You know the format. An unassuming lass or lad, often in some remote town or countryside, is unceremoniously thrust into the struggles of a great conflict, only to find themselves developing into the singular, critical savior of the story. From Star Wars to Lord of the Rings and everything in between, these stories have a unique way of capturing and inspiring audiences. Perhaps this is because it makes heroism and leadership accessible qualities. Perhaps it allows us to wonder if we each could be a hero.
But what if influencer strategies could allow a brand to tap into this potential (or desire for potential) from within its own team?
It seems like a backwards idea. Typically, influencer strategies mean reaching outside of a brand’s regular network to gain the regard—and expanded audience—of a respected figure. In the best cases, this is the result of standing relationships or an influencer who is excited and willing to tell the world about a brand. In practice, it is typically the result of paid promotion with an expiration date. However, by seeking promotion outside of itself, a brand puts itself in a position where its ideas, products, and stories become attributed (and in some ways, controlled), by separate people. Sure, this can grow a brand. But it necessarily means a brand can’t grow beyond the influence of its influencer without making them obsolete. It’s a self-defeating system.
The key to beating the traditional influencer lifecycle is to cultivate influencers whose own renown grows as your brand’s renown grows. Simply put, when your brand’s team members become influencers in its industry, it creates a symbiotic relationship where the influencer’s ideas improve the brand, while the growing brand then adds validity to the influencer’s ideas. This is why many companies are looking to 2016 as the year to improve on thought leadership.
So what does this mean? Should brands just ask their executives to write some blog posts, record a couple webinars, and cut influencers out of the mix? A “top down” approach can certainly lend a measure of veracity to the thought content a brand puts out, but in some ways, it’s expected. Readers aren’t surprised when companies are led by the savvy, the inspirational, the visionary—these are all expected attributes of good leaders. But what happens when this same sort of content comes from marketers and workers in a company’s proverbial trenches?
It takes a particular sort of brand to illicit leadership traits in all of its employees, and in a way this can say far more than any CEO can in a blog post. However, successfully doing so often involves structural changes that allow non-marketers to engage in the marketing and content process. So how can brands do this?
Despite the growing popularity of influencer strategies, the hard fact is that this practice is rapidly becoming a simple matter of money in, hopeful ROI out. Indeed, according to latest studies, the vast majority of influencers aren’t actually interested in engaging with brands out of interest and a desire to promote— they’re interested in monetary compensation.
Not only does this formula remove marketers from much of the promotional process, it also often means that the quality of content you’re receiving is exactly the price of the amount of money you put into it—better marketing for better pay. In a sense, this style of influencer marketing comes with a built-in ROI with few ways to improve other than either finding a better influencer or negotiating a lower rate.
An internal influencer team, however, presents a different formula. Content is not earned through pay, it is earned through encouragement and teamwork. Quality isn’t ensured by a price tag, it is ensured by an employee’s investment in the opportunity to share her own ideas and position herself as a strong thinker. And in terms of longevity, there are few (if any) external influencers who can guarantee the same long-term value that a mentorship and content-creating team within a company can.
So how can your team start taking advantage of its internal influencers? Here are a few ways to start building a foundation for your brand.
There is hidden potential in every company. Sure, Nate from receiving provably isn’t going to save the world, and Julia from account management likely isn’t going to stop some overpowering force of evil. But both may have unique perspectives and engaging personas that your brand can leverage to generate influencers and thought leaders from within. Empowered workers do better work, and their hands-on experience with your brand means their insights lend veracity to your own brand’s efforts. But most importantly, it keeps your content engine powered by interest and creativity that comes from within your brand, rather than from the price tag on an external influencer’s blog.