Influencer marketing is progressing from too much hype and trial-by-fire programs to sensible strategies and accepted best practices. There’s no better time than today to re-fresh your thinking about influence — what it is, who has it, what roles it can play in business. I’ll be discussing these topics at next week’s Bay Area Executives Meetup in Mountain View, CA, along with moderator R Ray Wang of Altimeter Group and my co-panelists Michael Brito of Edelman Digital, Ali McCourt of Intuit and Tony Welch of HP. Special thanks to Tatyana Kanzavel for organizing the event and panel!

Register for the Bay Area Executives Meetup: Super Panel on Influence

“The Many Facets Of Influence: How to Outreach, Engage, and Build Trust with Key Stakeholders”

An interactive panel with R Ray Wang, Michael Brito, Barbara French, Ali McCourt & Tony Welch

Tuesday, August 24th
Networking 6:30 - 7:00 PM
Panel 7:00 - 8:30 PM
Location: Samovar Conference Hall, Mountain View, Calif.
Event hashtag: #baexec

The panel will provide perspectives on these critical questions about influence:
1.  What is influence? and how do we align it with business value?
2.  The myths vs. realities of influence
3.  Key success factors of influence
4.  Identifying influencers: who and why?

Space is limited. Tickets are $20 in advance, $30 at the door and include gourmet food and wine. Register now to get on the waiting list and (hopefully) get confirmed!

Bring your questions, join the conversation, and engage!

Popularity: 45%

Barbara on February 5th, 2010

One of the original CRM/SFA industry journalists-turned-advocates, Ginger Cooper recently took on a new role as Director of Business Development for Green Mobile Tech.  The company specializes in matching client companies with the best mobile solutions for their needs.

In her words, “For end-user companies needing to purchase mobile hardware, we help them define their requirements and present them with the top options matching their needs and price point. We also resell some of the mobile software solutions with which we’re particularly impressed.” They’ll also step in on support issues, price negotiations and the lesser known down ‘n’ dirty on products. Clients include small to enterprise-class companies in retail and other industries, and software companies looking for the mobile technologies that will make their software hum.

Personally, I find Green Mobile Tech a little light on the “green”. However, I do see it as a good example of a shift underway among tech decision influencers. Jason Busch described this shift a few weeks ago. His take is that some of the dedicated “best in breed” influencers — e.g. analysts, systems integrators — are loosing ground as decision advisors. The issue is that they are too specialized, and too often lacking hands-on experience.

Take a good look at Green Mobile Tech. A well-rounded tech influencer list ought to include companies like it in addition to dedicated analysts, journalists, consultants and sourcing advisors.

Popularity: 7%

Barbara on January 18th, 2010

download_t_logo_outlineHow do you measure an influencer’s influence on Twitter? Social media guru Rich Baker (@richard_baker) offers up a great tip from Joe Fernandez (@joefernandez), CEO and cofounder of Klout.com:

“The biggest mistake we see people make is confusing influence with follower count. Having a large number of followers is worthless if those followers are not engaged and paying attention to you.”

Klout.com is a privately held company that measures influence across the social web. For more on Klout.com, read the entire interview.

Popularity: 12%

Barbara on December 14th, 2009

Chris O’Brien over at the Merc published The Influencers of Silicon Valley, a list of 10 important influencers in Silicon Valley. I’m on record as one who likes lists, and I’m recommending you read this one. These are people you may want to get to know. Plus, Chris revealed a bit about how he compiled the list, and you’ll find that of interest if you’re compiling your own list of market influencers.

First, who’s in: Marnie Webb, Susan Wu, Dave McClure, Charlene Li, Kevin Surace, Vish Mishra, Criag Hampel, Lisa Stone, Steve Blank and Tim O’Reilly. These are not just the usual suspects. The group is made up of people who each influence the industry in a special way. They don’t seek influence for the sake of influence. They’re driven by innovation and furthering business.

Next, Chris’ approach to list building:

Through conversations, emails and tweets with colleagues, friends and sources, I compiled an initial list of more than 100 candidates, including many I had never heard of. Then I whittled it down, in part by focusing on those who are having a real, quantifiable impact. In many cases, these people might be superstars in their realm yet barely known outside of it. My final 10 are not necessarily the most influential, but they are playing an essential role in shaping the valley’s innovation economy.

