Q&A on the Nature of Influence

I was going through my files last night and found this interview I did a while back on influence. My focus at the time was on content strategy to help brands switch mindset from broadcasting to publishing and interacting.

While influence continues to be a big topic in some social circles, my work concentration has shifted more strongly to the strategy and design of digital, social, and physical service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover
the value of promises and its effect on relationships and

Anyway, I thought you would enjoy revisiting some of the ideas I started from.

Q: What do you think are the main characteristics of a true Influencer? What is the difference between influential and popular? Can a person be both?

A: They have big hands (just kidding)! The point is that identifying an influencer is not so easy. You can’t tell just by looking at someone, buying a list or going with the people everyone seems to talk about the most.

Individuals who are influential most often gain this reputation because they make lots of connections, know where to go for information, have and generously share specific knowledge, help close deals, and put in a good word for a situation or a person.

An influencer is someone who is in a position to get things done because he or she has developed credibility and gained the trust of others.

Individuals who are popular often are looked up to because they appear to be helpful and kind. I use the term “appear” because online just about anyone can play up an image, sort of like the stereotypical popular boy or girl in high school who seems to have it all but underneath simply is not nice.

Keep in mind that popularity by itself won’t deliver results. Sure, a few popular people in the community you’re trying to reach can help with velocity when it comes to spreading a message. However, speed doesn’t necessarily equal influence or help a message reach individuals who can make a difference.

I believe the most effective method to connect with the people who matter is to not worry about popularity but, instead, to focus on how your story resonates with someone and whether that individual is already talking about your topics.

When you’ve done your homework and have a compelling story, your message will carry beyond those couple of individuals who are constantly on the lookout for things to spread and instead end up on the radar of those who are true influencers.

And, yes, a person can be both influential and popular. If I were a betting person, though, I’d stack my chips on the influencer.

Q: What are the challenges you face when identifying which individuals or media outlets you must include for outreach?

A: One challenge is that you often do not know for sure whether a topic will resonate at the specific time you desire. Fortunately, today more people are writing about more topics than you could ever read, so any one of those individuals could be your hit on the “right time, right place” payday. This is why it’s so important to develop relationships with many people who you see active in your specific subject matter area.

Another challenge is determining how far to keep expanding your horizons when it comes to outreach. You must constantly evaluate the cost-benefit ratio of chasing all possible online publications versus targeting the ones most influential in your subject area.

The main challenge is developing a great narrative and solid, compelling content that will get picked up by a starving online ecosystem. Unfortunately, today I see many professionals who are just chasing links without much thought as to the strength of a well-constructed and well-placed story — the type of story that ends up generating the kind of attention you want.

Q: How has the tremendous growth of blogs and social media changed who is able to become an Influencer?

A: In the beginning, a few people gained the upper hand helping each other out (like a private club, of sorts) by linking to and constantly mentioning the same sources and people. Through hard work and perseverance, they created a sense that they were everywhere.

For some, it paid off. They got in early and built a nice following. I come from Italy and have seen that same kind of thing in other spheres — you let someone in, they are grateful, they tell everyone what a great person/group you are and so on.

Not long ago, I was discussing with a former colleague the difference in how someone builds visibility now compared to how it was done by those early entrants. Today big numbers and a big following usually come with popularity — a kind of pyramid scheme.

Some of this is fueled by an emphasis on topics that are popular versus the lesser-known topics that could enrich your mind as well as propel your learning and work — the sort of topics that have a hard time bubbling up. So those who work in and write outside the scope of popular subjects are more likely to get less attention and be less popular.

That being said, the majority of people who are online have a high tolerance for repeat messages. I think there is room to do very interesting things with popular topics and become a well-known and sought-after influencer.

Remember, though, that popularity does not necessarily translate into influence, and ultimately, influence still depends on results. If you don’t provide results, you won’t become an influencer.

Q: Is traditional media (i.e., newspapers, magazines, network and cable news) still influential? Why or why not?

A: Tremendously so. Traditional media remain powerful brands and are read by everyone, including those outside the so-called social media bubble. These organizations have distribution and syndication deals that can take a story far and wide, landing it on the doorsteps or screens of those who do not subscribe to blogs or follow Twitter feeds or actively particpate on Facebook but still have the potential to do something interesting with the information they’ve read.

And let’s not forget that many skilled and experienced journalists still work in the traditional media realm. Trained to tell compelling stories, these individuals exhibit a level of excellence that you rarely see in someone who thinks he or she can become a serious journalist without first honing his or her craft.

You always want to gain the attention of the industry’s best writers.

Q: What is the best way to build relationships with key Influencers?

A: My answer is simple: Make personal connections. I’m intrigued by the lack of desire and interest so many individuals show today when it comes to getting to know each other.

We live in this vast online relationship landscape that is but a few millimeters deep. It is the rare person who has a connective attitude, even though the secret to opening lines of communication with influencers and developing strong relationships is making a connection.

One of the reasons I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many doers, authors and leaders over the years is that, unlike most, I approach individuals with a desire to learn about them.

I don’t look at them simply as a means to an end. Instead, I want to know what moves them. I want to know their stories. Because of this attitude of interest in the individual, I help people vote me into their networks and inner circles.

You also want to be where they are, read what they read and watch where they focus their attention. This will help you find openings and give you opportunities in the way you present your story.



Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover
the value of promises and its effect on relationships and
. She is also frequent speaker at
conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.