Long ago I was taught a powerful, timeless lesson from a great political mind. It goes like this: If you truly want to impact a community, it starts by making sure these five people know you and what you stand for:
- The editor of the local newspaper;
- The chairman of the local school board;
- The pastor of the largest church;
- The head of the largest nonprofit; and
- The executive director of the chamber of commerce.
His argument was that these people were the most networked people in any given community. They had significant influence over people and policy. They talked a lot and did so with a lot of people. And people listened to them.
How true. And perhaps even more so today. This bit of wisdom was passed along to me more than 20 years ago — well before the rise and dominance of social media platforms, big data and digital influencers. And certainly before the prospect of bots connecting with us to allegedly “influence” our opinions.
But it’s these people who still today create and drive narratives in communities small and large. They are effective by virtue of who they are and what they do; they have a front-line perspective on the psyche of a community, its pains, hopes and joys. Building relationships with these types of people is critical, especially in a digitally saturated culture like the one we live in today.
We’re big believers in developing relationships with community influencers. This work isn’t easy. It’s strategic and it takes a while. It also requires a two-way conversation about the products, brands and ideas important to you. It’s not about a follower, a like or a share. It’s a dialogue. Good influencers ask lots of questions and don’t always agree with what you’re selling. But the fact that you’ve made them aware of your idea, product or policy can often build respect at the very least. And let’s face it, true influencers appreciate “being in the know.”
There’s a lot of talk in our industry about influencers these days. Connecting with them certainly isn’t a new tool in the tool kit. It’s age-old and highly effective, especially today. If you don’t have an influencer strategy, it’s high time you create one.