The most powerful way to grow your business and your career these days is to become a visible influencer in your domain. People follow influencers on social media to find what they buy, who they vote for, and which social causes they support. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to be an influencer, but you do have to understand and practice some key techniques.
In this age of total and instant communication via Internet videos and smartphones, everyone assumes that if they don’t know you, you are hiding something, or perhaps don’t even exist. They flocked to businesses like Apple, when influencer Steve Jobs was at the helm, and anxiously await the next moves from visible entrepreneurs, including Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk.
Personalities in business are the influencers these days, rather than brand names and symbols. You are your own brand, and the brand for your business. Thus it behooves you to do everything you can to be perceived as an influencer. I found a good summary of these attributes in a recent book, “The Old School Advantage,” by an expert on interpersonal communication, J. N. Whiddon.
The keys to being an influencer are time-honored and not new, but they have assumed a new importance in this age of instant communication. Based on my current role as a mentor to entrepreneurs, I will paraphrase and recommend Whiddon’s top techniques in business terms:
Build an image of likability and rapport. We all relish working with and buying from people we can relate to on a personal level. In today’s customer context, you can foster rapport by dressing like them, making every effort to look attractive, offering compliments, and listening intensely. Customers need to believe that you are one of them.
Highlight your interest in helping and giving back. Entrepreneurs who are clearly willing to give as well as take in business become influencers because people feel the urge to reciprocate. Going out of your way to help a customer or help a good cause pays big dividends these days. Don’t be seen as a business taking without giving back.
Establish yourself as an authority in your domain. In the past, authority came from a position title or uniform. Today in business, authority is a function of visibility, leadership roles in related functions, and what is said about you online by authoritative publications and people you know. You can also establish authority by writing and public speaking.
Show your ability to build customer consensus. Influencers in business are entrepreneurs who are willing to engage with customers, and get them fully aligned with the business. Actively participating in social media is the place to start, including blogging and positively responding to customer feedback, to build a growing crowd of followers.
Demonstrate your commitments and consistency. As an example, early businesses that were willing to publish their commitment to “customer satisfaction or your money back” became influencers. Now customers look for more. Be creative in demonstrating your strengths consistently, and your influencer perception will rise.
Highlight elements of your exclusivity and scarcity. Facebook initially capitalized on exclusivity by allowing only Harvard students to join their social network. When services are unique, difficult to obtain, or available for a limited time, their value increases, and your influencer level goes up. Scarcity is one of the best justifications for higher prices.
The net effect is that influencers can rely more heavily on the less expensive “pull” marketing, rather than traditional “push” marketing. With pull marketing, the idea is that your influence and presence draws customers to your solutions. Customers don’t even see this as advertising, and actually become strong advocates who pull in their friends, further magnifying your influence.
Certainly the steps to becoming an influencer take effort and involve risk. The power to persuade and influence others also carries a great responsibility. If you don’t wield your influence wisely, you will hurt others and hurt yourself. Yet staying invisible and taking no risks in business today is a certain recipe for failure. Are you doing all you can to influence your own growth and success?