Take-aways for building your own list of influencers:

  • It’s a great idea to talk to people on the ground when you’re compiling a raw list of influencers. Like Chris, you’ll discover people you don’t know and would otherwise overlook. Talking to people can also help in validating and ranking your list. You’ll begin discovering which of the big-name luminaries really hold sway and which are filtered out.
  • Articulate a clear objective for compiling the list, and stick to it. Are you looking for the famous? The rich? The movers and shakers? The people who talk to start-ups or mid-size enterprises?
  • Document the reasons for including each person on your list. A simple numerical ranking is not enough. Human beings need human reasons to pursue relationships. What kinds of relationships do your influencers build and why are these relationships important to you?

Congrats to everyone, and hats off to Chris for great work.

Popularity: 4%

Lots of people play a part in a typical B2B purchase decision and naturally, identifying them is an important activity for any influencer relations program. You need to know who they are, including their name, job and location. First, you have to figure out who they are. That’s no so easy.

The big temptation is to start by asking the primordial question, “Who’s influencing the decision-makers at my accounts?”, and then jumping right to the obvious answers.

Not so fast!

It pays to back up one step. Start by thinking about the different kinds of people likely to be involved in purchase decisions for your products and services. This exercise helps you form a more complete picture of the influencer landscape. It also helps you avoid falling into ruts. This step encourages you to think about new types of influencers that may have emerged in your market and types of influencers your company tends to overlook.

In my case, I use the 24 categories of influencers from the Influencer Marketing book (page 55) with some additions for some clients. Generally, this basic list covers the ground and more:

Academia
Authors and management thinkers
Bloggers (and microbloggers)
Business and trade journalists
Buyers groups, purchasing lists and procurement authorities
Commentators and other individuals
Complementary partners
Conferences and events
Consumers and consumer groups
Customer firms
Financial analysts
Government agencies and regulators
Individual and niche consultants
Industry analysts
Industry bodies, forums and federations
Internal influencers
Management consultancies
Online forums
Peers (role-based, industry-based)
Retailers
Specialty consultancies
Standards bodies
Systems Integrators
VARs, distributors and similar channel partners
Venture capitalists and investors

Get the most out of this exercise by concentrating on the types of influencers likely to have an effect on decision-makers during the actual decision process. Influence can be exerted directly — one-to-one, influencer to decision-makers — or indirectly. Indirect entails exerting influence through intermediaries.

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I’ve been knee-deep in influencer identification projects this month. It’s my first foray beyond custom industry analyst & consultant lists since my vendor marketing days. The work has been fun and interesting and much more demanding (i.e. harder) than I expected. Frankly, I just didn’t realize how much work goes into finding the top 50 to 100 influencers in a given market for a given product or service.

Here are a couple of early observations about the challenges in my journey from a pure-play analyst watcher to a full-score influencer watcher.

Top Challenge: volume
What: Hands down, my biggest challenge is adjusting to the sheer quantity and variety of candidates at the start of analysis. There are easily a couple thousand noteworthy people actively influencing some aspect of purchase decisions on a particular product or service in a specific region.
Shift: I came into this accustomed to starting influencer identification projects with a few hundred analysts tops.

Close 2nd: mental gymnastics
What: Another challenge is the number of filters you use, how often you flip between them and how you align them. Each type of influencer behaves differently, and many exert influence independent of their job title.
Shift: I’ve been advising on this dynamic within the analyst relations world for several years — even within analyst relations you need a sophisticated set of filters. Yet I’ve never flipped between so many sets of criteria, so many times, during one project.

As if 1 & 2 aren’t enough: noise and silence
What: Some very influential people have a very small footprint in the public domain. These quiet influential types don’t jump out of the research and kiss you on the cheek. Meanwhile, there’s no shortage of wind bags.
Shift: It’s like those perceptual illusions and Hidden Pictures puzzles: once you know what attributes you’re looking, you spot them.

There’d be a much longer list of challenges, had I attempted these projects on my own. Duncan and Nick have a killer approach and solid tools and the research team here is top notch.

What about you? Please share your stories and links on identifying influencers.

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Companies providing social media monitoring tools and services provide many ways to find and monitor influential voices out on the web. One of the latest proclamations is from Visible Technologies, now promoting a social marketing ROI study:

Leading companies ‘use multiple approaches to identify the individuals who wield the greatest amount of influence in any given topic area and to track changes in their influence over time,’ according to the report. ‘Best-in-Class companies engage these top influencers as brand evangelists, and then track the impact of their words and actions in terms of return on marketing investment.’

