Under the Influence

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One of the more interesting things about social media has been the rise of the “influencer.” These people have developed some level of relationship with their subscribers (or “followers”) and are seen as experts on a variety of topics. This expertise is not only what their subscribers consume, but also where they look for recommendations and guidance.

A January 2019 report done by creative agency “We Are Social” indicates that 3.5 billion people (roughly 45% of the world’s population) actively use social media. With so much content to consume, people tend to look to someone else to help cut through both the noise and volume and influencers fill that gap.

As one might imagine, influencers fall into various categories and have different appeal based on how their followers see them. The influence they wield is translated to dollars and cents, generating large payouts for partnerships with brands they promote.

We live in a material world, so many people entering social media are now looking to capitalize on this phenomenon and become an “influencer.”

The truth is, we already are.

Even if brands aren’t knocking your door down to pay you for it, each of us influences others. Whether it’s in a management or leadership capacity or simply by virtue of doing life together, we all have people who look to us for recommendation or guidance. They wait to see how we will solve a problem, handle a crisis or make a decision. They wait to see if we will walk our talk, and in that process, it shapes them.

Now as we know from every superhero movie, ever, with great power comes great responsibility.

So, how do we influence well?

  1. Start by realizing you actually influence others.
  2. Consider who those people are and what function you have in their lives. Are you the one assigning work to them, maybe signing their paycheck or do you share physical, emotional, or spiritual space with them? Function has a lot to do with whether or not people feel like they have to let you influence them. I would argue we want to have people willingly consent to influence, not take it by force.
  3. Consider what you are showing them. What matters to you and how do you actually walk this out? What messages do you give and reinforce on a continual basis? A possibly obvious but important note, you may need some outside assistance with this because our intentions and impact don’t always match. For example, you say it’s important to be a lifelong learner, but confronted with a new way or doing something and you fight like a honey badger. This is #mixedmessage and remember that people will always believe what they see, not what you say.
  4. Determine if what you are exhibiting is what you intend to. Is this how you want people to see you? Is this the impact you want to make? If we were to show the “end of your life” highlight reel, does it play the way you want it to?
  5. Make changes where necessary and hold the gain where you are on track.

In addition to being an influencer, we are also influenced by others, so it’s wise to ask yourself about that, as well.

  1. Assess who you look to, on a regular basis, for guidance and recommendations.
  2. Evaluate why you choose to be influenced by them. Do you believe they are genuinely good people, are their lives an example you want to follow or are there some mixed messages you are seeing? Is it a case where they have subject matter knowledge and influence a purchase or are you looking to pattern an aspect of your life after theirs? This could also be a situation where you don’t like what someone does or stands for and you want to move away from that. If this is the case, get clear about that, too, so you know what you don’t want to be and why.
  3. Are there changes that need to be made here as to who or why they get to be a voice in your life? Ultimately, you have to ask yourself, is the level of influence they currently have acceptable or do you need to diminish their importance and look somewhere else (or even inward)?

Once you have done an initial assessment, it is probably wise to keep tabs and check back on it, often. Conditions continually change and the influence someone has in one season may not be right in another.

Influence is like a body of water: it moves and bends, continually changing. The right kind of influence and we float along more easily. The wrong kind, we end up all wet.