10 Vital Steps to Building Social Influence

By  and originally posted on Search Engine Watch.

Influence is a powerful word, permanently ingrained into the digital landscape in which we live, work and play.

In essence, influence means you’re inspiring others without having direct control over whether they take action.

Most seek to build influence; measure influence; and yes, some will even attempt to sell influence. Yet, few will achieve action-inspiring influence without planning and effort.

Lesson 1: Influence Isn’t the Same as Popularity

study revealed that most people see popularity and influence quite differently. Not much has changed since findings were published in 2010. If anything, in the age of authority and influence being generated though social engagement, one could say influence yields more power and is more sought after than ever.


image credit: Brian Solis

Eighty-four percent of 700 business leaders, entrepreneurs, and marketing professionals believe there is a correlation between an influencer’s reach and their ability to drive action, according to the study.

The comment Popularity is fleeting. Influence lasts, articulates how differently humans perceive popularity and influence. This very comment could explain how the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign was won.

Many believed it was President Obama’s popularity that enabled him to win two presidential elections. Post-election analysis reveals that it was influence, transferred through the hands of individual voters, that helped the candidate win two presidential elections.

Michael Slaby, former Chief Technology Officer, Obama for America 2008, and Chief Integration & Innovation Officer, Obama for America 2012, shared how strategy and technology enabled the election to forever change the political landscape in a keynote presentation to technology and marketing professionals at Pubcon Conference in New Orleans.

Lesson 2: Influence Requires Trust

To inspire change, you must first inspire trust. You must know who you are and what you stand for if you want others to support your cause.

Slaby presented the following equation:

Who you are
+ What you believe
Single sense of self

Because every organization is slightly unique, any brand can adapt this equation by being confident about who they are, and consistently communicating core values and unique value proposition to carve a place in the world.

Lesson 3: Blaze a New Trail

The competitive landscape in which your brand operates changes every day. Those who innovate will succeed. Those who fail to keep up will fail. How can you facilitate a culture of innovation in your organization?

Slaby recommends creating a culture with tolerance for mistakes. You must be prepared to work your way through the natural conflict created when trying new things vs. doing what is comfortable and known. You “must be prepared to fail a little bit or you’ll never do anything new” Slaby said.

Strive for intelligent experimentation. “Learn fast, fail fast”, said Slaby as he referenced a phrase Facebook is said to use: “fail harder”.

Conflict between old and new ways of thinking can be really productive. It is not a choice between old vs new, but rather who we are and who we want to become that can make an organization lively and productive – or tear it apart. Creating a space for that conflict to be productive, void of turf wars, is best.

Lesson 4: Timing is Everything

The 2008 campaign has inspired much speculation and imitation in political and marketing circles. The dust has settled from the re-election campaign of 2012, and it is now clear that a unique place in time enabled the right strategy powered by the right technology, implemented by the right talent to influence individuals to embrace a multi-faceted campaign that would influence others in a way American politics, the marketing and technology industries have never seen, and have yet to replicate.

Social media and mobile devices played significant roles in the campaign, which leveraged the fundamentals of community organizing to fundamentally change the way political campaigns and voters engage one another.

Slaby used the chart below to demonstrate how owned, earned, and paid content have emerged as integrated activities.

From Channels to Networks

Image credit: Michael Slaby

“Social behavior is ingrained into how we expect to consume information”, Slaby said, “It is important that we realize that we can no longer control how people engage and when or where they share”.

This is an important concept for marketers to embrace. What may have previously been described as outbound marketing has become a hybrid of inbound marketing in today’s digital landscape.

For example, publishing a video is “owned”, yet “earned” content that generates shares, comments, likes, etc., accompanied by related advertising initiatives has transformed what marketers may have traditionally called “channels” to “networks” rich with opportunity to influence individuals and their networks.

Harvard Business Review recently challenged the long-term value of influence in the context of the “iPhone affect” over time, citing the importance of an integrated marketing strategy that leverages peer-to-peer and traditional marketing campaigns throughout the product life cycle.


