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The true value of online influencers: It’s not about parroting your messages

This is the first post on the new Little Bird company blog, by co-founding CEO Marshall Kirkpatrick. Little Bird automates the discovery and vetting of experts and influencers online, about any topic, and helps you engage with them and their content.

Kim Kardashian was once paid $10,000 to Tweet about an online shoe company—is that the pinnacle of influencer engagement online? I’d argue just the opposite—that might have been an all-time low-point in the world’s understanding of social media.

The self-publishing revolution of social media has enabled any of us to pull up a seat directly in front of some of the world’s leading thinkers and stars—and what do we do with that opportunity? All too often, we tug at their shirtsleeves and plead with them to tell their audiences about us. That can certainly happen, it’s great when these people do talk about us, but there’s so much more value to be captured by the radical new access we have today thanks to social media.

Businesses that look at social media as a source of free or cheap promotion are really missing out. I think more people realize that every day, but I think when it comes to online influencer identification: counterpoints to “influencers as promotional vehicles” need to be articulated and amplified.

When it does come to promotion of your brand by an independent influencer online, promotion is more likely to happen and be more meaningful if you’ve also taken advantage of these other opportunities to generate and capture value along the way.

High leverage learning

Is there anything more valuable than learning something new that changes the way you look at work or the world around you? A reservoir of knowledge, compiled through experience, connections, study and practice, is a powerful foundation to increase the impact of everything you do. Each new big learning experience is a catalyst to kickstart the effectiveness of your work.

Little Bird top influencers in Professional Development, in general: Rich KikerShelly Terrell and Kyle Pace.

Nothing flies as fast across the web these days as an infographic or a numbered list. Why? Because both are items you can very quickly glean glimmers of knowledge from. That’s the fruit of editorial labor, like pressure turning coal into a diamond. That’s what people at the top of their fields in social media can offer, too, in a world swimming with mediocre content.

What if the best gift a top market influencer could share with you was not their voice, but their mind? People at the top of their game aren’t just good at doing what they do—they’re really good at learning how to do it better. I bet that shoe company could have captured a lot more long-term promotional impact by engaging meaningfully with Kim Kardashian, her team of publicists and strongest connections, than they did by crassly paying her to Tweet. Who knows. Perhaps they did both.

Once you’ve identified the most influential experts in a particular field, the first step is to be quiet and listen. The longer you can listen, the more you’ll learn; the more you engage humbly, the more likely those influencers will amplify your message later. What do you call a well-informed, respectful, sustained engagement? A relationship.

There are a lot of ways to use our service here at Little Bird, but some of my favorite use cases are when customers just use our tools to find people to learn from. The faster you can find the strongest minds in your field, the faster you can dive deep into learning and the more you can get out of it. For creating content, for advising clients, for whatever kind of work that you do.

A rocket ship into the future

Finding out who’s sharing important information about a topic of interest right now is useful, but finding out who’s likely to share important information in the future offers competitive advantage.

Little Bird’s top influencers among Futurists: Clay Shirky, Venessa Miemis and Cindy Frewen.

Little Bird report on futurists

When I worked as a journalist, I used systematic methods to identify where information was most likely to bubble up early in the news cycle—then I set up systems to sit by those sources and watch (using automation, alerts, etc.) so that I could jump on any breaking news they found before my competitors.

Now, working as a entrepreneur in a new market (research and marketing technology), I’m using technology to identify people who’ve won the respect of their peers and who I should prioritize engaging with in the limited time I have while building a company. (We’re participating in a startup incubator, too, where the people in charge exercise their editorial judgement in selecting speakers to schedule.)

Online, top influencers are best engaged-with as a long-term investment. If you can defer your need for help with promotion and just focus on learning and adding value, then you’ll be more likely to have access to much greater opportunities in the future.

Those are some of my thoughts about the non-promotional value you can capture through effective engagement with top influencers in your industry. I’d love to read about your thoughts. Feel free to share them in comments below, I’m sure everyone would like to read them!

  • http://www.mseleanorsapples.com Eleanor

    So what is this Rocket Ship to the future? and how do I catch a ride?

    • marshallk

      Hi Eleanor! You can learn more about Little Bird’s influencer discovery and engagement tools, and sign up to get access to a trial account, at http://getlittlebird.com There you’ll find out how to connect with the leaders in your field and life will be pretty much awesome. Thanks for stopping by! Let us know if we can be of assistance.

