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It doesn’t matter if you’re an individual or a brand, influence is now king. A legion of followers can offer a wealth of opportunities, just as being a recognisable name within an industry can ensure untainted visibility on any platform you wish.
The Internet is the ultimate popularity contest. You either play the game, or you get left behind. With one wave of his Twitter wand, Stephen Fry can raise awareness of causes, channel thousands of visits to a news story, or even make a relatively unknown guitarist a star. In the same regard, big businesses need to do little more than snap up a load of domains, cobble together a decent website and wait for Google to promote them to the top.
This post has been inspired by the Independent’s Twitter 100, which reached its somewhat surprising conclusion today. Taking the top-spot is the oft-automated Twitter feed of mega-entrepreneur Richard Branson, who managed to sneak in just ahead of the unlikely pairing of Sarah Brown and Alan Carr who shared second position. This made me wonder how influence is measured and what it’s really worth to the individual, particularly on a platform as potentially frivolous as Twitter.
Celebrities, major brands and leading industry professionals all share one thing in common – a captive audience. With millions of ambassadors at their beck and call, every promotion, Tweet and PR/news story is going to get traction with very little effort. What could be better?
Unfortunately, if you’re a smaller business or new to an industry, this level of influence is often a distant dream. However, it is not an impossibility. Whilst the names that we all recognise can pretty much guarantee visibility, you have to work hard to get yourself seen. But through hard work, you can begin to grow your own audience and develop influence.
To achieve this you will need a couple of basic things:
A decent business
If you’re promoting a brand, your job will be made immeasurably easier if you have something that is worth promoting. Should your business be a clone of others within the industry, or be burdened with contention from the outset, gaining any form of influence is going to be a major challenge.
Offer something that the wider world wants or that will attract a good deal of attention from a particular audience and you have a starting point. I covered this in more detail here – To Succeed Online You Must First Do So Offline – but essentially you need to start from the ground and work your way up slowly. Get the product right and the marketing is easy.
If you’re in a competitive industry, the last thing you want to do is just follow the crowd. Whilst this can bring a low level of visibility amongst peers, it will rarely result in any form of influence. To stand out, you must advertise yourself. Show off your sense of humour, your knowledge and become a resource for those looking for interesting news pieces. Communicate with others too, if you’re static and insular with your messages, they will simply blend in with the white noise that is social media.
Remember, you’re not just chasing a decent score on Klout. Success is measured in your ability to turn influence into meaningful visibility on all platforms as well as financial returns (assuming that you are a business).
Big brands are able to harness their public awareness for the benefit of the wider business. They can also afford to invest in multi-channel promotions to make sure we humble consumers never forget about them. All of this activity generates a huge amount of interest, including entirely natural discussions on social networks and links to branded content. The consequence of this is a huge, completely organic online marketing campaign.
A new on-site promotion from Coca Cola, Nike or McDonald’s will probably attract more links and mentions than most companies can achieve in a decade of dedicated SEO work. On the Internet, the rich do get richer, particularly when it comes to influence.
You need look no further than J C Penney for a classic example of how brands can be shot down in a hail of bad publicity, get caught breaking the rules by Google and punished accordingly – only to then bounce back, almost untouched. A smaller business would almost certainly have been buried, but the truth is the JC Penney domain and brand were so strong that they survived unscathed.
When you have influence, you can survive most things. Even if you polarise society, you can always guarantee decent publicity and a strong level of support. Within the world of online entrepreneurship and marketing, Jason Calacanis provides a classic example of this. He naturally divides opinion; some love his gusto, whilst others despise his hot air. Whatever your opinion, he’s a difficult man to ignore.
His reputation alone ensures that Calacanis’ views are often sought by the media (mainstream and online), helping it to grow even further. Just like the aforementioned Stephen Fry and a whole host of other online ‘celebrities’, this influence gives him the power to make or break businesses. One mention can lead to thousands of links, visits and mentions.
Again, this isn’t within the realms of everybody. However, influence can be built to scale. Small businesses don’t always necessarily want to become world-renowned brands. As long as you can gain recognition within a target niche and you are respected within your industry, it’s difficult to ask for more. Two million Twitter followers would be lovely, but having a few thousand that respond to your messages and interact positively could prove to be far more manageable and achievable.
But whatever you do, it’s the essentials that allow you to get the basics right. Make sure your business is delivering a quality service, ensure you have the knowledge to back up any claims and don’t be shy. Quality should later evolve into quantity too – extending to customers, followers and online visibility. All it takes is a lot of work, a series of good ideas and perhaps a sprinkling of good luck.
Influence in itself is useless. You can’t pay your mortgage with Facebook likes or inbound links. As a brand or individual, your job is to convert it into something more meaningful. Without influence though, marketing yourself is a huge challenge. So there has to be a payoff.
Sir Richard Branson via BigStock