Image credit: Harvard Business Review

Lesson 5: Adapt or Die

The stakes may be different, however it is likely that success is as important to your business or brand as it was for Obama campaign. Adapting to the current landscape isn’t an option. It’s a requirement.

It is important for any brand or business to embrace the imperative to meet their customers wherever they are with meaningful engagement.

When you try to force engagement in pre-determined or designated channels, rather than inspiring action where they are, you could lose your only opportunity to influence that individual. Think about how you consume information.

Where and how you consume news, interact and engage with information, people and calls to action is likely influenced by whether you’re at home, the office, on the road, at the ballgame, school, or wherever you happen to be.

The emerging social media landscape and use of mobile devices had an undeniable impact on the outcome of the presidential election. Influence was shifted from the campaign to each individual voter, to each voter and those they could influence.

Lesson 6: Embrace Marketing to a Segment of One

Personalized marketing, or one-to-one marketing has been recognized for decades as a powerful communication method. When you engage each person as an individual according to what is important to them, the message is more likely to resonate with your audience and inspire action.

“Everyone is different. Honor that people are people. So simple, but not how data models and enterprise systems are typically designed,” Slaby said. “Take advantage of the reality.”

Michael Slaby on Engagement

Image credit: Michael Slaby

Marketing to the individual would be the driving strategy of the Obama campaigns. Cultivating and managing a potential field of more than 300 million registered voters would require a CRM initiative of mammoth scale. Moving away from mass marketing messages to distribute unique, personalized messages and a user experience designed to yield results would prove to be highly effective in the 2008 campaign, and subsequently adapted for the 2012 campaign.

You may not have millions to invest, but there are plenty of customer relationship management tools available to optimize engagement with customers. Make the most and build on each interaction.

Lesson 7: It All Begins With Strategy

Influence must be driven by an intended outcome. A strategy with specific goals that can be cohesively articulated to individuals is required if you wish to promote action.

Because the Obama campaign was molded around principles of community organizing, the core strategy focus to convey to voters “it’s about you” was driven by the president, the first lady and the campaigns closest political advisors according to Slaby. The emphasis was to connect with voters as people on the issues that meant the most to them.

With a focus on the individual, a campaign focused on millions of personal interactions had never been attempted before. The social landscape was prime to facilitate such an endeavor.

Lesson 8: Use The Right Technology

Technology is only as good as it is able to deliver results. Far too often technology is created or implemented without the inherent ability to support the actions required to support the strategic plan.

The NORWHAL platform created by the Obama campaign to execute the integrated campaign strategy is well documented. Custom-created to support each and every aspect of the strategic vision, the technology had to serve the needs of the users if they were to be inspired and enabled to act (vote) and influence others to do the same.

Each of 2.2 million volunteers were able to engage in 150 million conversations with individual voters. The campaign enabled them to “listen” to these conversations to find out what was important to them, and customize communication and inspire action.

The campaign was intent on recognizing the value of each individual enabling each person to make a contribution that would support the end goal. “Don’t promise a meaningful role then give someone something meaningless to do,” Slaby said.

Slaby explained the importance of creating a valuable experience for long-time supporters, empowering them to “teach” new members to the community, while addressing the motivating factors that inspired the very first interaction of each member uniquely appropriate to an introductory exchange. Slaby said we must “honor people’s experiences. … It is our job to connect the dots on the back end.”

Lesson 9: Focus on the End Game

A strategy is a winner only when it achieves desired outcomes. Slaby shared that even amidst winning the election; there were failures in various contributing initiatives.

Chances are you will also make mistakes along the way. However, if you are successful in influencing action required to achieve your end goals, the endeavor may be deemed a success.

Analysis of performance using quality data is imperative to quality interpretation and guidance for optimum long-term performance.

Lesson 10: The Campaign Never Ends

Influence may only be sustained when you accept that the work required to cultivate and nurture the relationships you build will never truly be finished.

After success in supporting the president’s re-election, Obama for America has evolved, launching itself as a social welfare nonprofit group called Organizing for Action.

Being prepared to adapt initial strategies as new technology, social trends and competitive influences will promote long-term benefits of influence over time.

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