Influencers Make Change Happen



To anyone in business, word of mouth is the Holy Grail of marketing. What other people say about you when you're not in the room can make a difference. If they're talking to the right people at the right time, you could stand to gain a job offer, a sale, or a new friend.

A recommendation is the easy part. What's hard is for it to influence a decision. Businesses interested in influencer marketing want to buy a direct outcome from a few people.

There's a lot of digital ink spilled on these ideal influencers, a mythology of sorts. The highly curated images of celebrities and those with highlight reels in social media and magazines might sell.

But as Marc Andreessen, partner at venture firm a16z, says, “The role of sales is not to sell something people don’t need. Essentially it’s to help someone buy what they do need.” This is the secret of real influencers—they help you make the change you want to make possible.

Wanted: real influencers

Influence is not something new, we've just given it a coat of digital paint and called it influencer marketing. When it works, we cash in the check and shop the success story around. Then everyone takes the formula for a spin. “I'll have what she's having!”

The problem is not having the right influencers. It's that we don't understand how influence works. Influence is not new, it emerges from old human patterns. The moving is as much a product of the people who do it as it is of the person who inspires it.

Hence we need to understand what moves people and how to apply it to our context.

Lifestyle has run out of life

A recent article on following influencers in social media spells out the dangers of sanitizing life and worshiping the highlight reel. Culture and social pressure have a way of encouraging a certain kind of behavior—if it is seems to work, we keep doing it. 

Posts that contain flattering and humblebrag-worthy stuff tend to do well in a culture that worships winning at all costs. Trials and failure are acceptable only in retrospect, from the gold medal podium. Even those who share their journeys to health and sanity, do it after they reached them. The truth is nobody cares about the effort, we all want results.

Hence the irony, because results come at the tail end of work. Lifestyle has run out of life. If we want real influence, the work is to put life back into it. It's the small, daily actions that create the tapestry of our relationships that give influence a chance.

Influencers make change happen

Businesses and people that give you the tools and guidance necesssary for you to convince yourself to change key behaviors are real influencers. To know what we want people to do, we need clarity on results, clarity on the key behaviors to get us there, and clear action on the sources of motivation and ability.

There are personal, social, and structural sources we should understand. There are specific steps companies and leaders take to create an ethos and culture where remarkable customer service exists and is part of every employee's behavior.

When we're able to motivate and enable others to change what they do, this is the nature of influence. Before we can create change at scale, we need to affect individuals. Every influence program that succeeds over the long haul starts small and builds from there.

What about popular influencers?

This is the attention market, it has little to do with sustainable influence. Because you rely on a single point of failure—the person who does the influencing. We've seen the rise and fall of many stars from TV to YouTube, to Instagram. Eventually the channel becomes too expensive or less effective.

Media companies, popular models and stars, social networks are in the business of making media companies, popular models and stars, and social networks rich and famous. Your business gets to tag along until things go well for them, and increasingly the cost in reputation is part of the deal.

Attention merchants are different from conversation agents. The latter are more focused on the topics and themes that interest the people who sign up to be influenced. They're more committed to the underlying values and focus their energy on communicating them in a variety of forms.

Make change happen

Every business has the ability to make change happen. Help someone do something they want to do and you've made change happen. Help them get organized around that change, and you help them make it sustainable.

Most important, the interaction is based on shared values. Even done this way, no change affects everyone the same way. 

Influence is a process. It's that simple, and not easy to do.