In the world of marketing and PR we look to influencers in the media and on social channels to help tell our clients’ stories. Influence isn’t something to take lightly. For your opinion to matter so much to a group of individuals that it sparks conversation or affects purchasing behaviour is a powerful thing.

How can brands – both organizational and individuals – gain influence and tap into those valuable discussions?

It’s important to note there are two different types of influence when it comes to brands and people.

Thought leaders are unique thinkers who are at the forefront of their field. They enable critical thinking about any topic through a creative, analytical approach. They aspire to inspire new ideas and ways of thinking. Whether you see it as innovation, insight, or plain old wisdom, for brands to have this kind of powerful voice is extremely valuable.

Influencers, on the other hand, encourage social engagement. They aspire to inspire participation and the acceptance of different concepts by a mainstream audience.

While thought leaders and influencers are technically two different types of influence, in both cases you are standing out from the crowd as a voice of authority and trust, and that should be the goal for any brand.

5 Steps to Gain Influence

Step 1: Decide your influence type

Are you an influencer or a thought leader? In either case you need to be able to communicate well to your audience (both talking and listening!). Thought leaders will rely more on influencers to have their ideas accepted by the mainstream audience. Would you rather steer the boat or provide the paddles? Both are essential! In some cases, you can also choose to be both.

Brands like Tesla Motors, Apple, and Under Armour are thought leaders in their respective industries. Their brand vision is to push innovation to new heights, constantly bettering themselves and the products they put out on the market. Brands like Coca-Cola, Red Bull, professional athletes, and parenting bloggers are influencers. They consistently try to connect with their audience through the creation of an experience that is superior to other brands, whether through social media, events, stunts, ads, etc.

Step 2: Pick your topic

In many cases, your industry will determine your topic of influence. However, brands that are truly looking to gain influence will see themselves beyond their industry box. For example, Red Bull and Coca-Cola are both in the beverage industry, however they are also seen as lifestyle brands – both with very different brand personalities. This allows them to tap into a more emotional connection with their audiences.

You need to look at what your brand stands for, and what you do really well. This will determine your topic of influence and your approach.

Step 3: Determine who’s interested

This is essentially determining your target audience. Once you have figured out what your topical focus will be, you need to identify who you will communicate with. In the same way you would research your target audience, you would figure out demographic and behavioural information.

Step 4: Pick your platforms

Both influencers and thought leaders use the same tools to communicate with their audience. You need to figure out which platforms will enable you to connect with your audience in the most effective way possible. A good place to start is with a solid blog. Your blog content doesn’t always have to be written (hello, video!), but you should be publishing at least once per week at a set time.

You can also choose various social channels, discussion forums, bylined articles, media coverage, and other channels where your target audience congregates. As with your topic of influence, your industry can sometimes determine what channels you will be on.

Step 5: Build relationships

The relationships you build with your target audience will determine your success factor when it comes to influence. To build great relationships, consistency is key. Here are four ways to help build long-lasting relationships with your target audience:

  • Timing consistency – Create a schedule and stick to it. If you are going to do a Facebook live session every week, do it at the same time, so people know to watch then. Same thing goes with your blog posting and posts on social media.
  • Messaging consistency – If you are constantly flip-flopping on issues and ideas (did someone mention Donald Trump) it makes you less trustworthy.
  • Brand consistency – Have the same profile images/logo, colour scheme, name, and information across all of your platforms. It makes it easier to find you.
  • Be personable – to connect with your audience, you need to be yourself and allow yourself to be human.

For a brand to have influence is a great thing, but you have to work at it, and sometimes you have to work with other influencers to help you get there. It’s about building brand awareness and brand trust among your target audience.

Originally posted to the SongBird Marketing Communications Blog.