Back in May, when Social Media was something I was still getting used to, something pretty spectacular happened. I had seen a post by Chris Brogan about using the buffalo (in other words, using as many pieces and parts of a thing as you can), and I thought it would be interesting to tie the essence of his post to something from my world – integrated marketing. So, I wrote a post called Linking the Tactics. Using the Buffalo. A little later in the day, I started noticing that 7 new people were following me on Twitter. Given that I had about 57 total followers, this was quite unusual. I finally figured out that Chris Brogan had retweeted my post. I got a couple of really nice comments on my post (which was two more than I had gotten on most posts I’d written up to that point).

“Wow,” I thought. “I’ve finally made it.”

Something interesting happened though. I wrote another post, and once again I didn’t get any comments. I tweeted and once again, there weren’t any people who seemed to want to respond to me.

In short, I had been given some fish, but I still didn’t know how to catch fish for myself.

If someone’s carrying you, you don’t know if you can walk

If I sound unappreciative, that is  not at all my intent. When someone you respect, someone who has forged a name for themselves in this space, recognizes something you have said or done, it’s a great honor. And yes, the probability of your name being seen by people who may not have seen your name otherwise – pretty high.

That being said, do I think people should aim for being tweeted to or retweeted by influencers in the Social Media space? No.

The thing is, when you get new followers or lots of traffic because an influential person takes notice of you, what you are really seeing is a reflection of the influential person’s power and community. People will click the link. They might read your post. However, most people will not feel obligated to comment on a post that they are seeing because of an influential person, at least from what I have seen in my experience and the experience of others. Your community is not often going to grow a lot from these experiences.

To grow your community, you need to be the core of the engagement. People need to react to you because they want to on their own. That is what will inspire them to come back, and that is what will inspire you to go back to other peoples’ blogs or twitter streams.

Influencers and Community Building

So let’s throw all of the influential people away because we clearly don’t need them! Yeahhhh!!!

No. That’s not going to work either. In fact, influential people can be keys to helping build community in the way I discussed in part one of this series. Here’s how.

Visit their communities: One thing we all know about the big names in the Social Media space – they tend to get lots of comments on their blog posts, and many actually take the time to try to respond. A community exists there, and it’s free to join. I have had some great conversations by replying to other commenters while visiting someone’s blog. Of course it’s nice to comment on the post too, but interact with other people who are there. And don’t just send people links to your blog posts. Just talk. Discuss. Engage.

Pass on what you learn: The people who have made it big in this space did so through hard work and innovation. Fortunately for new people like me, they are generally willing to pass on a lot of information that they have gathered over the years. Pass on this information as you learn it, not to try to attract that person’s attention, but to become a slightly more accessible resource for people in your community. Add your own spin to it. Your own “sauce,” if you will. Don’t steal. Always credit. But serve as a conduit between your community and the people you learn from.

Take recommendations to heart: If an influential person does tweet out someone’s post, even (or especially) if you don’t know that person, give their blog a visit. Leave a comment. If he or she is being presented to the influential person’s community, you can take a bet that the content is going to be pretty good on a regular basis. Influential people didn’t get to where they are because they recommended a lot of spam bots. Their reputation depends on introducing good people to their existing community. You are receiving trails of breadcrumbs that lead to great people. Engage!

Remember that influential people are people: Someone who has 500,000 followers or 2 million gazillion Facebook friends may seem inaccessible a lot of the time, and sometimes this far away feeling can lead to unkind comments or impatience from people who perceive that “big names” are too distant, pompous, egotistical, or whatever else. On the other side are people who will try to name drop or do other things that would not be thought sensible in relation to other perhaps less well-known people. How you choose to engage with the “big names” in Social Media tells your community a lot about you. If you only ever name drop, will they feel that you’re interested in engaging with them? If you show impatience or get into fights a lot, will your community find you credible when you talk about respect?

It is and isn’t about you

During #mmchat, when Chris Brogan co-hosted, we talked about cause marketing and how getting just a big name wasn’t really going to help. You need to get people on your team who really want to be there and who believe fully in your cause.

Your Social Media community is the same way. People who have a lot of influence in Social Media can point you in the right direction and provide opportunities for you to meet a lot of great new people, but the decision to engage – that has to be from things you say and do to other people. Your community will consist, in the end, of people who don’t need to see a tweet from anyone but you to act. In a community, you are the influencer, and you are influenced. And that is the heart of Social Media to me.