On being influential

Being Influential Takes Hard Work

Last year, Aaron Brazell gave a keynote  speech at IZEAfest.   It was the first time he ever gave a keynote.  It was a good one.  Aaron writes the blog Technosailor.    His topic was about the difference  between being famous on the Internet and being influential on the Internet.

Here is the best line from his speech:

“You have a lot of followers on Twitter? No one gives a sh-#.” -@technosailor

Personal Branding Dismissed

Brazell dismissed the entire concept of personal branding,  held by so many as the Holy Grail of success in social media.  According to Brazell, it is far more important to develop a sphere of influence by helping people, and providing useful helpful information that builds your credibility slowly over time.  Branding alone will not be successful in the long term.

Further, Brazell presented a recipe of what it takes to be a successful Influencer on the web.

Becoming an Influencer

  • Hunger –  citing @GaryVee.   People will see you as an influencer because of the example you set.  They will note your drive, your energy,  and the way you ultimately “get after it” in being driven to get your information and messages out to people with sincerity;
  • Curiosity – are driven to learn new things, and utilize their on-line work to achieve that in a way that not only helps the individual to learn, but permits them to share both the search and the knowledge, helping others learn along the way;
  • Creativity – Influencers are effective at fostering creativity in a  multitude of ways, including conversations,  by the way they interact in personal situations and ultimately, by using their influence to build community as a creative environment;
  • Responsive – influencers are seen as being open, approachable and responsive when people try to interact with them.   According to Brazell, this means that even when contact is potentially negative, the Influencer will listen and respond, but in a reasonable and reasoning way, not in a reactive way;
  • Alliances – Influencers use their connections to build partnerships.  It is not about selling yourself or your product to someone all the time.  It is about finding common ground on moving forward on projects or issues that makes someone a credible Influencer.  No one is really successful as a one person show;
  • Quality – of information, content, message and information shared must be seen as valuable.  This is what makes people want to hear more.  They want to hear what you know and think. They don’t want to hear about you;
  • Transparency - is critical. It permits people to relate to you because they will feel that they know what you think and feel, and will identify with what you do;
  • Trust – You are your brand.  Logos are not brands.  Brands are things that signify trust.  Trust = Transparency + Quality + Knowledge;
  • Charisma – is not the same as influence.  Charisma makes people want to listen to you, but you cannot be an Influencer just by having charisma.  You also need to be able to relate and speak to people.

Swamis and Gurus

In eastern Indian religions, people often refer to studying with a swami or a guru.  Studying with a swami is actually much different than studying with a guru.

A swami is typically a religious leader or figure who builds a large following based upon their message or teachings.  They will reach out to large groups and share their message with multitudes.  They are not necessarily known for their ability to teach individuals, and in fact, may not get along that well with people on a personal basis.  In other words, they are much more about their message than they are about their impact on their community.

A guru is not a leader of a large group. A guru may not even be a religious figure. According to Hindu precepts, a guru is anyone who can bring enlightenment to someone on a learning path.  If you listen to the audio interview in the link above, you would hear Susan Hopkinson say that your fifth grade teacher could be a guru for you if they teach you something that brings you enlightenment.

Social Media is not a religion

Social media is a religion to some people, but the swamis and gurus we find there are significantly different than those we would find studying Hindu spirituality.

Why Influence Matters

A swami in social media is someone who builds up a massive amount of followers, and shares ideas with them, but does not develop close personal relationships with those people. There are numerous examples, but I think probably the best illustration is the use of Twitter by Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign.   Many people, including me followed Obama, and heard his messages.  Certainly, they resonated with many people across the United States.   He even managed to influence enough people to get elected, though not just based on his use of Twitter, obviously.

This is much different than the way Ashton Kutcher or Alyssa Milano communicate with their masses of followers.   They share opinions and thoughts, but I do not believe they are influencers.    They are more like swamis in that they share their political opinions with many, but the sharing is more about the message than it is about enlightening any of the masses.  Glenn Back and Rush Limbaugh are probably better examples in the political arena.

A guru would take a different approach.  A guru would be content to share their message with 5 people, knowing that the message and the teaching could make a significant difference to that individual.  This is a different way of stating the challenge that Brozell made in his speech.    People working in social media should strive to be more of the Guru than the Swami.

Don’t just be about your message.  Be about what your message can offer to others.

Why is it more important to gain influence over time rather than just build a well known personal brand?  Over time, it will ensure a greater reach and effectiveness of message.   Your ideas will resonate over a longer time and have greater staying power.

If you tweet a few job postings on Twitter and never interact in any other way, your message will have limited reach and exposure.  If people are listening to your message across multiple mediums, and learning about your organizations in multiple ways, it is much more likely that they will pay attention to recruiting pitches when they see or hear them.

The influence of the brand builds the power of the message.

Ultimately it is how the message gets delivered and who receives it that matters.    If you can be both successful brand and influencer, both swami and guru, you will have it made in the workplace!

This article was written by Michael VanDervort, a writer and speaker on human resources, labor relations, and social media topics. It originally appeared on the Examiner website where Michael is employed as the Tampa Workplace Examiner.   Michael also writes the Human Race Horses blog, where he publishes most of his work.

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