How can you extend the reach of your communication effort and tell your community story in a compelling way that helps create a positive buzz? You leverage the power of influencers. Influencers are people and organizations that a decision maker trusts and listens to. Influencers are seen as objective, third party opinion leaders, often with more credibility than you.
Who are some external influencers that help CEOs make an informed capital investment decision? The better job you do in identifying the right influencers, the more successful your program will be. The key is to not try to include everybody. If you do, your effort will be watered down to the least common denominator.
For economic development some influencer groups to consider include
- Site Selection Consultants
- Industry Organizations
- Non-government Advocacy Organizations
- News Media
- Community members
It is important you do a thorough assessment of who the key influencers are for your community. The best source of insight comes from asking capital investors where they have learned about your community. There are a number of standard market research approaches ranging from qualitative to quantitative and varying in cost.
Once you have identified the highest leverage influencers, you are ready to create a communication plan that shares your story in a way that it will get retold.
In general, influencers care about the following big themes. Build your story line around these themes and you will have a higher probability of success.
|Business impact – All experts want to have their business positively impacted by their support of a message.||News Worthiness – They like the latest information. Their favorite sayings are “This just in” and “Breaking news”.|
|Appreciation – They want to be appreciated and liked by their followers.||Visual Impact – Powerful images help them please current subscribers and attract more.|
|Self Esteem – Pride is a powerful motivator. They want to be viewed as among, if not the first to know the “latest” on a topic.||Human Interest – People stories are always appreciated. How does the news affect the typical person on the street?|
Not every influencer target is equally important. Take the time to select the top few you believe will best augment your efforts. Be certain you know what type of information meets their needs and have a process in place to take your story and communicate it to them in the way they want to hear it. Finally, influencer marketing can be measured, so be certain you put measures in place (e.g. # of positive tweets about news in your community).
PRACTICAL APPLICATION CASE STUDY
It is always helpful to illustrate how theory can be applied. Here is a real world example of a great idea that didn’t end up working and some of the lessons you might take away from the experience.
When I was running a state-wide EDO, we decided to experiment with leveraging word-of-mouth to help broadcast the Ohio promise. The drivers were:
- An observation that the media is naturally biased to report negative news.
- DCI’s survey data indicating 76% of the time a short list of communities for site selection is created by companies without ever talking to an ED professional. The implication is they get a lot of their information from independent online research.
- A recognition that across the state there are a meaningful number of people who want to help tell the Ohio story, but are hindered by lack of timely information to share.
The solution we developed was to leverage social media as a way to create a community of influencers that we could share positive news with and encourage re-dissemination to their personal network. Our hypothesis was that these influencers simply needed to know about positive developments in a timely manner so they could be seen by their network as “in the know”.
We decided to pursue the strategy described above as “Business Impact” and created a Facebook page to enable the information sharing. We involved Regional EDOs and other economic development interested organizations to help identify and recruit influencers across the state. We even sought to invite local reporters to become fans of the Facebook page. The concept was to do make sharing the information as simple as possible. So, the plan was to provide the news along with suggestions on how to share it (e.g. tweets that could be copied and sent from the influencer Twitter account).
The program went well in the initial months and we successfully enrolled a number of influencers. But to address the challenge of adequate funding, instead of issuing a grant the State decided to take over the program. The program went off the tracks as soon as the State Legal team got involved and raised the bigger issue of developing a policy to guide State use of social media. Work stalled, the Facebook page was idled waiting clear policy direction, and the influencers we recruited became disenfranchised because they were not actively utilized.
While we had always viewed the program as experimental, here are a couple lessons worth taking away from the experience.
- Have a clear objective for any influencer effort. I think we had one and I still believe (now almost 4-years later) it to be a good one.
- Resource adequately for success. We had funding to support a pilot effort, but not a scale-up. This initiative got big faster than we had anticipated. On one hand, it was a very positive sign that the program had potential to be successful. However, lack of adequate funding turned out to be a real challenge to program sustainability.
- Enable success by ensuring appropriate processes and policies are in place. The lack of an adequate State policy ultimately became the project’s achilles heel. The program forced the lack of policy to become a critical path concern, but the implications of a social media policy extended well beyond the scope of the project. As a consequence, the time it took for the State to develop and approve a social media policy was appropriate given the importance (actually fast tracked by historical policy creation history), but detrimental to the program.
I would love to hear your take on additional lessons from the above case study. I’d also appreciate you sharing your experience in the use of influencers in your branding efforts, so please share.
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