Shifting The Conversation From Influence to Advocacy

Shifting The Conversation From Influence to Advocacy

There has been a lot of discussion about online influence lately so I thought I would offer my quick two cents. I wrote a little about how a few influencers have impacted my life back in 2009 and I still feel the same way today.

I am normally a positive person but based on my experience, I hold some negative sentiment towards the concept. Influencers, the way its defined by many on the social web, are overrated. Most have an ego (thank you Peter Kim) and they offer ZERO value to any business or brand.  Truth is, I have been called an influencer in the past and it makes me feel uncomfortable. No one outside of my social media circle and family really knows who the heck I am and I am completely okay with that.

Last night I was chatting with Olivier Blanchard (yes, the infamous Brand Builder) on Facebook and asked him about the topic of influence.  He is someone I hold in high regard because of his smarts on the topic and he’s generally a nice guy.  I asked him to send me a few quick thoughts and of course he sent me a dissertation.  Here is a quick excerpt which reminded me of a book I read over a decade ago – Permission Marketing by Seth Godin:

Influence isn’t a Jedi mind trick. And there’s the rub: influence isn’t just contextual, impermanent and relative to timing, topics, channels and a whole bucket of persuasive traits and actions, it’s also as much about the influencee as it is about the influencer. The influencee has to give you permission to influence him on a certain topic. He has to be receptive to that influence. And that’s the piece you can’t control.

Influence is definitely a complex issue and there are certainly some fallacies with the way it’s defined today. In fact, just a few days ago, my friend Lee Odden wrote about the fallacy of influence. It reminded me of Klout’s Agency Insanity initiative last month whereby several “online influencers” were asked to participate in influencer “stand off” that turned into a voting/spamming frenzy. Yes, I participated and yes, I lost in the 3rd round. It became very competitive with many of the participants begging for votes (and being completely truthful, I did DM a few people asking for votes.)

But true influence of others shouldn’t require outright begging, right? Just because someone get hundreds of votes, does that make him or her influential? If so, influential about what? I could be wrong and maybe I am looking at it the wrong way, I don’t know.

Going back to Lee’s post … in it, he wrote “Pursuing the “big influencers” alone, is probably one of the biggest fallacies on the web.” This is such a true statement and very powerful. I often try and talk my clients out of focusing to heavily on an “influencer engagement” strategy and instead focusing on those customers that already have a natural love for the brand. They are not hard to find.  They have zero expectations and there are no incentives needed. They don’t care if you send them the latest products or send them to the latest trade show either.  And the truth is, they probably don’t care whether you are “listening” to the conversation. They just love your product; love your brand and the way it makes them feel.

While I am not a fan of the term “influencer”, I believe that everyone on planet earth has some degree of influence, regardless of community size (friends, fans and followers).  How many times have we been influenced to fly on a particular airline based on someone else sharing his or her positive experience with us? Or better yet, how often have we NOT booked a reservation on an airline because of a friend’s negative experience? It happens all the time. It’s in our DNA.

About two and a half years ago, I first met Jason Aplin. He was just a random guy, nothing special. I liked him from the get-go mainly because of his sense of humor. One of the first things we talked about was his new android phone. He was flashing it in front everyone at dinner bragging about how big the screen was and that it was slightly bigger than an iPhone blah blah blah. And then he started showing me all the multi-tasking features. He loved the product so much and I distinctly remember the passion in his voice. I was certainly impressed and two weeks later what did I do? I bought one.

Now to be completely honest, it was one of the worst purchase decisions I have ever made but that’s a different story.

The point is that Jason is not an influencer (the way most define it) yet he influenced me to make a purchase decision. Situations like this happen ALL THE TIME.  Jason was an advocate of the phone and through organic, real life conversations, he was aiding and influencing others through the purchase funnel. Since then Jason has become a dear friend. He’s a great guy and we often joke about the first time we met.

The second point is this. Advocates drive real business value to the brand. They indirectly sell your products and services without you even asking. They are trusted among their micro-communities because of their authentic voice. The relationship between a brand and an advocate is not build on incentives, but rather an emotional attachment.

In my book I have a chapter exclusively on this topic. Here is a sneak peak in case you are interested.

Image: Big Stock Business Profit Growing

About Michael Brito

Michael Brito has been making things happen online since 1996 with a legit hustle. He gets mad when the 49ers lose, really mad. Feel free to follow him on Twitter.

  • Anand Patel

    Great post! I definitely agree that from a business sense, brand advocates are more beneficial and definitely easier to find than “influencers.” I also have wondered about the ego issue because it seems as if many “influencers” that have hundreds of thousands of followers and listeners do not care or have the time to partake in conversation, especially on Twitter (which I really consider a relationship building network). 

  • Michael Brito

    Anand – i certainly don’t mean to abandon any influencer strategy because there is value there; just not at the expense of building a customer advocate program.

    thanks for the comment! 

  • Marjorie Clayman

    Hi Michael,

    I have a post going live later this week over at Razoo that touches on this subject from a cause or NPO perspective. A lot of people think, “OK, so, I want to get a lot of exposure for this helpful thing I’m doing. I’m going to go after everyone that has 100,000 or more Twitter followers.”

    Now, on the surface, this may seem like a great idea. Cast a big net, catch many fish. But of course, there are actually a few flaws with this strategy. First, anyone who has been on Twitter for any length of time knows that most followers (I’d say a third of mine) are spam bots and/or empty fake accounts. My ability to influence these accounts is sadly negligible though I can’t speak for anyone else. Then, there’s the fact that most “influencers” aren’t really (that I’ve seen) really influential about any one thing unless it’s “How to do social media.” There are a few niche experts – we all know that Lee Odden is a great SEO source, for example – but many so-called influencers are only influential because they present that way. They may not know much about your cause, and hence they won’t really be able to help you sell it.

    I really hate the term “influencer.” I hate the term “thought leader.” To me, it seems you could replace either phrase with “shepherd.” “Tell me how to think, all powerful one!” Yuck.

    If I am ever influential from a person’s perspective, I hope it is just because I helped them see something from a new perspective. I think of Jim Abbot who is teaching kids with physical obstacles that they can still do whatever they want. That’s the best kind of influencer. Just do it and let people follow you if they want.

    Great post. I’ll shut up now :)

  • Michael Brito

    Hi Maddie – not sure why your comment needs moderation! Sorry. Checking out your post now. Appreciate your thoughtful comment, as usual.

  • Michael Brito

    Ha, I love Shepherd. You can always call me Kind David too! : )

    You are right though. There are so many flaws today with online influence yet most are consumed with being “influential”. I mean, I get it … I understand the need to feel accepted, liked and everything Maslow talked about. Some just take it too far. No one outside of this small social media bubble knows or cares who any of us are.

  • Sol

    Hi Michael, is Sol from your class.

    Your article eloquently covers some of my sentiments on this topic of social media influencers.  I don’t want to sound negative but to me, there is a lot of fluff and hype on this new wave of  influencers ranking and rating methods in social media. When taken to such levels it really detracts from the the essence of what the real message owe to be.  Maybe I am old school, but I more interested on how sound the message and the professional credentials (or otherwise, as appropriate), than how popular the person appear to be. 

    And as you alluded, it is not always a reliable indicator either and it incentivises people to cheat to achieve some level or quota.  It is much easier to increase once ratings or popularity on a site than to become a real subject matter expert.

    On the topic of advocacy, I’m thinking vendors/brand owners can fuel their influencers passion with more direct and target interactions through tools such a video conferences – it brings a little more human connection to the process.  Simple but effective.