  • http://www.ethanbauley.com Ethan Bauley

    Nice post, Marshall, you’re the man. And you’re right to note that your customers have much to gain by engaging relevant influencers in a deeper exchange of ideas about their core business — something that can deliver more durable value than the ephemeral Twitter endorsement or media “placement”.

    Your Kim Kardashian example does a good job of describing how to align interests between the “expert” and the firm. One company that has done a stellar job of building value-added relationships with independent third parties is SAP. Their constituency typically isn’t quite as high-profile as Ms. Kardashian, but the operating model is the same ;-)

    Ethan

    • marshallk

      Ethan, thanks for your kind words. I don’t know a lot about SAP’s social work, but I do know that people throughout their organization watch Jonathan Becher, Vishal Sikka, Sanjay Poonen and Oliver Bussmann online more than anyone else in the organization. (A Little Bird told me. ;) Anyone else in particular that you’d recommend paying attention to there? Maybe Lars Dalgaard or Lindsey La Manna?

      • http://www.ethanbauley.com Ethan Bauley

        There’s a guy by the name of Mike Prosceno there who manages their influencer program, you should talk to him if you want to hear more about it (@mprosceno). I can try an intro if you like. Will shoot you an email.

        Ethan

        • marshallk

          Ethan, that sounds great. Just followed Mike. I love his Twitter bio! “Global Communications @ SAP. These are my personal thoughts… well, for the most part anyway. If your unsure which are which, just ask.”

          Incidentally, the very first SAP community influencer to follow Mike on Twitter was another Ethan, Ethan Jewett! http://www.linkedin.com/in/ethanjewett It’s a small world full of smart Ethans we live in.

          • http://www.itsinsider.com itsinsider

            Hi Marshall. I just alerted Mike to this thread. He’s a great guy and you should know him.

  • http://www.twitter.com/mkmackey Kathy Mackey

    You’re always on the wave of the future Marshall. How exciting for all of us to take a ride. Thanks for leading the way.

  • http://superhypeblog.com David Deal

    Great post, Marshall. I agree that the highest value of influencer interaction comes from learning. We too often place a premium on influencers as defined by their Klout scores, meaning we place more value on their role as amplifiers as opposed to how they can give back to you (and thus influence you). On the other hand, high-profile influencers from the consulting ranks will only share so much insight in an open, social setting before they want to take the conversation to a closed environment where they can charge for their thinking (which is totally fine — they have businesses to run, bills to pay, and mouths to feed). If you are willing to cast your net far and wide and receive smaller nuggets of wisdom for free (which is a valid model for anyone who has the time and skills to synthesize such insights), then indeed influencers provide immense value via social media. Keep up the insightful posts!

    • marshallk

      Thank you David, I really appreciate you stopping by and commenting!

  • http://geobrava.wordpress.com David H. Deans

    Marshall, your point about the value received for paying Kardashian to tweet, makes me wonder — what’s the delta between “short-term fad influence” and “lasting meaningful influence?”

    Granted, perhaps in the realm of B2C marketing there are times when you can benefit from a celebrity endorsement, but those days seem numbered (if you believe the research about how consumers value online authenticity).

    In a B2B environment, I’m guessing that a shallow endorsement has minimal short- or long-term value. In fact, it may do more harm than good.

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  • http://AnnArborRealEstateTalk.com Missy Caulk

    Totally agree with this “I bet that shoe company could have captured a lot more long-term promotional impact by engaging meaningfully with Kim Kardashian, her team of publicists and strongest connections,”

  • http://twitter.com/b2bcommunicate Rebekah E. Donaldson

    Dang, I wish I’d thought of this analogy for the preciousness of infographics: “…Why? Because both are items you can very quickly glean glimmers of knowledge from. That’s the fruit of editorial labor, like pressure turning coal into a diamond. That’s what people at the top of their fields in social media can offer, too, in a world swimming with mediocre content.”

    • http://plexusengine.com/ Marshall Kirkpatrick

      Thanks Rebekah! Glad you liked that. Sure appreciate all the feedback you shared last night.

  • koldwyn

    All agreed, yet how you can post this without mention of Rodgers, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovations) is either a direct sense of watering down for the masses, which in a social tech blog is de rigueur or you simply do not know what your technology offering is about.. I am hoping it is the former as few in social media have ever been asked an academically sound hypothesis as long as I know…

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  • http://twitter.com/ImMaxWashington Max Washington

    Such an ever evolving frontier. How long do you suppose the pioneers stay that way, and will they remain there in 12-18 months?