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The 5 Habits of Successful Social Influencers

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In today's social era, increased connectivity and knowledge sharing has led marketers to pay more attention to the science and art of influence marketing, business thought leadership, community and peer networking, and a stronger emphasis on inbound marketing. The power of inbound marketing is based on the principle of developing valuable content, coupled with contextual intelligent, so that the right information is delivered on the right channel, at the right time, to the right target audience. In order to scale and amplify the promise of your brand, you must first establish a level of trust and credibility. Establishing trust and ultimately influence, not be confused with popularity, is an essential element of staying relevant in a knowledge sharing and hyper connected economy. I had the great opportunity to chat with three of the top social influence CEOs who all approach social and digital influence a little bit differently, yet agree that influence is a highly-valuable way to enable companies to make decisions about who to engage and do business with.

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But before I share what I learned from these social influence experts, allow me to introduce them. Flemming Madsen is founder of Onalytica, an IRM (Influencer Relationship Management) solution that tracks all the key influencers and matches what they say up against marketing content and generates opportunities for businesses to engage influencers at the right time. Andrew Grill, the CEO of Kred, takes a broad view of social media and gives everyone a score based on their level of influence. Marshall Kirkpatrick, the CEO of Little Bird, helps businesses determine who they should listen to, who they should talk to and what they should talk about on social media.

With the various pieces of research all pointing to the fact that people other than your company or brand are primarily responsible for your customers' sales journey, influence is no joke. The question moves from "why is influence so important" to how to work with influencers (and even to enhance your own ability to influence) to help grow your business.

Here are 5 tips from the social influence experts on mastering the art of social influence:

Look beyond a big number - Brands have seen that they can further their message if it gets in the right hands of their true fans. Kirkpatrick reminds us that now that anyone can publish content, having a systematic, technical approach to targeting relationship building makes engagement with these markets far more scalable and is a better way to do business. But caught up in the mix of big, impressive scores and influencer lists created by varying methodologies that don't match up, how does a marketer cut through the clutter and decide who to talk to?

Grill tells us that a big number is not as important as having the right context and that the key is finding the right people that are useful to the conversation. Once you have found them, businesses need to ask themselves "are they going to be a good influencer for my brand?" At this point it becomes human nature, rather than scientific. The lists give you a head start, and then it comes down to doing your due diligence and talking to people.

Influence is the North Star, popularity is currency to scale - Some people are skeptical that influence is nothing more than a popularity contest and with influencers getting paid to say nice things about brands this is a valid concern. Kirkpatrick tells us that while there is an overlap between influence and popularity, there is some distinctness as well. He points to those niche topics where the most valuable influencers are unknown to the world at large and may not even be the most popular in that niche field compared to others. Madsen says influence is what you want but popularity is the currency you have to pay in. In practical terms this means that businesses should strive to get the most influence for the least amount of popularity by engaging with those people who are more influential than conventional wisdom leads everyone to believe. "If there is not a long line outside their door you will get a better return," he says.

Nurture relationships with influencers in an authentic way - Ok, so now that you have determined who you want to talk to, how do you engage? Madsen says in order to build a relationship with your top influencers you need to be relevant, helpful and useful to them. When preparing to launch a new version of their product, Grill brought together 35 of their top influencers from all over the world. By "eating their own dog food" they enabled these influencers to meet one another and in a way they were influencing the influencers. Kirkpatrick thinks there are two sides to managing relationships with influencers. The first side is to know who they are and watch for opportunities to engage them, this is the part that can be automated. The other side is to be interesting, which can't be automated or bought. Businesses need to share something that is relevant and compelling.

Collaborate with influencers - In order to add value you need to have great content to share. Kirkpatrick advises to listen, learn and get inspiration from the smartest people in the field you are engaging with and then create your own content in response to them in a way that adds value. Kirkpatrick, who often finds himself on the receiving end of businesses who view him as an influencer, shared the story of a white paper that insidesales.com sent to him that he found so helpful that he passes it along every chance he can. While he has also gotten free stuff from them, the white paper added real tangible potential value to his business life. At the end of the day it was the useful data, not the free stuff that was the earned social capital. Michael Wu, Ph.D., Lithium's Chief Scientist tells us that influence is "No Carrot, No Stick, No Annoyance, No Trick" and if you can influence someone's behavior without those then you have true influence.

If you want to be influential you need to add value - Madsen's advice to CMO's who want to gain influence as marketers is that they need to be good at what they do, be knowledgeable in their area, be good at communicating their story and above all they have to be useful to others. Kirkpatrick adds to that the need to add value to someone's life when you engage with them online, a topic he wrote about after our talk. As a past blogger he would tell his staff that they needed to add value in some way whether it comes by being the first source of information, being the best at explaining something, offering unique insights, bringing together multiple perspectives or being funny. Grill says that looking at relevance and waiting until you have something of value to say can be a challenge for CMOs who are programmed as marketers to push content out. This is where influencers come in. They provide that natural introduction into the conversation that can only come from someone else.

I have had the privilege to collaborate with Mark Fidelman, a Forbes columnist and CEO of Raynforest, an influencer marketing and advertising network that connects brands with influential people who can get the word out about their products and services. Mark believes that traditional advertising doesn't work and the future is about influencer marketing. I plan to cover this topic in a future post.

In today's world where you have individuals who have a broad network and who are trusted there needs to be a way to make decisions about who to talk to, and that is where influence and these three companies come to the rescue. In my own opinion as a CMO, if you ignore influence, you are ignoring the relevance and contextual element that is needed to be smart in the way you run your business.