If influence is vague -- encompassing anything from peer pressure to marketing (cults, hazing, “As Seen On TV” ads, political campaigns, protests for peace and love, regrettable fashion trends) -- then influencers are powerful. By their definition, one can assume they have influenced more than once. They have achieved buy-in, trust and a reputation that results in more than the ability to spark passing fads.
But how far can the charisma and dynamism of a few individuals take your business?
Very far. Infectious, magnetic, mesmerizing: Influencers have the rare ability to take your idea and humanize it, germinate it, so it grows into something larger, something unexpected and something of value.
You Can Only Find 'It' If You Know What 'It' Is
Influencers are a difficult group to pin down. They can manifest in any department, in any level of an organization. They take on a variety of forms: visionaries, trendsetters, leaders, muses -- just to name a few. These forms then can choose from a multitude of approaches: acting as lubricants, connectors, rabble-rousers.
Even trickier, by their very definition, Influencers are change agents -- which means they are defined by a shift in others’ behaviors, not their own. Like a virus, for each change in behavior, all of the various paths of transmission must be identified to find the source. And, don’t forget, you will run into multiple strands, a variety of carriers, and mutations along with way.
Before you buy a bunch of push pins and red string and turn your office into something out of A Beautiful Mind, it is worth exploring options outside of socio-mapping (even if you have a fancy computer program to do this for you, really understanding the complexities of what you are seeing takes a great deal of time).
Follow the Money Trail
Seth Godin bases much of his manifesto, "Unleashing the Ideavirus," on the fact that, today’s current capital takes shape in the form of ideas. Power once resided with the landowners, and then was taken over by factories and production, but now, Godin suggests,
even though we are clueless about how to best organize the production of ideas, one thing is clear: if you can get people to accept and embrace and adore and cherish your ideas, you win. You win financially, you gain power and you change the way in which we live.”
Now, if Godin stopped there his thesis would be short. While one may not be able to present a valid reason for aristocracy and the handing down of title and privilege, certainly one could argue Ford, Rockefeller and the like had the ideas for factories. Forget the whole robber barons thing and take it back years before the Industrial Revolution. America was founded on ideas. Where he hits home is in the statement that,
In the old days, there was a limit on how many people you could feed with the corn from your farm or the widgets from your factory. But ideas not only replicate easily and well, they get more powerful and more valuable as you deliver them to more people.”
Once you have capital and an effective distribution chain, you can begin to see the surface of applying business properties to the social enterprise.
Keep an Eye on Exchange Rates
If ideas are considered the currency, it is important to pay attention to market value range and fluctuations when searching for influencers. Be careful not to jump into metrics and data until you understand what information is of value. Reprogram yourself and think of ROI as Resist One Interpretation.
There’s no exact comparison ratio (that I know of) between the value of 20 likes to four shares on an article. But back to Influencers as change agents, the likelihood of a share to cause momentum seems much more plausible and should thus be weighted more heavily.
In the same sense, to determine an Influencer by the frequency of posts, tweets, blog entries, etc. would be a mistake. You can talk at people all day long if you want, but if you are just talking and not engaging, essentially your "money" (ideas) are not worth much.
An Influencer offers ideas that the collaborative community wants to consume. Not only that, the members of the community want to exert energy spreading these ideas, leaving the Influencer with a profit.
Getting to Know the Joneses
Rachel Botsman, author of "What’s Mine is Yours: How Collaborative Consumption Is Changing the Way We Live," gave a fantastic TED talk where she said “It’s no longer about keeping up with the Joneses, it’s about getting to know the Joneses.” She was referring to how technology enables the sharing and exchange of assets. She takes the idea of social currency a step further, by examining the idea of a person’s social reputation trail in relationship to trust.
To borrow on that idea, Influencers in your enterprise social network will not just be individuals who profit from their ideas being spread. Rather than a one-way stream of information (or, to keep the currency idea, a buy/sell economy), they’re likely also bartering with others. Once an Influencer has been established as a trusted source of ideas, others begin acting as change agents and sources of ideas by offering something beneficial to the Influencer in return.
Now you've got something really powerful -- an exchange marketplace of ideas.
So You've Found Them, Now What Do You Do With Them?
Depending on the size of your organization, but more importantly, what evolutionary stage of social your organization currently resides, will greatly determine the extent to which you can go from bees to honey. If your organization falls more into a prehistoric era of social enterprise, your influencers may be making huge strides by accomplishing something as simple as just getting employees to join a collaborative platform. In this case, advancing your social society is likely the best place to point your focus.
If you have a large company, or find yourself with a multitude of tribes, you will have different factions in different stages of social evolution. Choosing how to handle that is outside of the scope of this article. It requires selecting the right approach, but it can be achieved.
If you are lucky enough to discover you have more than just Influencers, but an exchange marketplace, that’s when serious corporate gain can be realized. Employ a strategic roadmap, with a vision and clear goals determining your corporate currency (whether that is collective intelligence, interest cultivation, improved response time to customers, etc.) and turn Influencers and exchange marketplaces into hives that produce profits for your organization.
So don’t shoot the messenger. Instead, find her, nurture her, provide guidance for her, and reap the benefits.
Editor's Note: To read more on Enterprise Social Networks, see Carrie Basham Young's The Enterprise Social Networking Data Party is Over
Title image by Mert Toker (Shutterstock)