line of people riding camels in the dessert following a tour guide who is waving from the front of the line
PHOTO: Chandler Chen

Influencers change how we behave. They create experiences that entice the crowd to follow them. Influencer marketing takes advantage of this and uses brand advocates as change agents, because buyers listen to the voice of peer experts. If influencers can make and grow a brand, could a similar approach help to affect organizational change?

Here’s a look at how applying influencer marketing techniques can help your change management initiatives.

Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way

Leaders are understandably results-focused: their responsibility is to create the strategic vision of where the business needs to be and ensure the resources are available to enact the change. Good leaders assure that the technical plan to move from current to future state, and the technology to support it, are in place.

But effective change management is a multi-faceted discipline. The Change Acceleration Process (CAP) that I used at GE is a model for change that recognizes success requires a strong technical plan — for process, system and structural change — and an engagement plan to mobilize commitment. Without the ability to engage and direct organizational behavior, change will be stalled and if it does move forward, certainly will not be sustained.

In other words, followers are as important as leaders in the equation of change. How then do you create an inspired group of followers?

Related Article: Digital Workplace Change Management Requires a Multi-Pronged Approach

The Importance of the First Follower

Inertia is the enemy. A perfectly architected vision for change will fail if the need for change does not outweigh the resistance. And to move an entire organization at once can be difficult. This is the point Peter Senge makes in his iconic book on systems thinking, "The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization."

As Senge explains, in the long run the only sustainable competitive advantage is the ability to learn faster than the competition. To enact large-scale change, new patterns of thinking must be nurtured, and people must be continually learning how to create results they truly desire. In the latest edition of the book, Senge addresses impetus and ways of getting started — changing one mind at a time.

For me, one of the best illustrations of how to get started in mobilizing minds and behaviors is the lesson of the first follower as described in this highly entertaining video by Derek Sivers, Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy.  

We learn from the video that we should follow these three precepts to enact change:

  • Be public — communicate boldly.
  • Be easy — easy to follow in your vision and your actions.
  • Treat your first follower as an equal — as your peer.

As the dancing guy example teaches, it’s the first follower that transforms a lone voice into a leader and gives credence to others to follow. Brands use influencers because this is exactly the transformation they help to achieve. Influencers follow brand leaders and in turn create their own followers. And in doing this they create a movement. 

Related Article: How to Adapt Traditional Change Management for Digital Transformation Initiatives  

Influencers as Change Agents

Not convinced yet that influencer marketing can initiate and accelerate change? Look no further than the dynamics of Instagram. Not necessarily the Instagram of Taylor Swift or Selena Gomez — two of the top Instagram influencers in terms of followers — but rather the Instagram of the #postboxselfie campaign. This campaign was called out in the article, "7 Ways Instagram has Changed the World," credited for mobilizing marriage equality voters in Australia in 2017.

“In sharing their voting moment, it was a fun and encouraging way to connect with a young audience who, despite supporting marriage equality, were thought to be reluctant to vote.”

Mobilizing voters successfully requires a focus on connecting — using leaders to create followers to create a movement — and this is exactly what corporate change management initiatives need to succeed. The "5 Greatest Examples of Change Management in Business History" highlights Shell’s Downstream-One highly successful transformation. Notably, Shell chose its change agent team carefully, selecting experts who not only had technical understanding but could also provide change leadership.

“This [team of influencers] both modelled and drove the new behaviours needed for the change to succeed. They briefed the people who would be impacted by the change; risks and potential problem areas were discussed and mitigated — before any real change was even delivered.”

Related Article: Change Management Is a User Experience Feature

Change Management Made Simple?

Change is difficult. Putting the technical plan in place is challenging, but it pales in comparison to finding effective ways to get those pesky humans on board and committed to the change. So, as you look to advance your change management projects, it could help to find your influencers and first followers, and keep these simple influencer marketing techniques in mind:

  1. Lead with knowledge. Influencers are listened to and followed because they are perceived as knowledgeable.
  2. Be authentic. Influencers are genuine and passionate in their belief and advice, and they share real world experience.
  3. Keep a cadence. Influencers communicate with their community regularly and in engaging ways.
  4. Don’t just broadcast, interact. Influencers don’t just talk at their community, they interact with their community.
  5. And be bold. Whether you’re the dancing man, his first follower or an evangelist for change at your company, remember it demands bold action and fearless commitment to reach the vision.