Making the transition away from owning my own company and working for a variety of clients, to focusing all of my efforts on one business, I've become much more aware of the online marketing realm in which we work. In fact, I feel at times like I'm seeing a bit more clearly than I used to.
As for social media in general, at least in the world in which I lived, which was filled with marketing and PR consultants, it's hard. And I don't just mean it's hard to work in that field, but it's hard to stay true to your ideals. I liken it to the world of politics where many go in with great ideals and a genuine desire to change the world for the better, but end up in a system that is broken and sucks the life out of you. Our political system spits those people out and turns them into clones who toe the system line.
I don't say this as a way of pointing fingers at my marketing and PR friends. I don't blame them. I blame the Googles and the Facebooks of the world. I blame the system that constantly pushes the need to get ahead and earn every possible penny you can, often at the expense of others.
Case in point: I don't want to be an influencer.
I don't desire to necessarily change peoples minds about things, or make them act in a certain way. Unless, of course, you're one of my kids. And that wasn't always the case. There were times I chased after this. I made the right connections, read the right blogs, commented the right comments, used the right tools, and so on. I'm not against making money. I'm not against maximizing profit. What I'm against is the idea of "at what expense?" What am I/are we losing when we chase after this. That doesn't mean I'm not an influencer (after all, in some ways, we all are influencers), but it's no longer one of my goals. It's not something I really care about.
The social media and marketing/communications world is filled with people chasing after the ideal of being an influencer. And if we're not trying to be influencers ourselves, we're trying to identify influencers and get them on board to help us sell our products and services.
But by doing this, we've taken something organic and good, and destroyed it. We've used artificial means to cause freakish growth that, to me anyway, seems wrong and perhaps dangerous. Before we spent so much time focusing on influencers, those influencers did exist. But they existed organically, on their own. Now, we've turned it into a program as if we should all desire to be influencers (in fact, we already all are), and not just any kind of influencer, but super influencers, bulked out on influence steroids. And if we're not trying to be influencers, or find influencers, we're spinning our wheels writing blog posts about how to be an influencer.
And that's just one example. Choose any other area of digital marketing, and you'll find the same thing.
I'm not saying I have the answers, but it's something that bothers me as I move forward. It bothers me to see anything turned into a program that moves things away from the natural, organic cycle of things, to something that is pre-fabricated and manufactured.
So what is it that makes someone an influencer? I mean, a legit, honest to goodness, real life influencer.
When I think about the people who influence me in certain areas, there are two main qualities that stand out.
1. Some conglomeration of knowledge/expertise/skills
For me, part of what makes someone an influencer in my life is that they possess a certain level of knowledge, expertise, or skills in a specific area. It could be a great knowledge of music, or an expertise in cooking, or whatever area it happens to be. In other words, I tend to be influenced by people who know more than I do about something, or are better at it.
2. They are likable and command respect
Yeah, maybe I'm lumping two things together here, but I think they belong together. For someone to influence me, I need to like them and respect them. If I don't like or respect someone, they can influence me, but more in a negative way. But if I like someone and respect them, there is a greater chance I will be influenced by them in some way.
And if you combine these two qualities, it makes for a killer combination.
But here's the thing, this isn't something you just seek after. Yes, all of us should seek to gain knowledge, expertise, and skills, so that we can be the best at whatever it is we do. Not for the purpose of being an influencer, but for being excellent in our area.
Likability and commanding respect is less something you can strive after, and more something you just are. Sure, you can work at it, and we should all strive to be more likable and respect-worthy (though some might debate the need to be more likable, I mean this in the sense of just being a good person who people like, rather than someone who is disagreeable and difficult.)
In the end, I see being an influencer less as something you strive for, than something you become because of who you already are. It might be a matter of semantics, but I think if we strive to be knowledgeable experts who are respected, being an influencer might just well be a byproduct of that, rather than setting out to become an influencer.
I write this as someone who teaches the future marketers and communicators of the business and nonprofit world. I don't want my students to get caught up in tips, tricks, methods, short cuts, and whatever else there is. I'd rather seem them working on gaining knowledge, experience, and expertise as they seek to excel in all that they do, while also living lives that causes people to like and respect them. If they do those things, they WILL be seen as influencers.
The process might take longer, but it's more genuine and organic, and the results are more likely to be longer lasting; it will require less effort.
Don't buy into the whole idea of striving to be an influencer. Just be the best you can be, and let the rest fall into place. It's life, not a game.