Influencers can be your best conduit to membership and spreading new ideas. But how do you tap an influencer? You don’t need Kim Kardashian. Start by engaging your most committed members.
Summer is one of my favorite times of year if only because it allows me to get away and catch up on summer reading. Next week, I will be on vacation and doing a lot of reading, but that hasn’t stopped me from picking up a book or two already.
Last week, I started reading The Influencer Economy by Ryan Williams, which examines how businesses and organizations can share and spread ideas in a world that thrives on networked connections and digital transactions.
Williams is a student of the influencer economy. On his weekly podcast, he has interviewed more than 100 influencers—everyone from entrepreneur and author Seth Godin to American musician and composer Hrishikesh Hirway.
Williams is also an entrepreneur and recently worked at Machinima.com, a video entertainment network hosted on YouTube. For those who haven’t been paying attention, video gaming is on the brink of becoming a super-fandom e-sport, and it’s an excellent case study in how organizations can tap fans and turn them into influencers.
“We created a movement for video gamers connecting fans through an influencer network of YouTubers, and the platform spread like wildfire,” Williams told me in a recent interview. “Usually, when you hear the world ‘influencer’ you think of celebrities, like Kim Kardashian, but she has less than half a percent click-through rate on her tweets. … These celebrities are mascots, not influencers, because they don’t move the needle.”
Williams defines influencers as people who can create a movement based on the passion and support of the community around them. Sounds kind of like your most engaged members, doesn’t it?
“These people seek to make a dent in the world,” Williams says. “The bartering and exchanging of ideas today means that people can work flexibly in partnerships and collaborate online to drive goals.”
Tapping Into Influencers
Before Williams was an entrepreneur, author, and podcast host, he was a clinically depressed stand-up comedian in Washington, DC.
“I was much better at getting people in the seats than I was on stage,” he says. “When I pivoted my career away from comedy into marketing, I identified three steps to grow influencers.”
Next week, Williams will lead a free workshop at ASAE focusing on how to attract and grow members using the influencer method. While most associations have influencers as members, far fewer know where to find them.
Here are a few ways to identify untapped influencers:
Look carefully at micro-volunteers. An influencer is someone who has a business idea and seeks to execute on that vision by creating smaller, more obtainable projects. These are people who are currently at work inside your associations as engaged members or micro-volunteers. Membership teams should be constantly on the lookout for these unique personalities because often their vision aligns well with the association’s mission, resulting in a symbiotic relationship, Williams says.
Offer digital space for deeper collaboration. Influencers are kind of like connectors. They’re looking for digital spaces where they can connect with others to build on their vision. Associations can facilitate collaboration through online communities, which should maintain a high level of openness, fun, and creativity. Williams adds that an online community should also be a seamless, solutions-oriented space.
Create unique meetings IRL (in real life). Most associations already know that members love and value face-to-face encounters, but do you ask members how they want to meet IRL? “Tradeshows and conferences are so overwhelming,” Williams says. “You throw out business cards and shake hands, and maybe you send an email afterwards to connect with someone.” These days influencers are looking to smaller, quicker events, he says. “An approach that I recommend is an hour-long lunch, where maybe five or 10 member influencers can meet.”
What can member influencers do for your association? At next week’s workshop, Williams will present with a California-based startup that’s using the influencer model to engage younger member prospects.
Cue Career is a career path and professional development tool for college students and recent graduates about to embark on their careers. Founders Heather Wetzler and Nick Hare say they’re tapping students and association professionals to engage in a dialogue about career paths. The startup is using a platform that’s popular with students—YouTube—to build “micro-communities” around a variety of professional societies and associations.
Here’s what one of those videos looks like:
The concept is simple, and the payoff can be huge. A 10-minute recorded Skype interview between a college student and an association member can result in 20,000-30,000 unique YouTube views.
“These videos are easy to produce, and that’s how most students are digesting content,” Wetzler says. “It often leads students to association membership and other engagement opportunities down the line.”
In the process, associations are finding a way to expose younger generations to the value and benefits of membership.
“Associations have such great resources, but students are just completely unaware of them,” Hare says. “We are serving as a bridge, so that these student and member influencers can go the last mile.”