Who was the “convincer” in your high school?
You probably know what I’m talking about. This was the kind of person who made for an incredible class president, or a particularly disruptive class clown. The kind who could bring people together and move their opinions in one direction or another. They always innately knew what was going on, somehow—and because of this, they just always seemed unconditionally trustworthy. They were natural-born forces of influence.
Years after high school, many of us still gravitate toward convincers in the form of industry influencers, which is why influencer marketing can be a potent component of a brand’s content strategy. Influencers speak at conferences, garner massive social media followings, and send out newsletter updates that always feel one step ahead of the curve. Powerful both as signalers and as catalysts for change, they can be great additions to any brand’s promotional mix.
But, as many marketers have found, influencer marketing can be tricky. Influencers come with a wide range of audiences, costs, brand identifiers, and levels of closeness to (or distance from) your own brand. For the money involved, combined with the relative lack of control, working with external influencers can sometimes feel more like a bet than a strategy.
Some brands, however, have taken a more symbiotic approach. Rather than looking outward for influencers to tack themselves onto, they’re choosing to nurture thought leaders within their own ranks thought leaders within their own ranks. In this way, their employees get a chance to use the backing of their brands to lend credibility to what they share and promote, while the brands reap all the benefits of growing reach and attention from a new, rapt audience. The more popular an internal influencer grows, the more credible and visible a brand becomes.
Sadly, nurturing this kind of leadership isn’t as easy as hiring an intern to build a personal blog and Twitter. But with a few key principles and examples under your belt, it doesn’t have to be difficult, either. And with influencer marketing convincing more people than ever before, this may be the right time to start building out your plan.
The first and most foundational rule of developing internal influencers is to recognize that, while your marketing messaging and collateral may create your brand, your employees are the ones who truly embody your story. From the direct inventions and innovations they bring to your products, to the communication they do on your brand’s behalf, individuals provide context for everything your company does. They represent the reasons you make what you make and you speak the way you speak. As such, the easiest way to nurture thought leadership and influence from within is to identify someone who already cares about doing so. These people don’t have to be marketers or PR pros. They just have to care.
Who that person is, however, might determine how you decide to position them for your brand. A software engineer for a B2B brand likely is coming at their industry from a different angle than, say, the CEO of a B2C brand. So what personas have been working for brands that are already doing this?
When it comes to positioning a leader for your brand, it’s natural to look to the top.
C-suite professionals are more accessible today than they have ever been, but some clearly put more effort into their presences than others. People aren’t fooled when your exec’s account just reposts regular posts from your brand pages—but, at the same time, heavy-handed technical posts can turn away readers who, while interested in insight, are looking for something a little more digestible while browsing online.
The Friendly Executive tries to strike a balance between personal and professional posting. Professional opinions and insights comprise the industry-level information your audience is looking for, while ongoing personal context gives your audience a chance to “pull back the veil” a bit and get to know the person behind the handle, so to speak.
A great example of this sort of persona is Michael Brenner, CEO of the Marketing Insider Group in Philadelphia, PA. His posts swing between articles, whitepapers, and updates on his family for whom he does everything. Whether personal or professional, his summary sums up his story: “Do stuff that matters and has real impact.”
The Affiliate type is perhaps the most common and versatile of the internal influencers, and presents a comparatively hands-off method for developing brand influence. Simply put, affiliates are influencers with their own private followings who publicly associate themselves with you, even if not in direct connection to what they say and share. This gives your influencer a load of room to present and define themselves personally—perhaps even with personality or interests that normally wouldn’t fit for your mission and values—while also indirectly lending visibility to your brand.
Take Benedict Evans for example. Working with tech-oriented VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, Benedict likewise operates a personal website, publishes eBooks, and circulates an incredibly popular newsletter that tracks movements in the tech industry. It’s all great work and valuable content, and all of it comes with a simple bio or note somewhere on the page mentioning the firm he works for.
Between these two archetypes, most brands will be able to source the resources, creativity, and passion they need to start nurturing influencers under their own roof. Beyond this, most rules of good content marketing apply: keep up a steady stream of useful material, try to vary media wherever possible, and be receptive to any feedback you receive. Utilize the personalities and lives of your influencers as a means of putting a personal context to your brand’s ongoing narrative, and you’ll quickly find that followers are not only interested, but also trusting, of what your people have to say.