In the digital world, influencers can drive markets with a velocity never seen before in business.
High-powered influencers with huge followings command a heavy premium from companies in in the consumer marketplace. The top YouTube influencers, for example, command well over $1 million from consumer goods companies, even though most of us in the older demographics could never pick these people out in a lineup.
Many companies actively recruit influencers such as sports or entertainment figures who can shift the customer’s perception and buying patterns. While celebrity spokespersons have always been around, social media and online communications have surely magnified the reach and frequency of these influencers’ messaging. Given the growing importance of advocacy marketing, the “influencer” trend has carried over to the business-to-business (B2B) markets for complex purchases.
While external influencers and advocates are needed in the marketplace, internal influencers are also needed within the enterprise to drive innovation and transformation. “Internal influencer” is not often seen as a title on job search sites, but it has become an increasingly important role in the enterprise. One cannot ignore the fact that it has also become a key personal branding attribute for professional growth and perceived market value. For these reasons, the most powerful influencers are those working on the inside, having the ability to drive cultural change with their magnetic powers of conviction.
We’ve all known influential insiders that grew into this position organically simply through personality traits that made them what many would call “the cool kid” in the company — a person customers and colleagues alike always want to be around. But many are not lucky enough to be natural-born influencers. Establishing oneself as an enterprise influencer is in many ways identical to methodically building any brand in a marketplace.
Here are three key tips for building your own brand as an internal influencer and advocate.
- First and most important, influencers make a tremendous effort to build a loyal audience. This comes naturally to some, but even the most talented networker realizes that “popular” and “influential” are two very different things. History tells me that one of the best ways to be an influencer is to be a provocateur, but in a constructive way. I’ve spent most of my career “branding” some of my key themes in a way that people remember the words, and then engage me in conversation about what the words actually mean. For example, I became an influencer in the media world by coining “random acts of content” to describe the content “strategy” many companies deploy.
- The internal influencer must be much more politically savvy than the typical internet influencer. Many organizations don’t look kindly on internal change agents who go against normal procedures or product offerings. For this reason, senior management must be willing to accept a risk-reward culture that enables influencers to deliver on their promises. Otherwise, the influencer can be perceived as nothing more than a squeaky wheel or, worse, a bloviator.
- Regardless of the audience, the most important influencer skill is nurturing trust. High-powered influencers stand above the crowd by credibly promoting themselves and in doing so, doing what’s best for the enterprise. While convincing rhetoric is a critical skill, it is virtually useless without being able to establish the trust of the internal target audience so these people can serve as change agents as well. This trust must manifest itself by being able to show empirical success. But perhaps more powerful is the ability to maintain trust among colleagues as an influencer during the challenges or failures that go with creative disruption.