“Influencer” is a trendy term in business discussions, and while we’re not fans of buzzwords, we can live with this one—mostly because (unlike “guru” or “rockstar”) it’s accurate.
But before we explain what makes someone an influencer, let’s first be clear about what influence is: it’s a mix of reach, trust, and impact.
If someone tells you to do something (or not do something), your decision to do what they’ve suggested depends on how much you trust that person. If a random stranger says that you should invest in a certain stock, you might ignore him. But if Warren Buffett suggests you invest in that same stock, you’re far more likely to do it because Warren Buffett is a billionaire; the size of his audience (a.k.a. his reach), his audience’s trust in his financial advice, and his advice’s impact on his audience’s financial investments is extremely high.
However, Warren Buffett’s advice about which toy you should buy for your child’s birthday is a different story.
That’s because Warren Buffett’s advice on toys is going to be far less influential than the advice of a clerk at your local toy store. That clerk isn’t a billionaire, but she knows a lot more about toys than Warren Buffett ever will. She doesn’t have Warren Buffett’s reputation, reach, or overall influence… but in her specific area of expertise, she might well be the Warren Buffett of the toy aisle.
Therefore, the key to attracting influencers is to focus your attention-earning efforts on the people whose attention is most likely to have a large positive impact on your organization.
Of course. But how do you attract influencers in the first place?
Why Attract Influencers In the First Place?
Let’s think about this in terms of scale.
Say you run an organization that’s dedicated to improving literacy. You could walk outside and tell the first person you meet about your organization… but the odds of that person being able to help you in any significant way are slim. Telling a New York Times reporter about your organization is going to be far more helpful. And telling the New York Times journalist who happens to exclusively report about education is going to be the most helpful of those three possibilities.
Granted, any one person may be influential to their own audience, but the larger their audience, the more influence they have. It’s like a hub with many spokes; the opportunity for your message to be amplified is much greater when it’s being shared by an influencer with hundreds or thousands of relevant connections.
Thus, to excel at influencer marketing, you need to know:
- Who are the experts in your field of interest?
- Who does the public trust in your field of interest?
- Who gets the public to actually take action in your field of interest?
These may all be the same people, or they may be distinctly different groups of people. A reporter may have wide reach, but that reporter herself may have far less impact on her audience’s actions than, say, a celebrity that the reporter quotes.
Now, you may intuitively understand that having the attention of an influential person can be useful in helping your organization meet its goals… but how?
What makes influencers such a valuable communication resource?
Influencers can get your core message out to more people, faster, and more cost-effectively than you can. Plus, their audience has already vetted them and trusts them, so they’re more likely to pay attention to the influencer than they are to you. (This is why celebrity spokespeople make so much money. Marketers know you’re more likely to buy corn chips or sneakers if they’re being enjoyed by Jay Leno or Joe Flacco.)
One word of clarity, though: influencers are not magic.
Yes, influencers naturally amplify messages. But the most influential person in the world can’t help you if you don’t have a message worth sharing in the first place. And because influencers are often incredibly busy and in-demand, they don’t have the time to dive deep down into your organization’s inner workings and unpack every detail of why your mission matters. Sharing your message in a high-impact way may be an influencer’s special gift, but crafting a message that travels well is your job.
How do you get influencers on your side?
Simple. The way to attract influencers is to become useful to them.
See, influencers are people too. Oprah Winfrey, The Washington Post, and FOX News are all, in the end, just people (or offices filled with people) who have thoughts and opinions and self-images, just like celebrities and experts. What influencers share with their audiences helps define how their audiences see them, and how they see themselves.
To remain influential, influencers need two assets: a loyal audience, and a clear and consistent value they can convey to that audience. And that means they need a steady influx of useful information that their audience will find meaningful.
This is where you come in.
If your organization’s mission is something an influencer will believe is:
- Consistent with his/her own self-image
… then s/he’s much more likely to share it, or to get personally involved.
And that means it’s up to you to craft your message in such a way that it captures the attention not just of your own audience, but of the people who are best-equipped to spread that message on your behalf.
So, how do you tell your story in a way that gets influencers talking about it?
Here are three tips we often recommend to our clients. These tips work for creating powerful messages that can attract anyone’s attention, but they’re extra important for helping break through the clutter of an influencer’s inbox.
