Influence Flows from Relevancy

I had a lot of reasons for going to SXSW, but here’s the truth: the chance to be roommates with the amazing Valeria Maltoni sealed the deal for me. While most blogs are at the undergrad level (if that), regular reading of ConversationAgent is like getting a Ph.D.  My friend Valeria is as funny as she is smart, and she shares her trademark wit and wisdom wherever she goes. I highly recommend getting to know her, if you haven’t already!


While influence is a hot topic at the moment, many are focusing on who has it and how to find these elusive few. But in the SXSW session “Everyone’s Wrong about Influence. Except your Customers,” Valeria Maltoni built on her blog’s many excellent posts on the topic and looked at the fact that true influence flows from drawing together people with shared interests.

This session explored the question of “why influence,” and focused on “the process of identifying areas of relevancy among your customers and prospects, building community, and allowing others to amplify your influence as you meet their needs.” One point I found amusing (and true) was: “You think everyone has influence, and you want influence – which creates tension.” It’s genetically encoded in us that we want to increase our social status.

Building influence involves pulling elements together, including:

  • Making a connection
  • Meeting opportunity
  • Understanding context

It’s important that we not get distracted by technology when working on influence. Good tools give you good information, but good communities give you a reason to come back. People drop out early unless you steadily provide content they want, so do detective work on customers’ behavior – otherwise there’s a disconnect.

The kinds of influencers include connectors, mavens, and salespeople – and each build and use their influence differently. However, the key elements of being influential include the ability to:

  • Entertain
  • Affect opinions
  • Exchange important info
  • Point out, enforce social rules
  • Learn from mistakes

But (as I believe PR professionals know very well) we shouldn’t just focus on our own standing. Look at “identifying and enrolling influence, as well as building and growing influence.” Look for the catalysts to conversation – they can spark it (and may be completely under your radar).

A few key actions that can help you stay focused on your customers and harness their influence include:

  • Seeing– Are your interests aligned with customers? That impacts loyalty (and with the network effect – it can spread).
  • Remembering– What is your promise/mantra? Maintain focus on the right value proposition.
  • Rewarding– Thank people as you go along (versus all at once) – it means more and keeps people engaged.
  • Social sensibility– Create a situation where you can respond to your customers’ requests – what your community wants to build. Give them real options.
  • Reacting– Consistency is important. A lot of organizations get bored with their own message just when the audience is catching on – stay with it.
  • Crisis– Watch patterns of interactions. People often forget quickly – it is possible to journey through the crisis to a period of redemption.

These are just a few of the top highlights from this session. What do you think about how influence is built? What strategies have you used with your own clients to help build their influence and communities?