How do you define influence? Simply put, it’s the ability to ask for something from others and have them follow through on your behalf. Following through could mean completing a specific action – like “share this article” or “buy this product” or “try my product” or something more subtle, like “recommend this to your friends”. Or it could mean something a bit more complex, like “make sure that people whom you know will think of our [brand] or [idea] when they consider others in the same type of product or brand”.
Influence is not just the ability to ask – we do that all the time – but also the forecast that you will be able to count on people to take action on your behalf. It is a tremendous force that needs to be used judiciously (as Stan Lee said, with great power comes great responsibility), and it can disappear quickly with the wrong ask.
What are influencers?
Influencers are individuals who persuade people to take action (including purchase decisions) through their authority, facts, charisma, or relationship.
If you don’t know what this feels like, try advocating for a brand or a service or an organization that you respect and use. Try pitching their goods or services to a friend, and see what the reaction is like. You might find that you do this every day, or it might be unfamiliar. Sharing a recommendation is a powerful way to help others. When that recommendation is a good one, it’s wonderful positive feedback. When that recommendation is not acted upon or when the person says, “not for me” it’s also great feedback that you need to refine your pitch or pick the person more carefully.
Influencers may also be brand advocates (highly satisfied customers) and are more credible to consumers when they are knowledgeable consumers and wield influence.
People engage in these activities because they feel intrinsic motivation (satisfaction from just the action of helping someone out) or extrinsic motivation (sharing content that is popular can make you more popular, or a trusted resource, or a linchpin for a process). Finding the key that makes people respond due to intrinsic motivation leads to a stronger bond.
What are some of the reasons someone might be an influencer?
Influencers engage typically because they share an affinity group (perhaps an alumni group from a university); a place (geography); an activity (athletic or otherwise); or an interest (may overlap with activity or be distinct – a combination of one of the other types).
Influencers share information to help their communities; to gain influence themselves; and to be a source of knowledge and information.
What can you do to help them understand what you do?
Start by putting yourself in their shoes. WIFM (What’s In It For Me) is a good acronym that helps you think about why they would want to take action on your behalf:
What are you asking them to do? Do they know how to do it, is the goal attainable, and will they want to do it?
When do you need them to do it? Have you given the person enough time to consider what you’re asking them to do and have you made it very easy for them to comply? Have you asked them to do anything else recently?
Why should they do it? Does your action present an obligation for them and are they putting their reputation on the line by completing your task, or are you simply asking them to share information?
Then, THANK them for taking action on your behalf – and do it in a way that matches the communications you’ve had before. Not everyone likes being thanked publicly. You might send an email, a card, or pick up the phone. You might send a tweet. And you might say hello in person and buy that person a cup of coffee. The point is to display gratitude – to let that person know that their action mattered – and to help them stay motivated to help you in the future.