Branding, Influencing

Online influencers are not born, they evolve according to these 7 steps

If you want to really leverage social networks for your business, you need to stop only marketing as corporate brands and focus on building and supporting the online influencers, personal brands and thought leaders within your organization.

That’s the message of Chris Boudreaux and Susan Emerick in their book The Most Powerful Brand on Earth.

“Your content must change to fit the people who channel it,” they write. And the people best suited to channel your brand in social networks are your employees. They call it employee advocacy.

The evolution of employee advocacy

As businesses become more aware of social media channels, the need grows for effective social networking strategies to advance their objectives in those channels.

For many knowledge-based businesses, Boudreaux and Emerick see employees as representing the most important channel for reaching markets, engaging customers and building brand value.

Their book lays out a comprehensive methodology for empowering and supporting employees in their effective use of social networks.

Toward the beginning of the book, Boudreaux and Emerick present the “Typical evolution of a social employee” (see Figure 2.5, p. 39) to illustrate the path that an employee follows on the way to building their personal brand on behalf of their company.

When I saw this chart, it reverberated with my own sense of the path that any professional, business owner or leader should follow in engaging social networks as a means to an end.

Social media is often referred to as “earned media”, in part because social networks and personal brands evolve over time and in relation the effort invested in them.

To evolve as a social employee or personal brand, you typically must progress through these 7 steps.

1. You need have the desire to engage

Effective social networking and personal brand building is inherently a bootstrapping process – it can’t be foisted upon someone. They must have a desire to engage. This desire is often manifested in curiosity and a genuine fascination with people and social engagement. A born communicator with a penchant for sharing.

2. You need to possess self-understanding

When you begin personal branding in social networks, it is important to develop a clear understanding of your brand characteristics. This means understanding yourself, your habits and preferences, and being willing to be open to learning about yourself through the process. This understanding of self, I believe, is the source of the personality that you harness in social networks in order to achieve interpersonal engagement.

3. You must attend regularly and listen

I know, it sounds like what they told you back in grade school – but it’s true. Returns from social networking are largely a function of one’s investment – of time, attention and interest. An effective social listener gleans valuable insight into the asked and unasked questions the community is interested in and adapts his/her participation and content to answering those questions.

See also: Everything you need to know about social networking you learned back in grade school.

4. You need to craft a professional presence online

Presence is what Chris Brogan talks about when he describes the need for a platform. It’s a combination of a publishing platform such as a blog and a collection of social outposts around which social networks form. It’s what someone finds on the search results page when they Google your name. More significantly, a well-crafted online digital presence helps people find you when they are searching for your areas of professional expertise.

5. You need to build on what other people say

“Building on what other people say” is the key to professional participation. It’s the key to any real conversation and has been the model of knowledge-building communities as long as there was language. This is where engagement is born, where professional relationships cross the virtual divide and become real sources of knowledge, connection and value.

6. You need to facilitate on behalf of a community

Thought leadership is a product of crowds. Leaders are made by followers. As Derek Sivers says: “The first follower is what transforms the lone nut into a leader”. Eventually, effective engagement within a community of peers produces opportunities for leadership and, perhaps more importantly, recognition of that role – almost an ownership of it – by the community.

“The first follower is what transforms the lone nut into a leader.” ~ Derek Sivers

7. You need to play a community leadership role

The pinnacle of all this brand building and social network engagement activity is bonafide leadership and influence. Influencers attract other influencers – which only enhances the reputation and broadens the reach of the influencers. As Boudreaux and Emerick indicate in their chart, this is when significant business conversion takes place.

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