Campaigns and brand initiatives with social media influencers form an integral part of many organisations’ communications strategies; their advocacy proving a powerful tool in reaching and engaging with external audiences. Forward-thinking organisations have recognised the power of messages delivered by people we like, trust and admire and have begun to look at opportunities to turn it inwards within the workplace by identifying internal influencers, particularly to support change initiatives.
Such initiatives can succeed or fail based on how successfully they’re championed across an organisation – it’s not enough to simply broadcast information. The more people on board, the more likely your change initiative is to succeed.
Identifying internal influencers
In most organisations there are many influential people to be found beyond the leadership team. It’s crucial for senior leaders to be role models for your brand values. But organisations should identify and encourage others to become brand ambassadors. When I’m working with a client on an engagement programme we always work together to create a network of influencers – if you communicate your goals effectively and invite people to get involved it’s likely that you won’t be short of volunteers.
Ask line managers to identify potential champions who you can approach. Seek those who are collaborative, enthusiastic, engaging and who have a wide network of colleagues across the organisation. Remember that people who may be cynical and disengaged to begin with but subsequently become enthusiasts also make wonderful ambassadors – and they’re particularly good at engaging other cynics!
Keep it authentic
Authenticity is increasingly highly valued in working life. If we believe that people’s words and actions are authentic we’re more likely to trust them. Trust is an essential element of influence; when we trust others we’re more likely to listen to them and be open with them.
The best way to ensure genuine authenticity is to identify the unconscious influencers in your organisation – often natural networkers who may be influencing others without realising it. If we think about social media there are many people who have very consciously built careers as influencers, particularly in the world of fashion. However, there are also many genuine enthusiasts who have become powerful social media influencers even though they didn’t set out to achieve this status. They are experts in their field, or genuine enthusiasts, or often a combination of both. Both types of influencer can be very attractive to any brand seeking online advocates, but often the unconscious influencers are considered more authentic, credible and trustworthy.
Don’t neglect your internal influencers once they’re on board; communicate with them regularly and, most importantly, listen. Invest the time and effort to build a dynamic relationship where their feedback influences ongoing activity. Sometimes businesses are wary of seeking this kind of feedback because they’re worried that they may not be able to act on it. Not everyone will like everything, or indeed agree with all your decisions. But it’s much better to engage in open debate than avoid issues.
Empower your influencers
Make sure that your influencers understand the organisation’s goals but don’t expect them to communicate using corporate speak. It’s important to give influencers the freedom to engage with their colleagues using methods that feel comfortable and natural to them – they’re far more likely to succeed in enthusing and spreading excitement.
I recently worked with a big corporate whose influencers formed a choir. People from different parts of the organisation who had never met before bonded over a shared love of singing. The choir initiated ‘disruption’ activity by singing about a key message outside the canteen one day. They also performed for the board and have since become widely respected within the organisation – it’s perfectly acceptable to decline a meeting invitation because it clashes with choir practice. Influencers have also formed sports and baking groups and as a result day-to-day collaboration has improved enormously.
While internal influencers are becoming more commonplace within larger outfits they’re hugely valuable in any organisation, whatever the size. Even in smaller organisations influencers can succeed in getting people on board with change and focusing on shared goals.
Could a network of internal influencers support your organisational objectives? The answer is most likely yes, so it's worth exploring the possibilities.
Jenny Perkins is head of engagement at leadership consultancy Cirrus