My Talk on Influence

SMX East Everyone is Wrong about Influence. Except Your Customers. from Valeria Maltoni

Once upon a time I started on a journey of discovery on what works well and what does not provide the desired results when it comes to building and connecting with influence.

SXSW solo presentation, or more appropriately conference in the meaning of exchange of views, was the catalyst. Here was the panel picker description and here was the #sxsw-influence post summarizing my year of blogging about the topic.

The culmination of my work was not the talk, of course, and I was especially grateful to Joe Fernandez of Klout for helping address questions from his POV at the end of the talk. That was 2011, and I continue to learn how influence works and what, where, and when it does in the digital strategies and action plans I execute.

Because while it may be more intuitive to think about influence as a component of a social or content marketing program, social and content are aspects of an integrated strategy there is a time and place for them, yet they are not one and the same with it.

I was super excited when the organizers at SMX East invited me to share my thoughts on influence at the conference this past September. Since it does not look like I posted the narrative with the deck, I thought it would be useful to do it now, when you probably will carve out a little time to read up on a few topics and themes that are important to you and your work.


Stop everything and pay attention

Essentially this is what we try to do when we are good and ready with a product launch, a promotion, a message to put in market. We say stop everything and pay attention to me, to this.

When it happens, like in the #icebucketchallenge, what is at the root of the success seems so simple — get famous people to do something and then to spread it by asking other famous people to do it, too. Deconstruct how it happened, and you see it was an idea someone had, not the brand it supported.

This is why predicting the qualities of the next hit campaign, product or hot news item… is notoriously difficult. Easy to see how it worked when it did, not so easy to fabricate to be that spontaneous an affair.


More net-worth than social

In the May 2012 Facebook Letter to Potential Shareholders, Mark Zuckerberg said: “We hope to rewire the way people spread and consume information… We think a more open and connected world will help create a stronger economy with more authentic businesses that build better products and services.” 

Mommy bloggers have already proven this model and this is the reason why many corporations work to get coverage on their products and services, if not on developing mutually beneficial relationships. This party reviews and recommendations lend authority and help build credibility.

If we want to understand how influence works, whether we have deep pockets and high ambitions, or we just believe we have a valuable message to spread on a shoestring budget, a good way to start is by reframing the question.


How do you appeal to influencers based on what they think about themselves?

This is where I got into the differences between gossip and rumors, how crises develop (and dissipate), how shared interests are the catalyst for shared experiences, and point of need is a powerful motivator.

All mechanisms that can help us understand the active role the influenced play in amplifying and extending information about a theme, topic, and message and potentially take action that impacts the brand(s) involved.

The Nielsen, Global Consumer Trust, 2012 statistic is still a reference in the industry:

92% of consumers report that a word-of-mouth recommendation is the top reason they buy a product and service.




That's because it provides us with human data — and we like our emotional layer to be satisfied, whether we seek to:

  • entertain
  • affect opinions
  • exchange important information
  • point out & enforce social rules
  • learn from mistakes


Who are the influencers in your industry?

Social trends often seem to have been driven by certain influential people, yet marketers are often unable to identify these “influencers” in advance. This is where we typically talk about a series of considerations that apply to a specific brand/business.

We start by focusing on motivation, which in some ways shows up in behaviors (see slide 20 for a chuckle). Here I am talking more about tendencies, things that are baked in our DNA, like the characteristics that distinguish the Connector from the Salesman from the Maven, bits of which Malcolm Gladwell portrayed in The Tipping Point.

The point is when you follow motivation, you understand why they would talk about something  they don’t tell their readers because they like you… what matters is what happens in their world. They tell their readers because they like their readers (or themselves / both). What can you learn there?


Types of influence

When I said Gladwell had bits in his book I was referring to cross-referencing behavioral cues with a more nuanced understanding around wide and deep influence — one I saw addressed well by Jess McMullin and re-created in my slide.


T-Shaped Influence


It's sort of intuitive, yet it should be kept in mind. Because the process should start from cross-referencing quantitative and qualitative data to tie back into motivation. The tools part is easy. This is the part that will net you richer results that stick.


Start with the people, then get into value

What are the attractors, the value generating actions? Say they are connect, inquire, notice, commit, and respond. Then how do you go about designing what the influencer experience looks like?

For connect, think about the value of being, feeling part of a tribe. I used GoPro as an example because it had recently priced its IPO and was up 55%, in turn building confidence in the product and its community through market valuation.

Talking about market valuations is important to investors, hence the value of the Nasdaq Community, which I wrote up at launch and checked in a year later. Connections that are forged online sometimes create the opportunity for meeting in real life, for example Threadless, which was built on shared passion for putting creative work on t-shirts. So much to learn about the creative market there!

There is probably no better opportunity for localization than to do something for the community, like Solid Sound, a yearly festival of music and art by Wilco at Mass MoCa in North Adams, MA.

