influencing influencers

You’re trying to convince Joe Rockstar to write about your company. When Joe Rockstar blogs, people share. When Joe Rockstar tweets, people re-tweet. If you can convince Joe Rockstar that your company is wicked awesome, the customers, VCs, the mainstream media, etc. will come knocking.

But Joe Rockstar is busy, eh? Deluged by pitches. You’ve pinged him umpteen times without success.

You’re too determined to simply give up. You use the sophisticated tools of social media to gain an understanding of who influences Joe Rockstar.

You note that he tends to re-tweet content from Suzy Snowflake and leaves a comment occasionally at the blog of Beau Bellpepper and interacts frequently on Facebook with Rick Rickenbacker.

You do more research. Turns out that Suzy Snowflake is often re-tweeted by influencers…but most often when she is re-tweeting their content! You also learn that Beau Bellpepper’s blog is fairly popular with influential types like Joe Rockstar … but mainly because his quick wit is combined with a quick temper. And you figure out that Rick Rickenbacker is an old college buddy of Joe Rockstar…the interactions on Facebook are mostly teasing and tagging.

You are at a crossroads, now. You really need to get the attention of Joe Rockstar. So you’re preparing to “influence the influencers of the influencers.”

Of the three “influencers” of Joe Rockstar, only one (Bellpepper the blogger) generates original content. Pitching him will be straightforward. Yet you can also imagine a scenario in which you could convince Suzy Snowflake to tweet about your latest news (maybe Joe Rockstar will re-tweet it). You can even envision making the case to Rick Rickenbacker that he ought to try your new product/service (maybe he’ll mention it in his Facebook newstream and catch Joe Rockstar’s eye).

How much time and effort are you willing to invest, especially for such uncertain results, with such untested “targets?”

I’ve long been fascinated by this concept: bypassing the “true” influencers in the initial outreach and instead reaching directly to the curators/amplifiers/spreaders of idea viruses. These folks are not “idea starters” but by virtue of their small but legitimate influence with top-guns in the media, could reasonably be qualified as “taste makers.” It’s certainly possible that these amplifier types could influence the idea starters. Influencers tend to monitor those who help spread their content.

The bottom-up, grassroots approach — when it works — is powerful.

Imagine if Joe Rockstar (who has seen your pitches, even if he has not been responsive) starts to notice that Suzy, Beau and Rick are talking about your company. Hey! He knew about you first. He’ll want them to know that. Make sure they know the alpha dog was in this loop. So he re-tweets Suzy’s tweet and/or leaves a comment on the post Beau wrote about you and/or “likes” what Rick noted about your company in his newstream. Something tells you that Joe Rockstar will be more amenable to “taking a meeting” when you reach out next time. Muahahahahaaa!

Then again, maybe Suzy Snowflake and Rick Rickenbacker will ignore you. Worse, given that neither is accustomed to being “pitched,” maybe they’ll be put off — and say so. Publicly. In front of Joe Rockstar. If you annoy Joe Rockstar, he is likely too busy to make special note of it. If you piss off his college buddy Rick Rickenbacker, a salt-of-the-earth man-on-the-street, Joe’s not only going to be doubly pissed off, he’s going to let the world know of your “sketchy” behavior.

The problem with “influencing the influencers of the influencers,” as I demonstrate in the example above, is that sometimes plotting out and executing such strategies can be impractical and, potentially, destructive. With so few hours in the day and with bosses and deadlines demanding results, we must be efficient in our processes. A client is less interested in sophisticated approaches; they can shoot down your nuanced emphasis on “network effects” by asking, “Why all the clock-and-dagger stuff? Why not just do a better job of reaching Joe Rockstar directly?”

That said: it’s a fascinating concept. Done thoughtfully, the amplifier effect of selling a story from the bottom-up is amazing. Just … tread carefully. The ice is thin in these waters.