The influencer strategy sucks. Doesn’t matter if you’re trying to launch a program or product inside your organization or to the public. They suck.
Whenever I’ve had to execute an influencer strategy, or create one, or recommend one, I have this same visceral reaction of ugh.
Because I feel like the ugly guy who’s asking out all the cheerleaders. Not because I want to, but because the quarterback won’t give me back my TI-82 calculator unless I ask each one of them out so he and his friends can laugh at me.
You can fight me on this, but that’s essentially what an influencer strategy is. You’re looking to ride the coattails of someone with influence. But first you have to court them. You either have to flatter them into wanting to do something for you….or you have to pay them. I’ll get to that in a minute.
First we have to rethink the word “influencer” because it's gross.
#1 thing to rethink: the word “influencer” by itself
If you think about it, the term “influencer” is really dehumanizing. As you hunt down this list of bloggers, or press contacts, or senior level managers at your organization, you’ve reduced them to a function. A function that you hope will serve you.
The problem is that thinking of a person strictly as what they can do for you removes the person from the equation. They’re no longer a human being with thoughts or feelings or a bottle-flipping hobby.
They’re just a transaction.
Ru Paul has a few words for people who treat her like a transaction.
But is it really egotistical of a journalist – or anyone – to want respect? To be approached with a request or offer that’s actually for them and not just a generic pick-up line?
Are you asking out the cheerleader because she’s a cheerleader? Or because you think Kara (because that’s her name and you took the time to learn it) is really funny and attractive?
If you haven’t already, put yourself in Kara’s shoes. Which approach would you prefer?
Of course, it makes sense why someone would consider using an influencer strategy
Set aside Kara for a moment. Now you get to be a fashion designer.
Imagine you’re a fashion designer and one day I wear your dress and look fabulous so a friend asks me where I got the dress and I mention your name.
Now imagine one day, Lady GaGa wears your dress and tells the red carpet press “I’m wearing Ileana Rothschild.” (Pretend that’s your name).
Which event is more likely to immediately and dramatically increase traffic to your website? (I’m sort of cool but give me a break, you know it’s Lady GaGa’s qualified referral that’s going to do it for you).
An influencer strategy is all about getting your industry’s equivalent of Lady GaGa to wear your dress and tell the red carpet press about it.
But that’s why I say an influencer strategy sucks. Lady GaGa is not going to wear your dress, Ms. Etsy Shop Retailer. It’s not going to happen.
Unless you have budget to get Lady GaGa to wear your dress. That’s a whole different ball game.
Do you have budget for an influencer strategy?
If you have money for an influencer strategy – get to it! Really. It’s like Al Capone said.
Money talks. You’ll do fine.*
*Of course there’s still a lot to do even if you do have budget for an influencer strategy, however, this post is only concerned with those of us who don’t have the automatic weapon of money at hand.
Once I complained to a smart consultant that a co-worker had asked me to make something “go viral.” How was I supposed to make her boring program go viral, honestly? Smart consultant told me to respond by asking, “What’s your budget?”
But you don’t have budget. So, whatever. Keep reading.
The way the social media world thinks about influence sucks
Coming from the social media world, the influence in the influencer strategy only pertains to the people who already had a lot of it. You know, the beautiful cheerleaders. And then you had to convince the cheerleaders to go out with you, AKA, convince them to promote your product or program or offering or idea online.
Since you only have your kind word (no gun) you can count on it taking a long time to build your relationship with said influencer. Seriously I just feel so tired thinking about it.
You DO want these people to know you. So yes go ahead and start getting to know these people now, before you need them.
In the interim –
Rethink your influencer strategy by taking a page from grassroots organizing
Two weeks ago I met with the Executive Director (ED) of a nonprofit I volunteer for. She has more than 30 years of experience in community organizing, and we were discussing related content pieces: blogging, creating a private Facebook group, writing invitation emails.
The ED kept emphasizing “we want people to think about their circle of influence.” My a-ha moment came when I realized she was talking about thinking about the people you already have influence over.
Not other people’s influence. My own!
I asked, “Let me get this straight. You mean if I want to make change, the first step is to think about the influence I already have?”
Yes. She said, “Think about who already listens to you. Then talk to them. Have them think about who they influence.”
From a grassroots organizing perspective, you don’t ask the cheerleader out. Not right away.
You may not even need to ask the cheerleader out.
I should probably stop using this metaphor.
Use an inverted influencer strategy internally for enterprise success
An inverted influencer strategy is just as important for internal teams with internal customers – and has even greater chance of succeeding.
Many years ago I was part of an internal communications function for a Fortune 25 company. We were an in-house agency for the IT function. They were responsible for creating apps that supported the business side of the company AKA their customer.
The business analysts would create apps but that didn’t mean anything if their customer didn’t use it. First the customer had to learn the solution existed, then there was training…you get the idea.
Communications supported making people aware, broadly, that the app existed in the first place. The business analyst in charge already had an established circle of influence inside the company and they would leverage the heck out of it so their app succeeded.
To make my point, I have to jump a few years ahead to a small consulting gig I had. My client was a business analyst who’d overseen the creation of a new app and he wanted people to use it.
He told me he’d shed a tear of happiness if the CEO of the company would plug his program.
May we never understand this man's delusion as our own
My client could have straight up asked the CEO to plug it, but etiquette. And likely failure.
Remember: what’s the goal of your influencer strategy, again?
Returning to the fashion designer idea: Are you trying to get GaGa to wear your dress…or are you trying to get more people to know about your designs?
Your goal is having more people know you. GaGa is just a step along the way. Instead ask: Who do you already influence?
My client straight up wanted to ask Lady GaGa to wear his dress. Granted, because my client and the CEO work for the same company, the likelihood of them even knowing each other in the first place is greater.
Instead he needed to invert his strategy and do what the other business did: go to the bottom. Not the top! Grow his userbase. Use his existing influence.
(Of course the CEO is still important. I'd never say they weren't.)
Steps to create an inverted influencer strategy
I might cover this more thoroughly in another post, but roughly what you want to do is:
- Remember that you are talking to human beings, NOT customers or users or influencers or champions. People.
- Write down the names of people you already influence. Draw a circle.
- Use LinkedIn to research who THEY know that you might find interesting.
- Get together with your influencees (sniglet!) and have a conversation with them about what you're trying to do and find out if they care enough about what you're doing to use/promote it.
A leadership consultant I know made it part of her contract that at the end of every engagement, her client had to make a referral by telling 2 of their other colleagues (at a similar leadership level) about her. That's incredible influence right there.
Kinda Al Capone, even. And deeply human to boot.