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Who are the New Influentials?

Team Engage

Team Engage

Corporations and advocacy organizations are struggling to adjust their outreach in the new media environment. Some send press releases to prolific Tweeters and bloggers, conversational style mass emails to press, and grassroots updates to bought lists of regular people. The result: a lose-lose situation where your audience has no love for you, and thus, you have no love for your audience.

Based on my experience, most political and advocacy organizations readily admit they can do a better job communicating effectively. They are eager to change, but they don’t know where to start, so they just lump everyone into one category and guess about how to communicate with them.

Why guess? The key to successful communication is identifying who your audience is, how they like to receive information and what content they will find compelling.

To start, you need to know the influentials your organization values within your audience. Even with the growing force of people-power, individuals naturally fall into an influencer caste system. Just because we now have an equal opportunity for influence — where money and connections have been devalued — does not mean that we are all equal in our influence to an organization. We are not.

To provide order to this challenge, I suggest four categories of influentials below, in order of most obscure to most comprehensible. A word of caution: the number and makeup of these groups will vary from organization to organization. I loathe one-size-fits-all solutions, but hopefully this helps you think about how to better define your target audiences and adjust your content and distribution channels appropriately.

Passive Bystanders

Passive bystanders are the apathetic masses, the portion of your target audience who has shown no interest in you and has no apparent network to influence. Your metric of success should be how well you engage passive bystanders.

For a political campaign, passive bystanders are your target voters who will do nothing related to your campaign except vote on Election Day. They may end up on an email list and not protest receiving campaign messaging, but the passive bystanders will not read, click or forward it.

For a corporate advocacy team, they are the consumers you want to influence or hope to sell on your product. They’ll consume your marketing, usually without protest, but will likely gloss over it, much to your chagrin.

The largest percentage of your target audience likely fits into the passive bystander category. Unfortunately, however, they are the hardest to engage because of their apathy. Your only shot at reaching them is through mass communication like paid television, radio, online and mail.

Social Amateurs

Social amateurs are those who are high-level communicators, but they don’t yet have a particular interest in your cause or company. They are influential based on the size of their network, not based on an affiliation with your candidate or cause. They are popular, and popular people are those who passive bystanders take their cues from — in their families, offices and social groups. Social amateurs could easily be called social butterflies. You know them when you see them, in person and on social networks where their friend or follower count exceeds the norm by twice or thrice.

If you can win over a social amateur (or butterfly), by getting them to talk about you at their next adult soccer league game or showcase their support for you at the family reunion, you have scored a big win. You have not only reached one person (in a big way), but also reached passive bystanders many times over. Social amateurs are those you should focus on enticing to opt-in to your programming — the emails, events, videos and more.   

The challenge is getting those who are more interested in socializing — which likely involves sports, drinking, or other forms of entertainment — to take interest in something not inherently related. That’s when it’s critical to make something like politics (yawn…) or a new product appear interesting, even fun.

Informed Hobbyists

Informed hobbyists are those who care about your cause or company by trade, professional, or cultural affiliation. These are those highly invested in politics or your business, such as members of listservs, bloggers, and social media group participants.

They don’t necessarily make a living by discussing your campaign or industry, but they do it nonetheless. And people listen to varying degrees.

The informed hobbyists are those from whom a direct connection can often be drawn to the mainstream media narrative. They may consider themselves “journalists,” yet they probably don’t answer to an editor or supervisor. They probably care more about your organization than a hired hand, but you can’t expect a measure of objectivity or fact-based reporting.

Some informed hobbyists have a larger audience than a professional news organization covering the same topic; yet others may run a blog read by a handful of people on a good day. The former may require a shift to the next group: professional bloviators.   

Professional Bloviators

Professional bloviators are the hired mouthpieces and journalists who report and comment on your activity as if their life depends on it, which it does. Some are charged to be objective and others to take a side, an important distinction to make in your outreach.

This list is the most defined: it is the smallest and you should know who the particular people and personalities are in this group. One-way mass communication will not cut it. It may have worked in another era when the professional bloviators did not receive hundreds, even thousands of emails a day with information from others seeking their attention.

This should help you start thinking about who falls into each category for your campaign and organization. In a future post, we will cover the “how” of reaching each group, but I’ll leave you with this:

In a previous era, the “Influentials” were said to be some finite group of individuals you could cull out from the masses at any given point. I argue that targeting influentials is more nuanced. Influencers fall into diverse categories and the individuals who make up these categories constantly shift. Two of the categories, the Informed Hobbyists and Professional Bloviators in this post, are specific individuals. You don’t need a six-figure budget to find these people. Instead, you can find out who these people are largely through Google and LinkedIn searches. Social Butterflies are more challenging to reach, but an integrated mass communications and social media strategy goes a long way. The masses are everyone else.

Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet for having the influence you want as a communicator. The days of sole reliance on a savvy press release to the bloviators or a TV ad to the masses deciding your fate are over. You need to take a creative, aggressive approach to your communications efforts.