Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Influence, Networking and Building Equity

There's been a post stewing about in my head for the last several days. It's about the importance of keeping your virtual "bank" full when it comes to networking and influence. As someone that has been focused on networking well before the idea of social networks came into vogue, I can tell you that this is easier said than done, mainly because it requires a lot of work and the frequent subjugation of one's ego.

The impetus for this post came while I was out for a walk last week. This is usually my quiet time where I can catch up on tweets, e-mails etc. away from the office, my wonderful wife and three beautiful children. During my walk, I listen to music, take in some fresh air and get a little exercise. On this particular day as I was going through my friends tweets and realized that there was a certain influential friend of mine (let's call him Jim Jones) who I hadn't spoken to in a while. I didn't need anything from him but wanted to just say "hi" since it had been a few months since we last connected.

As one that dislikes using the phone whenever possible, sometimes there is no substitute for it, especially when you haven't connected with someone in a while. To that end, I thought the best way to connect with "Jim" was via a phone call. Unfortunately, with Jim's popularity has come stalking and bothering so Jim had to change his number. After realizing that I would not be speaking with Jim via the phone that very pleasant morning, I had the following exchange with Jim via direct message on Twitter:

bruthah! Was out for a walk this AM and thought I'd call just to say "hi." realized the # I have has been disconnected ;(

444-444-1234. Sorry to miss you. I'm in the LA this week, so won't answer just yet. : )

oh, no worries. like i said, i just saw you tweeting and thought, "I haven't talked to Jim in a while." Hope you're well. ;)

I haven't talked to you in too long. You're lovely. : )

same back atcha sunshine! ;)

The purpose of showing you this exchange is not to make you throw up in your mouth but to demonstrate the importance of my approach. I wanted Jim to know that this was strictly a friendly call and that I wasn't asking for anything. While "Jim" is a household name in the world of marketing and social media, I take this same approach with my entire network. In fact, I love nothing better than to randomly pull out a tweet or blogpost from someone in my network and re-tweet (repost on Twitter) or comment on their work. I say this not to come off as an egotistical prick but to demonstrate the fact that people with big or small networks appreciate this unconditional "love."

Building on this topic, a recent post by the lovely and eloquent, Amber Naslund, got me thinking more about the real definition of "influence"which is often one of the outcomes that people seek via the process of networking. In her post, Amber states...
To me, influence isn’t about popularity. Or even reach. It’s about the trust, authority, and presence to drive relevant actions within your community that create something of substance. That last bit is key.
Yup. Couldn't have said it better myself. It's about "trust, authority and presence" which to me reinforces why so many many companies have a hard time with social media. They don't want to take the time to build trust or presence even though they might already have some authority in their particular area of expertise. Like an awkward teenage boy on his first date, the company forgets that relationship building doesn't happen in one evening and that the physical (read: good) part comes only when "trust and authority" have been established. Unfortunately, too many of these encounters end with a "slap in the face" rather than a "goodnight kiss."

For those of you who are new to the world of social, this may sound disheartening. But you have to start somewhere. And as a great example of that, I'll point out my friend, Kelly Stonebock, who knew that she should be blogging but had until recently put it off up. While she's only got four posts under her belt... she now has FOUR posts under her belt and is on her way to establishing credibility as a serious blogger/writer.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start networking. And while you're at it, don't forget the "trust, authority and presence" piece. Don't worry, it's never too late to get started.


  1. Aaron, I was in the same boat as your friend Kelly and just posted my first blog two days ago. I knew that I should be doing it, but procrastinated (I think out of fear). But now that I have started, I hope it will be easier. I really think blogging is a great way for people to get to know more about you. I really enjoy connecting and sharing on twitter, but to read a post like the one above gives me a greater opportunity to learn about someone and reflect on what they have to say. Thanks for sharing your insight.

  2. Good post and - hey - it was nice to catch up with you over coffee.
    Go Kellyopoly!

  3. Amber - good for you! I'll have to swing by and take a look at your slick new prose. Just remember to keep at it (that's also easier said than done).

    Mean - thanks! great to see you too (over coffee). You don't mind if I call you "Mean" do you? ;)

  4. I should be paying you for this Aaron :) Thank you.

    I think you bring up a lot of interesting points in this post. I'm fascinated with how the roles of influencer and influenced are constantly in flux. It goes to the whole debate if celebrities are worth tapping into for social media, or if brands should just focus on lesser tier influencers because their social network feels closer with them. There's more trust there and so, they have more influence.

    Also, I think it's interesting how social media teaches us to share the attention. Blog rolls, RTs, @mentions and status updates seem to encourage the sharing of influence. Which aside from general community building, means we could actually be working towards a more collaborative, less competitive working environment. Cool thought.