The same holds true for identifying those who wield influence out in the physical world, through offline means: associations, personal networks, professional position, education. There are many ways to find these individuals. In our work, we use several tools and entry points to uncover top influencers in each market. There’s no silver bullet. No one method does the trick in any market, let alone every market.

Popularity: 2%

Barbara on February 18th, 2009

HBR List 2009Influence made The Harvard Business Review 2009 List of breakthrough business ideas.

As you know, I’m a fan of the idea that social media may expand traditional spheres of influence by eroding reliance on physical “nearness” (propinquity), to decision-makers.

The HBR study by James Fowler and Nicholas A. Christakis tightens the noose the other way:

“New research shows that personal influence is a short-range phenomenon, dissipating entirely at three degrees of remove from the person who exercises it. This has implications for business, where the success of campaigns to foster, say, creativity or worker safety may hinge on enlisting employees to influence colleagues’ behavior.”

That means we influence only a very small sphere of people in our personal lives.

On the up side, it does support our Influencer50 ethos: conduct quality research into bona fide influencers, understand their networks, and work with them directly.

Hat tip to Leili McKinley.

Popularity: 4%

Barbara on February 12th, 2009

picture-5You probably think of LinkedIn as a recruiting and job hunting network. It also serves as a valuable backoffice tool for analyst relations, consultant relations, and fully integrated B2B influencer programs.

The price is certainly right: basic services are free, and business upgrades are economical. Plus, the number of profiles keeps growing. As of last week, LinkedIn claimed more than 35 million members in 200+ countries. Finally, the general demographics are a good match.

I’ve been guiding influencers and clients alike toward LinkedIn since its debut in 2003. Used properly, it can boost influencer relations productivity. Over-reliance can run your program aground very quickly.

For best results in influencer identification, use LinkedIn for corroboration and expansion of facts gleaned through other research sources.

The reason is simple: LinkedIn contains user-generated content. Unlike Wikipedia, there’s no team of editors debating accuracy. Fact checking is your responsibility — not LinkedIn’s, not the person posting about themselves.

For best results in influencer engagement, use LinkedIn to find people who can introduce you to your targeted influencers.

Can you use LinkedIn to connect with an influencer you’ve never met? My advice is no, don’t go that way. First, learn influencer contact etiquette and develop a sense of how to interpret — not simply read — the LinkedIn profiles of influencers. You’ll develop a good sense of when you’re looking at a solid opportunity for breaking the common sense rules of engagement.

I’ll continue this thread tomorrow, with a look at how some influencers have been using LinkedIn.

Popularity: 4%

Barbara on January 17th, 2009

Following on the heels of layoffs at Gartner and AMR Research, comes word that Yankee Group and iSuppli also reduced headcount. Yankee Group CEO Emily Nagel discussed the reduction in the company blog. Meanwhile, there is word of a reduction at iSuppli, a firm that just recently acquired Telematics Research Group (TRG). This much consolidation in the tech industry analyst community has implications for analyst relations and influencer programs.

Tech suppliers can react in one of two ways.

The most common reaction is list management. The premise is that you automatically replace one analyst name on your list of influencers with another analyst name. When somebody moves out, you move somebody up.

That’s exactly what the analyst salespeople want tech suppliers — and IT decision makers — to do. Swap one analyst with another. Treat them as interchangeable parts. Transfer your trust, no hesitation.

That strategy would work really well, if analysts were toasters.

The other option is research. This entails pulsing your salesforce and decision-makers and evaluating the overall market segment, to find out how influence is shifting on the ground. The idea is that you think outside the box, and make no assumptions that one analyst is replaced by another analyst out in the marketplace.

You may find that a trusted analyst is being supplanted by a consultant or a thought leader from an IT association. You may find most decision-makers taking a wait-and-see attitude, opting for no immediate adjustments to their circle of advisors.

In the end, trust is not about lists or toasters or interchangeable people. Trust is personal, especially when company or career is on the line.

Short-term, there’s little likelihood that you can uncover every decision where an exiting analyst was advising. Look into the priority transactions in your pipeline; assess and act on those situations on a case by case basis.

For the long haul? My advice is don’t rush to revise your influencer list. Live with the gaps until the dust settles and you can figure out what’s really happening.

Popularity: 5%