voluntarily seeks out and consumes their content by providing them with ongoing insights, expertise and value. The more compelling these efforts, the more audiences are willing to consumer and share them, which helps drives further awareness, and creates a virtuous cycle.
For example: Readers or viewers who opt in to receive your communications are among the most valuable resources you can enjoy. These individuals enjoy empathy for your brand, and—most importantly—see value in the relationship. As a result, they can become advocates or even champions for your organization: Not just satisfied customers. Best of all, you get the chance to communicate with them directly, and command their attention.
So, if your goal is to spark positive change, whether for your business or for a particular brand or cause, you must first define your story and ask yourself a few questions. Who is your audience? What are their pain points? How can you solve those issues for them? Where do they live online? What real- and virtual-world vehicles will you use to best reach them? What strategies will you take to connect? Once you do, how will you stay connected, and keep conversation going?
Effectively answer all, and it’ll help you increase your impact, as you find the influencers who have a reason to share your tale, and help spread the word with a larger audience. Remember the words of Cicero: “If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings and speak my words.” Shortly, we’ll show you how to do just that.