    Good quote Amber. & thanks Rachel :)

  5. Kelly - I am always happy to give kudos when it is deserved. And thanks for adding such an insightful comment.

  6. I like this thread Aaron. The big "Yeah, that's right!" confirmation I got this time is the basic issue of appreciation.

    What I heard you saying was that you appreciate people, like everyone does, but you take the time out to SAY SO. That in and of itself is a BIG deal, because so few people consider saying that they appreciate others. Sure, we often will "tell our loved ones, we care for them" out of habit, or acknowledge a friend who gives us a shoulder to cry on, but a colleague? Rarely. As a manager, I make it my business to be clear I appreciate the efforts and talents of my staff. As a networking professional, I try to send out a note of appreciation every time I think of a person I haven't heard from for a while.

    It is true that business people become distrustful of complements, as though another shoe is going to drop, but I think its worth it to simply reach out to say "Hello, I was thinking about you, I appreciate you in X or Y way." I however don't want to cheapen it, so I do consider whether I have something specific I'd like to shout out to someone for. That's not to place any special value on MY pinging someone just because, but rather a reflection of what I appreciate receiving.

    Recently a past colleague reached out to me and told me he would value my opinions on a project he'd already completed, then complemented my feedback as useful. That meant a lot to me, because I wasn't paid for it, nor did I have a stake in it. It was a simple exchange where he showed me that I wasn't just a work acquaintence, but a trusted source in his life. This was something I hadn't realized, and that kind of acknowledgement feels good. I want to pay that forward, or even start the exchange... which I did just after.

    These kinds of engagements are what SM is particularly good at and why it is worth having a large network of people you've crossed paths with. Just as you can die from a thousand cuts bleeding you, I feel you can become successful from a thousand kind words filling you up. Major brands are just beginning to discover this, but so far are seeming to have a difficult time with the model. Too many are using SM engagement as a soft sell marketing tool, preferring to do a kind of "inner circle special deal" with coupons and FB/Twt only discounts. TO me this misses the point. Instead a simple "thank you for using our product, we appreciate you." kind of message would have greater impact, especially when the brand DOES finally offer something tangible.

    Southwest Airlines caught me in one of these recently. They sent me a birthday card with nothing in it except a "Thanks for being our customer" message. To be honest I initially forgot myself... I thought: "Why send me a Happy Birthday with no 'gift'?" Then I reconsidered... "Yeah... WHY spend the money to print, mail and send me a card with no offer to buy again? No come-on? Just a note to make me feel good, like they care about me being a client... I KNOW why! They want me to feel I COUNT to them. Not as a wad of cash, but as a client who trusts their service." That's great marketing, because when they DO have a sale or special offer, I'll take it more seriously than American Airlines, who sends me reminders of how they want me to spend more money with them every time they e-mail me, which is probably 4 times a month. If SWA could push this to the Social experience effectively, they would have something, particularly once they got a two-way conversation going. Right now, it is only one way, so I couldn't close the feedback loop by letting them know I appreciated their appreciation. IN the VERY near future, the smart brands will be effectively TALKING to their clients one on one, EVERY day. Some have started already, but not nearly enough.

    BTW Aaron, I appreciate you for this blog and the way it gets me to think and draw these points out. ;)

  7. Darin - man. I think your comment was longer than my original post (that's a good thing). There's not a whole lot for me to add to your thoughtful comment other than to say, AMEN! By the way, I love your story about Southwest. They are a smart company and really GET the whole "I see you" concept.

    Glad you like my blog and thank you to you for making it better on a daily basis.

  8. Hey Aaron, Part of getting my blog started recently was having people like you, that I trust and consider an influencer, validate that I maybe knew what I was talking about and what I had to say might be worth listening to. Thank you for that. Hope someday I can do the same for someone.

  9. Great post, Aaron, and I agree with Darin that the heart of the matter comes back to appreciation. But I think it also comes back to getting over yourself, which is something that even really great brands tend to fail at on a regular basis. The view that everything has to come back to the brand - as opposed to the customer - still seems perniciously pervasive.

    It's as though the brands are the equivalent of the Catholic church, believing the universe revolves around the Earth, while social media is Copernicus saying "uh, not really, no".

  10. Matt I love the Copernicus POV. SO on point!

    Its right on the money that the new game for brands isn't solely "We appreciate you", but "We honor your input"

    Now, as a long time product and message developer, I agree that people don't know what they want, but they DO know what they want MORE of and what they DON'T want. While the costs of properly maintaining an SM channel are still developing and companies are wary of ROI on those streams, the relative cost of getting BACK useful data through the feedback loop has never been cheaper. Put the RIGHT people in the SM manager seats and you'll control the voice AND collect the real pertinent nuggets of feedback.