Every industry has them. They invest time and energy in building the online community within their industry and, as a result, increase their own online audience through which they achieve greater visibility and prominence. These people are often seen as thought leaders, out in front of innovation in their market space.
I am talking about the online social influencers – a select group of people who have learned how to leverage the tools of social networking to accumulate, often global, audiences of engaged followers.
Now, before we get into how to build you own online influence, let’s clarify a few things.
First, don’t confuse industry-specific B2B influencers with social media celebrity influencers because they have little in common. B2B industry influencers (sometimes called “micro-influencers”) typically build their reputations by being credible and knowledgeable thought leaders in their space, whereas social media celebrities offer mass reach to a less targeted audience. And you can straight-out buy celebrity endorsements, but that’s not necessarily the best strategy with industry B2B influencers.
Second, don’t for a minute think these online influencers are the only influential people in an industry. There are still many traditional and informal offline influence networks and many of the most influential people in those networks couldn’t care less about digital networking.
Yet, social networks are emerging as new spaces where people can meet each other, share insights, interact and engage, and build trust-based relationships – all of which can contribute considerably to helping them advance their business activities and professional objectives.
Ten ways to build your online influence
If you’re one of those people who looks at social networks and sees opportunity, here is some of the best advice I’ve collected along the way to help you grow your reputation and influence online.
Start small, grow sustainably
Everyone starts on Twitter with zero followers. In the beginning, few people will pay any attention to much of what you share. Don’t sweat it. Social networks are about people connecting with people, so focus on the people you do have following you and strive to grow the number of those people in a manageable, sustainable way. Don’t be seduced by fake follower schemes or services that promise to boost your engagement with little effort on your part. Recognize that some of the best things in life, and certainly some of the most valuable results, come from determined hard work.
Build real relationships with other influencers
Online influencers are just people that are further along in a process that you are also pursuing. Don’t think of influencers as objects of your outreach efforts, to be “targeted” for your benefit. Instead, think of online influencers as subjects you need to understand and become engaged with. Strive to build relationships and friendships with influential people in your industry. After all, these are influential people in your industry and your relationships with them serve you well in so many ways in the long run.
“I get probably 20-25 emails a day from companies and brands asking me to do things for them. And I don’t even answer them because I don’t want to be pitched. I want to be befriended,” says Mark Schaefer in this piece about “aha” moments in influencer marketing.
Commit to finding and sharing great content frequently
Information sharing is the coin of the realm in social networks, so finding and sharing the best information you can about your industry – trends, insights, analysis, etc. – helps you stand out in a noisy online world. Online influencers are often excellent sources of great information and sharing it helps you build an audience AND get an influencer’s attention, and create opportunities to establish relationships.
Add value to online discussions
Contributing value is one of the surest ways to cut through the noise of too much information online. Whether it’s in the content you curate and share or in the comments you make when others share great content, contributing value to your target community will get you noticed. Many people overlook adding value because it takes time and effort – so invest the time and effort!
“Social networking is about building relationships. It’s about having others see the value that you provide to your network. It takes time and consistency to build that value, trust, and brand,” says Bill Sullivan. See: New Rules of Engagement with Bill Sullivan.
Be committed, don’t quit
This is a universal rule for success at almost anything: don’t quit. Failure is certain if you quit. So, stick with it. Keep sharing content, commenting insightfully, and listening to conversations so you can add value. Find time in the crevices of your schedule to invest in social. Don’t make excuses to quit. We’re all busy. The most influential people online are some of the busiest people I know – and they’re not making excuses. Commit and stick with it.
“I probably spend 1-2 hours a day, 7 days a week monitoring and engaging on Twitter and LinkedIn. My time is limited to a degree, since I am also creating new content for both our daily articles on The Financial Brand (usually 1,200-2,000 words) and the Digital Banking Reports (10K+ words),” says Jim Marous. See: Here’s why Jim Marous is a top fintech influencer.
Adopt an attitude of service to your online community
People who succeed in building their influence online often adopt a posture of service to their online community. They don’t start with what can I get from this community, but rather what can I give. People are funny that way. If you set out with a taker attitude, people can see right through it. But when you set out to give – your insight, knowledge, introductions, connections, sharing, value – without asking for anything, people want to help you when you do ask. People want to reciprocate what you freely give them.
“It’s all about giving before you take, perhaps more so now than ever, so this is how I try to give something to an audience and, hopefully, demonstrate the value of what we do,” says Julie Littlechild. See: New Rules of Engagement with Julie Littlechild.
Don’t be a marketer, be a networker
There are lots of people, agencies, and companies out there selling “influencer marketing” tools and services. But when it comes to influencers, especially in a B2B context, marketing is usually the wrong approach to take. Influencers are not your prospective customers, they are your prospective peers. Why set out to transact with an influencer by paying them for the use of their influence when you can earn their respect and camaraderie as a giver, sharer and, ultimately, fellow influencer? Don’t market. Network with influencers to become one.
Promote others often and yourself rarely
Social networks offer greater rewards when you promote others, rather than yourself. People will quickly tire of your self-promotion, no matter how fascinating you think you are. On the other hand, there are many interesting people in your industry sharing many varied perspectives. If you share other people’s best content consistently, then you’ll build an attentive audience and get a much better response on the rare occasions that you promote yourself or your company. That’s the irony of effective B2B influencer outreach – you have to spend more time promoting others than yourself!
“If you want to be a real influencer, then you must try to make other people shine. You must try to help others get broader exposure of their great content, rather than your own content. That’s more important than anything else and is the true power of social media,” says Spiros Margaris. See: Spiros Margaris – Insights of a Fintech Influencer.
Augment your online activities with technology, but don’t automate
Social engagement online can eat up a lot of your time, so you need to find and deploy power tools that augment your online activities. I’m talking about tools that help you schedule your social shares more efficiently, or analyze your online activities to help you be more effective or even help you discover great things to share. But avoid any and all tools that automate your online activities. Automation is anathema to social engagement with influencers, or any people for that matter. People will try to sell you tools that will find great content and then share it for you. DON’T do it. No AI-enabled tool is smart enough today to outsource your social networking to. After all, what more valuable resource do you have in business other than your network of connections? Sure, let an algorithm help you find great stuff to share, but YOU decide what to share, with whom, and when. (Or, shameless plug, hire a professional to help you do this.)
Have a long term perspective
Building online influence and social engagement is a long game. You can’t accomplish much in 3 months, but you can make serious strides in 12 or 18 months. People who are on top of the influencer game today probably started 2, 3, or 5 years ago, maybe more. Building relationships and trust takes time, but the returns on those investments can be very valuable to you in so many ways.
They say the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.