There is a lot of disagreement about what’s meant by the term “influence.”   In the old bricks-and-mortar world, influence referred to the ability to sway people’s beliefs or actions.  The people wielding the influence were usually recognizable names.


Defining Influence


Influence in the online world still has to do with impacting behavior, but influencers – now sometimes called “e-fluentials” – can be almost anybody.  Further, social influence doesn’t just affect buying habits, it can be used to educate, entertain and build brands.


What does that have to do with you as a small business owner?  You may want to network with influencers who will help you do your “word of mouth” marketing.  Or, you may want to become an influencer yourself in order to drive traffic to your website and customers to your business.


Attracting an influencer’s attention and getting him or her to start talking about your company is particularly appealing to small business, which usually don’t have large advertising budgets.


Identifying Influencers


Finding influencers who are knowledgeable about your industry involves some legwork, but you should already be engaged in this type of research.  Read blogs and tune in to webinars by subject matter experts in your industry.  Start conversations with potential influencers via LinkedIn, Twitter or other social network.  Send influencers links to new product offerings or articles you’ve posted online. The process of getting the influencer to comment on your company may happen organically, or you may reach a point in your (online) relationship where you feel comfortable asking directly. Another avenue for finding influencers is via social analytics companies like PeerIndex and Klout, which can tell you who is likely to be in synch with your company, its products and its corporate philosophy. 


Becoming an Influencer


What if you decide that, instead of reaching out to others to promote your business, you’d rather become an influencer yourself?  One of the most effective – yet still largely misunderstood – ways to become an influencer is to launch a blog.   “Bloggers are quite authoritative voices on certain things,” says Azeem Ashar, founder of PeerIndex. “Authority [is] moving away from institutions.”


Of course, gaining followers and making an impact on your bottom line through blogging takes time.  You can start out with an outline of topics you’d like to blog about, but as time passes, you shouldn’t be so rigid that you aren’t paying attention to what’s happening in the world that affects your industry.


Azeem Ashar, PeerIndex.pngThere are several tips that experts and fellow influencers say you should remember as you seek to build influence with a blog:


  • Do make sure you have an eye-catching headline.  If you don’t grab readers immediately, they will have already moved on.


  • Don’t be afraid to be a little controversial and don’t be too formal with your language. While you may be talking about business, potential customers have a lot of information to wade through in their daily lives.  If you’re too cautious, you run the risk of being boring.


  • Don’t hold back on sharing a little of your personal information (but only information you would feel comfortable sharing in-person to a stranger).  Your followers want to know something about the person they are following and why they should trust you.


Whether you get external influencers to talk about your company, or you write your own blog, it is important to pay attention to the ultimate type of influence you seek – the influence of your online brand.    You need to know what percentage of your content is driving sales and whether people who read a blog about your company or follow you on Twitter are actually converting into customers. 


One way to measure brand influence is through the many social analytics tools currently available, including Twitalyzer, which provides hard data on a company’s Impact, Engagement, Velocity and Reach; Crowdbooster, which tracks and analyzes who your most influential Twitter followers are; and Klout, which gives a company a social influence score between 1 and 100.


“Influence” may mean different things across the social media landscape.  It can be a third-party endorsement, a loyal blog readership or Twitter following, Facebook “likes,” or the currency of your online brand. However, there is one thing that is constant across all channels:  Influence isn’t just a number.  Pay attention to more than the quantity of your retweets, LinkedIn connections or Klout score.  Read what people are actually saying about you and your business.  You may discover you have much more influence than you think.


Do you have any relationships with influencers? Has it impacted your business in any way? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community in the comments section.