I had a pretty trippy experience this January, when I found myself standing in front of a room full of people, all involved in some way in the industry that I’ve spent the last three years nestling into. All those eyeballs were looking at me, to learn about influence… who has it, how they build it, and how to put that influence to work for your business.
Never mind that we had a near catastrophic technology fail (I came close to improvising a slide-free interpretive dance to work through the research results I’d so carefully made into charts and graphs) … the crowd was as warm and engaged as could be expected the early morning after the late night Teva party, and – for once – I got to talk about something more sophisticated than “What the hell IS Twitter, anyway?” Which was awesome. And I sincerely appreciate Outdoor Retailer giving me the opportunity to have a soapbox for a bit, and to share it with the 300 or so people who completed a survey about outdoor influence and inspiration that I sent out in preparation for the presentation.
And now, I appreciate it that Pemba Serves is allowing me the soapbox yet again, with a quick list of Five Things to Help Y’all #influenceme. Except this isn’t about how to influence ME… it’s more about what the next generation of “influencers” would like you to know.
- “Get to know me.” Aleya Littleton (a rocket scientist and up and coming outdoor influencer) said it best in her survey response. People who engage in influencing behavior have a variety of interests and goals. Some of us are (to borrow from Malcom Gladwell) Mavens: the pathologically helpful information specialists who can’t help but connect others with information. Some of us are Connectors — people with social networks exceeding 100 people — who influence others through their ability to bring the world together and make connections. Others are Salespeople: persuaders, with powerful negotiation skills. If your business values my opinion (and influence) then get to know me.
- “Don’t try to be my buddy. Be my buddy.” Peter Carey West hit the nail on the head, and this dovetails off of #1 above. People who are active in the trifecta of influencing behavior – inspirational blogging, social sharing and relationship building via Twitter and Facebook, and product reviewing – seem more driven by relationship behavior than some other types of influencers. They receive enough smarmy inquiries from various types of link building and marketing professionals that they can smell the difference between genuine relationship building and attempts to woo. The latter may sometimes be successful; the former will give your business a long term boost.
- You would be amazed at what I’ll tell you if you ask. I wrote a quick and dirty survey via SurveyMonkey and sent it to a few friends for review, then unleashed it on the internet via social networks, and the responses literally took my breath away. For highlights, you can watch the full video of the presentation. People like me routinely share thoughts with brands about color, style, fit, product features, and much, much more. Yes, we’re weird (I like orange, and I rock climb and play outside more than average, so I’m not exactly a “typical user”) but if you think of us as points on the bell curve, we’re a lot like the pros you rely on for product input, only more like your customers. Nifty, huh?
- Remember that inspiration and influence are two different things to me, but they come from some similar places. Friends and family are highly influential in terms of affecting consumer purchasing decisions, AND are highly inspirational. How – then – can you as a business professional in #OIBIZ (or your brand, if you’re really creative) have the biggest influence on influencers? Bingo. Be their buddy. Aside from friends and family, blogs, photography, and film and video are reported to be strongly inspirational; online product reviews, shop staff advice, and manufacturer-provided information are influential when it comes to purchasing decisions. The message from my respondents: use media to inspire, and other avenues to influence buying decisions. The upside: the companies that make “art” that inspires received numerous favorable mentions in the verbose sections of my survey. Inspirational media may not directly influence purchasing decisions, but it does build immeasurable goodwill and loyalty, which does affect buying decisions.
- Think about my future. In my work in this industry, and in my play as an influencer in this industry, I’ve lamented the lack of attention paid to “trajectory.” Where do we go from here? What is the path for a shop staffer, or a freelancer, or a talented blogger, to grow? OIBIZ bloggers do what they do for the love… they are writing about their passions, and many of us do just that with zero financial gain because we’re compelled to. The feeling of hearing from a reader that you have motivated them to try something they’d always wanted to try but thought they never would; of hearing from a parent whose kid you donated a pair of shoes to just won third place in her first comp; of having people walk up to you at events and thank you for inspiring them to get off the sofa … some of us are in it for those things. Others are in it for free gear, which — don’t get me wrong — is awesome, and gets new gear out into users hands who can provide real use reviews instead of just catalog copy. Still others have aspirations to make a living doing what they love — playing outside, and writing about it. And, very few actually do. So, as Jill from GearGals asked, ““How can we both – the blogger and the brand – make this arrangement better and more mutually beneficial? Or is sending me a free jacket in exchange for a review going to be about as mutually beneficial as it gets?”
The influencer / industry relationship has matured. I’ve seen a massive shift in terms of participation and awareness of bloggers at Outdoor Retailer: At my first show in Summer 2009, I spent a huge chunk of my time explaining just what I was doing there. Now, there’s a huge blogger population in regular attendance, welcomed into booths that used to be like Fort Knox. #OIBIZ is now well past the point of Social Media 101. And the very simple takeaway from all of this – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – it’s all about building and maintaining a small number of big relationships.
Get to know me.
Be my buddy.
Ask me what I think.
Remember that I’m inspired and influenced by my friends, family and creative media.
Think about my future.
And if you do all that, you’ll not only build a more loyal fan; you’ll also build a long term relationship with me that may bear fruit in any number of ways that neither of us have thought up yet.
Sara Lingafelter is otherwise known as @theclimbergirl on Twitter and The Girl at RockClimberGirl.com and has been a friend of the Pemba family since 2009. By day, she’s the newest member of the social media team at REI, although she speaks here in her personal and private capacity and not on behalf of REI. For more information about Sara, visit http://saralingafelter.com.