1) Give Your Message Handles
You already know that your message needs a compelling hook—a way to get people’s attention and make them care enough to click, read, listen, watch, or whatever else it is that you’re asking of them.
But that’s not enough.
Yes, a good hook brings people to your message, but handles are what help your audience share your message with their own audiences.
This can be as simple as:
- including social sharing buttons on your website or blog
- highlighting pull quotes
- providing an article summary
- pre-writing suggested tweets that your readers can easily share on their own social networks
People who agree with your mission may want to help you, but they’re busy—and influencers are often the busiest people. The easier it is for them to convey your message, and the less thought or effort they’ll have to invest in doing so, the farther and faster your message will travel.
2) Refine Your Story’s Elevator Pitch
An “elevator pitch” is a quick, ear-catching summary of your organization’s purpose that you can use to win people’s attention when you’re networking and you don’t want them to ignore you. (James Altucher has a great how-to guide for crafting an elevator pitch here.)
This same quick-pitch conversation starter can work for every major announcement, blog post, or press release you develop. In fact, crafting a per-item elevator pitch should be a necessary part of your recurring message-making process.
Because you know your message is important, but no one else does. They’re all thinking about themselves and their own problems—and influencers are thinking about more problems than most people do. If you don’t have a way to convey why your message should matter, they’re not going to listen in the first place. So get good at explaining why you matter to them.
Need help creating an elevator pitch for your organization, or for a specific message or event? Think about it from the point of view of a total stranger. How would you want that person to explain your message to someone else if they only had thirty seconds [or, let’s be honest here, three] to get their friend’s attention on your behalf?
The more clearly you can summarize your own value, the more easily others can tell your story exactly the way you want it to be told.
3) Make the Universal Specific
The Innocence Project (our client) has a noble purpose: they want to help exonerate provably innocent people from prison. On paper this seems like a mission statement that anyone would agree with, but in reality it opens the door to conversations about law enforcement, police work, and the criminal justice system, all of which can feel large, political, and impersonal.
How do you get someone to care about something as abstract as changing a system?
You tell a personal story of an individual who is affected by that system.
Writing about all the ways a system needs to be changed can seem insurmountable and potentially academic. But by telling a very specific story about one person’s problem within that system, and framing it as a solvable issue so listeners can feel empowered to take actions that will make a tangible difference for that person, you’re delivering a much more relatable and effective experience for your audience.
And if you follow this storytelling pattern enough times, you can start to change the system by making micro-changes on behalf of those individuals within the system. It all adds up.
For example, think about the ripple effects that Serial and Making a Murderer—two stories about two very specific legal cases—have had on the public’s awareness of the flaws in the criminal justice system.
Sometimes even a single personal story can amplify all by itself and make an enormous difference.
For example, Rocketboom creator Andrew Baron was frustrated by the Syrian refugee crisis, and he wanted to help… but he knew he couldn’t solve the refugee crisis as a whole. It’s too large and complicated for one person to have a significant impact on everyone who’s been affected.
But what he could do was help one individual family at a time. So Andrew started Humanwire to enable individual donors to aid individual refugees, one care package item—and one family—at a time. And when the media heard about Andrew’s efforts, their ability to promote and explain them was much easier because they could talk about real names and faces instead of just abstractions like politics and borders.
If you want to improve a system or solve a complex problem, you need to understand how it functions at the human level—and these stories of real people in real situations are what provide those actionable details in a way that faceless data reports simply can’t.
Once the influencers who are interested in your organization’s core mission hear these stories, they’ll be more likely to spread the word and get their own audiences on board because you’re not just presenting them with an abstract problem; you’re presenting them with an opportunity to wield their influence on behalf of a specific person and help solve a specific problem.
So if your organization has a lofty goal, don’t worry about making your story larger than life. That abstraction can actually work against you. Instead, frame your organization’s goal as the story of improving one person’s life. It’ll travel farther because those details will make it feel more relatable—and more real.
Are you ready to start attracting influencers to your cause? We can help. Get in touch and let’s start making those big changes happen for your organization, one ripple at a time.
This is the first in our upcoming series on Influencer Marketing. If you’d like to be notified when the next part of the series is available, make sure to subscribe here.