For inquire I used the example of how by observing what people say and what they do may create an opportunity to help them bridge that gap through the judicious use of data. Certainly we are all thinking about the implications of mobility, the Internet of things, and the ability to access records any time, anywhere, how we use apps and tools to measure and quantify our actions in support of reaching our goals.

With iWatch we are headed in the direction of wearables becoming a fashion statement, and finding constructive ways to use data to embed health care where we live, play, work, and pray, starting with our modes of transport.

To go back to the difference between what we say and what we do — it's important because it helps us identify who based on what they say, and connect based on what they do.


What they say What they do


Imagine then the speech bubbles, so ubiquitous in social as symbols of conversation. What would they say about themselves with their friends/readers/colleagues? 

If we address the value of noticing, we can start with some data by a September 2014 Market Trend Report by Get Satisfaction:

62% Agree that user generated content has more credibility in supporting brand trust than employee-generated content. Then focusing on helping people do things.




Communities like American Express OPENForum, the SAP Developers hub, Fiskateers, P&G Everyday, and Baby Center — there is value in the exchange on top of the information. When you do something that makes the people you are trying to reach better at what they do, they will talk about it.

Do that rather than trying to manage how they perceive your brand. This also helps you light many fires, based on your key content categories and topics, for instance. In all these cases, they do not post because they like you, they post because they like themselves.

It is how we see ourselves that impacts loyalty as Apple, the brand, drives home.

Now is a good time to talk about commitment and the Internet rule, how you have 1% creators, 9% contributors, and 90% lurkers to contend with. Each has a job they want to do, so you empower the creators and involve the contributors — take a look at successful Kickstarter campaigns, those that backed actual projects.

This is not about the very people who pledge funds, it is about deconstructing how the information was presented, including what contributors get for backing a project, bringing experiences to life, and funding new products.

On September 19, 2014 Kickstarter published a report with the following data points:

  • 41.15% Success rate.
  • 70,040 projects funded successfully.
  • $1,316,563,718 total dollars pledged.


Kickstarter Stats


GoNuckles for GoPro Hero Camera# was succesfully funded on October 18. Thanks to the process I use to vet campaigns, I picked this project as one that would make it on September 20, when I worked on the deck (presented Sept 30).

Finally, in my list of contextual tactics that generate action is respond. I used the example of Fast Company's network during the crisis on 9/11, of which I was part at the time, and it was about giving people a voice through its platform we used for messaging of support and supplies. It was a chance to be part of something.

Fast customer response time, like Amazon's Mayday at 9.75 seconds, actually creates a positive impression. So much so that a September 2013 Service Study by American Express found that:

When 1,620 consumers were tested under laboratory conditions, 63% said they felt their heart rate increase when they thought about receiving great customer service.


Customer Service Love


In my research report about crisis response in social I found that time is even more of the essence in helping keep communications civil and the brand voice heard. Which means public interactions are important.

What you may have going on in the background is valuable to those stakeholders, yet if people do not know in the larger population, especially when mainstream media is likely live-tweeting or streaming a story, will hurt you long term.


Three core ingredients to get it right

Michael Schrage said:

Businesses should treat technology like a special effect. If you’re James Cameron and you’re doing a movie like Avatar, the issue is, “What kind of world am I trying to create?” Then the question is, “So how do I get the technology to do that?” The leading question is not, “Gee, how do I make a cheaper movie faster?”

The focus with influence should be the bigger context people are (or can be) excited about:

  1. A story that resonates, because emotional triggers are powerful remember this is their story, from their point of view and perspective
  2. The ability to spread it, making it super easy via connections in social making them the hero
  3. Doing something that is meaningful, helps them feel part of something greater than self, the bigger, cooler thing for them, because you enable something as part of that experience

Influence is a side effect of interestingness.


What would you do differently if you were responsible for their success?

Like in the Kickstarter campaigns, you should look for reasons to act. I suggested the following 5 steps to start:

  1. Do the research
  2. Keep it personal
  3. Take time to map ways to connect
  4. Involve the talent
  5. Choose a short list for exclusive

Answer for how can you make them more interesting? Then identify areas of interest by using tools like Traackr, Appinions, Peer Index, Buzzsumo, Klout, Augure, Group High, Linkdex, Followerwonk, Kred, Twtrland, and more.

Because you are not creating experiences for your influencers, at least not directly, you are creating them for their readers.

Who will influence your customers if it's not you?

Using this process will help you discover brand advocates and prepare you with ready topics that are not just about the product or thing you are pitching.

It may also help you answer: should you be pitching me? Understanding the social graph will keep you from embarrassing gaffes. Just this week a new content marketing enthusiast publishing a list of interviews with thought leaders pitched me my friend Ann Handley. Duh! Never mind that I am hardly a media company 😉



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 culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.

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