Big ups to Ross Dawson who organized the Future of Influence Summit last week in San Francisco and Sidney. It was quite an undertaking to have a conversation in two continents and an interesting one at that. I was honoured to be able to do the opening keynote, which I posted up later on Slideshare. But my presentation isn't what I came away from the summit thinking about that day, although it's tangentially related. What I came away thinking about is how unfortunately focused the idea of 'Influencer Marketing' is in the context of growing businesses. I've written about this before when I talked about Whuffie Math in April. It all came about through a scuffle I had with my publisher on to whom should I send advanced readers copies of The Whuffie Factor. I thought I should send the copies to people who were clearly enthusiastic about the book's impending arrival, despite their 'reader numbers'. My publisher thought I should send the advanced copies to those who had a large readership, despite their enthusiasm for the book.
In the end, my publisher caved and sent out the books to the addresses I requested AND they handpicked their own influential group of bloggers/journalists. The result? I had 15 of the 25 people who requested books (my enthusiasts) write blog posts and, I believe, everyone tweeted about the book at some point. As for the influencers? I have yet to read a review.
Heck, I'm not against influencers. I think they are awesome and have worked hard to build an audience that trusts their word. But the point I was making to my publisher was that the same influencers they wanted to send books to have a steady stream of books being sent to them. I know. I'm on that list. I have probably 20+ books sitting waiting for me to read them. I feel awful that I got a free book and can't reciprocate with at least an Amazon review...or even a tweet or two! So, I end up shelving many of these books at Citizen Space (my coworking space in San Francisco) for others to enjoy. There may be some posts and recommendations coming from people who pick these books up there, I'm not sure. But either way, I was sent a $20 book (average) plus shipping and I haven't even had the decency to read it!
Now, the burning question at the Future of Influence Summit was, well, what is the future of influence? After listening to multiple panelists talk about how to find and reach out to influencers, I came to the conclusion that the future of influence isn't about influencers themselves. It's more about providing a great product (that helps people become more influential themselves quite often) and rewarding your customers that help you spread the word about it (helping them become even MORE influential). It's about helping your customers become the influencers, not sucking up to the influencers.
I don't really have a name for it and I don't think coining anything new is particularly useful, but I would change the idea to Enthusiast Marketing instead of Influencer Marketing. It recognizes that, as Ross said, "Everyone is an influencer" and gives you the opportunity to thank your currently loyal and awesome customers and help them go further, thus increasing their own influence.
When I think of blogs like TechCrunch, I very much see their growth as being that of a symbiotic system where startups helped TechCrunch grow influential and TechCrunch helped startups grow influential. Michael Arrington was crazy about the growth of the startup world, so he created a blog that reflected that enthusiasm. At first, he sought out startups for interviews and reviews, but after a while these startups recognized that he was an ally and went to him. When I first approached him in regards to Riya (now Like.com), TechCrunch had about 10,000 readers. But I loved Michael's enthusiasm and was happy to walk him through what we were doing. Essentially, as startups grew, so did TechCrunch. I imagine there are loads of stories like this where influencers grew out of being just bloggers or the like with small audiences who became influential through their enthusiasm for a topic and the support of the products they were excited about. Enthusiast marketing.
So...instead of just focusing on who is influential in your given industry, think about who is enthusiastic about what you are doing (or seems really into your industry). Create influencers out of your enthusiasts and I'll bet you will see much better results than chasing after the same people as everyone else.