The New Influencers

PEMBAnote: Recently, we’ve open up PEMBAspeaks to select guest bloggers, and what follows is the first of these.  We’re very pleased and proud to host Sara Lingafelter from, and look forward to more of her contributions.

During the last few weeks, I’ve had several discussions on Twitter and in real life with some of my new friends in the outdoor industry about “influence.” I’m an avid recreational climber, so most of my time is spent interacting with folks in the climbing subsegment; until recently I’ve had relatively little exposure to the larger sports and outdoor community. As participation among industry folks increases on Twitter, there have been more conversations across segments, with folks from the broader industry sparking or joining in on discussions.


Kris at posted an item on Twitter discussing the effectiveness of athlete and celebrity endorsements. That triggered a healthy discussion among Kris, Pemba and Larry at Amazon about the importance of social media, face-to-face interaction, and how to identify influencers in segments like climbing, which are less traditionally “competitive” than other segments of the sports and outdoor industry.

In climbing, influencers don’t necessarily come from the #1 spot in the latest comp. So, where do they come from?

The real world.

She’s probably getting a little tired of hearing it from me (though I’m sure her sponsors aren’t), but

Steph Davis is an example of a professional climber doing it absolutely right.

Steph has always done it right – she climbs hard, inspires through her climbing and her writing, and has a long history of connecting with the community through direct involvement, slideshows, and through film. In “Outdoor 2.0,” Steph is an example of a pro who Gets It. She has a

well-written, content-driven, and interactive blog, where she responds to reader questions and features her sponsors in a non-intrusive way. Taking it a step further than most, Steph has embraced social media, including regularly interacting directly with the climbing community on Twitter. Notice the key word, there: “Interacting.” She participates in conversations with the rest of us “normal” climbers as if she’s just one of us, I suspect because she just might be just one of us. She tweets about her efforts on her backyard climbing wall, and her choice of cams in between tweets about her vegetable garden and her tile project. She chimes in on gear questions, with advice on brands she works with and those she doesn’t. She comes across – at all times – as warm, genuine, credible and human. All of these factors make her an example of the type of ambassador that companies should covet.

Now, I’m not a pro. I’m just another “climber with a writing problem” (the original is

@redheadwriting, and I’ve never read five words strung together that I so wished I’d written myself.) Lately though, a few folks in the biz have taken an interest in what I do (thank you, Pemba and Larry.) Some folks even believe that little ol’ me has some influence within my relevant community. I’m starting to get asked by folks in the industry, “How do you do it? What makes you special? Why do folks care what you think?”


Re-read that paragraph I just wrote about Steph. I write a content-driven blog, chock full of trip reports, photo essays, training experiences and insights, stories from my climbing life, as well as gear reviews and product spotlights. I participate in, and foster abundant discussion among readers. I engage with the community (and neighboring communities) via interactive participation on Twitter and other social networks. I tweet about my climbing life, and my life outside of climbing. I am always at the ready to chime in on gear and training questions, based on my real life experiences. I like people, so I’m naturally warm and human in my online interactions. I get outside more than the average weekend warrior, so while I’m not sending sick hard or floating up jaw-dropping free solos, I do have enough experience and authority to be credible. All of these factors, apparently, make me an example of the type of influencer that companies are starting to watch.

Brands and people who work with brands need to look outside the competition circle to identify influencers who connect with their intended audience. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. The new influencers – professionals and the rest of us – are already out there, doing what we do, because we can’t help it. I’d blog and tweet and review gear even if nobody listened to a word I say – I love doing it, that much. I’d imagine that someone like Steph gets to where she is because she loves it, that much. And, there are people like both Steph and I in each little corner of the sports and outdoor industry.

Beyond just letting the pros and bloggers do their thing on their own, brands can benefit from building closer relationships with new influencers like me. I blog, write reviews and tweet about the products and brands I love, because I use and love them. I don’t review products that I’m not truly in love with, whether that product is bought for full price at retail or provided by the company for the purposes of the review. If I encounter a product I’m not truly in love with, I let the supplier know through private channels, in case they care to listen to my feedback. I’m someone who trusts my life to my gear every time I go out – from my rope, to my baselayer. As a result, I have strong feelings, and generate valuable feedback, whether publicly or privately.

But I’d do all that whether the industry pays any attention to me or not.

The benefit that you in the biz get from paying attention to folks like me, and appreciating what we do, and connecting with us through social networking, and getting to know us as people through trading tweets or commenting on our blogs is

increased loyalty, if you’re so inclined. Just like a climbing partnership, with careful attention and through shared experiences both epic and mundane, we can build a certain mutual respect, trust, and loyalty.

I have a short list of brands that I’ve relied on since my early days of climbing (or earlier), and with whom I’ve connected through Twitter or through those of you reading who “get” what I do and see value in it. Those brands are the ones I look to first when I do my own shopping, and the ones I think of first when I need to make a recommendation to someone else. Partly, it’s because those lines are the biggest dots on my radar given limited time to keep an eye on the market – they’re what I know best without having to do any research. Partly though, it’s because I dig seeing people making a living doing what they love, which the best of you are doing. If I can do what I’m already doing, in a way I believe in, and it means one of my “Twitter friends” is going to have a brightened day at work, then that’s a pretty sweet deal all the way around.

I think it goes without saying that your professional ambassadors might be able to take a page out of the “new influencer” playbook, if they haven’t already. The “rules” we play by are pretty simple. Be nice. Answer questions. Be honest. Communicate with both personality and professionalism. Let love of life, and sport, be contagious for readers. The pros who will make the most effective “new influencers” are the ones who naturally play by those rules.

Getting to Know Sara…
Sara Lingafelter is a climber, writer, gear junkie, attorney and half-time dog mama based in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to blogging about the climbing life at, Sara is the unofficial #climb community den mother on Twitter, where she met and grew fond of Pemba Serves and the people involved.

Over the years, Sara has developed an appreciation and fondness for the outdoor industry and its denizens, and is considering making a career shift in that direction. For now though, Sara adores her work with the

Puget Sound Partnership, a Washington State agency with the mission of restoring the health of Puget Sound by 2020; at First Ascent Law PS, her private solo law practice; as Spiritual Advisor to the Kitsap Vertical World Climbing Gym; and as a freelance writer and editor.

In her free time, Sara climbs as often as possible at home crags between Squamish, BC and Smith Rock, OR, and is a prolific writer lacking the patience necessary for the print cycle. In addition to her own sites and guest posts here at PEMBAspeaks, Sara is a

reader blogger for Climbing Magazine and gear reviewer for Sara lives in the Pacific Northwest with her half-time dog Hana, a seven-year-old yellow labrador retriever.

2 responses to “The New Influencers

  1. I climb with lots of women. I teach women to climb in a gym. I can never get enough of insights from women who climb, so thanks for posting this.

  2. Sara, I really appreciated reading this piece. I had an unfortunate spammer incident on twitter with a friend of your @cupcakemafia today that taught me a good lesson on how not to interact with others online. Reading this was a good reminder of the right and wrong way to influence others and promote your brand online.