Lessons in leveraging influence online


Influence is something we all want to attain within our respective markets, but questions often arise about what makes someone an influencer:

  • How do you identify influencers in your industry?
  • How influential are they really?
  • How do they influence their audience?
  • Where does their influence begin and end?
  • How can you influence the influencers?

These questions are of particular interest in the social media universe. Social Media channels have created a new outlet for influencers to reach their audience, but – even with the ease of access – the same questions surrounding influencers remain: How do I identify, tap into and utilize influencers who are reaching my audience?

Understanding influence was a prevalent theme at the South by Southwest Interactive Conference last week. Multiple sessions were dedicated to influencing your target audience, and if there is anything I have gathered from these experts, it’s this: no one has the magic formula to answering the questions surrounding influencers.

I know, that’s a little anti-climactic. But don’t stop reading just yet. I do have some fundamental lessons to share about how to identify and leverage key influencers who can help you build your social media reputation.

  • Influence is not all about numbers. 4 million followers does not always equal leverage with your particular audience. There are hundreds of examples of companies utilizing people with thousands of followers in the social media space to push their message. RadioShack, for instance, considers Lance Armstrong as an “influencer” because of their promotional partnership with Livestrong. Clearly, Lance Armstrong is a pretty popular guy (and rides a bike pretty well) but, I doubt he has any information on what specs are most important when buying a surround sound speaker system.
  • Treat everyone equally from the start. Starting out you might not know who has influence or may eventually have influence with your audience, so treat everyone as if they have influence with your audience.
  • It’s not always about finding the influencer. Sometimes it’s about building one…providing the necessary tools and channels to develop an influencer within your audience. An influencer is dependent on credibility, bandwidth to share, relevance, timing, channel alignment and target confidence. Who already exists within your audience that has credibility, bandwidth, and confidence that you can provide content and channel alignment to?

Ultimately, influence is all about the ability to drive an action, even if that action is just about changing someone’s mind. If you provide your community with channels that allow for advocacy, support, and feedback, natural influencers will emerge. It is your job to foster these influencers, understand your network, and measure your success.


About Author

Meg Crawford

Meg Crawford is the Social Media Marketing and Digital Strategist at SAS, where she works on integrating social media/digital components into marketing campaigns. Meg contributes to the Customer Analytics blog covering all things social and tech related...including SEO, content creation, and network marketing. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Technology and Communications at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Connect with Meg on Twitter at: @Postgrad


  1. Great post, Meg. The debate around influencers is a really interesting one to be sure, and the Lance Armstrong example certainly puts that into perspective.
    Here's another wrench to throw in the works: can you have competing influencers in a shared space? Or is the debate/friction which could be generated a good thing? An example: SAS users can sometimes be quite particular in their weapon of choice: they may be firmly in the camp of coding, or they can hitch their horse to the point/click wagon as well. Of course, many enjoy the best of both worlds, too!
    I've heard some great debates around which of these is better and some compelling reasons why on both sides, but it could potentially have a polarizing effect on a community as members lean towards one side or another... is this a bad thing, or healthy? Is the ultimate goal to expose everyone to the arguments on both sides and hopefully gain perspective on each other's views? Maybe I just answered my own question...

  2. Matt, thanks for a comment. You bring up an interesting perspective and one that I have argued over in multiple social media presentations. My take is that, just like in any conversation, argument and dividing points of view add to the flavor of the content. Then again, when the argument becomes the polarizing focus, it turns negative. I think it is the responsibility of the community manager to ensure that all "influencers" strike a balance.

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