How to Become an Influencer in Your Industry

It makes no difference whether you’re a butcher, baker or candle-stick maker – you want to be the best. Think about just about any industry, and chances are you probably know at least one or two people who are the living embodiment of it. Software? Still Bill Gates, even though he’s mostly retired from Microsoft. Social media? Must be Mark Zuckerberg. Cooking? Just about anyone on the Food Network. These people are influencers, and they exist in every industry. They’re more than just someone who works in that industry. They’re the ambassadors. The trend setters and the innovators. The household names.

They’re everyone’s go to guy, and that’s a pretty good place to be, in your career and in business, and the good news is that there are actionable steps that anyone in any industry can take to get there. Let Riverbed be your guide on how to become an influencer in your industry so your clients flock to you, not the other way around!

Why It Pays to Become an Influencer

People have always bought from people rather than companies. It used to be the sales person that turned up in an office and took your procurement guy out to lunch. These days, it’s the guy that they follow on LinkedIn or Twitter, who gives them great advice.

Whether you call it being an influencer or personal branding, it all amounts to the same thing. Becoming an influencer in your industry builds your credibility and improves trust in you as a person, and that translates into more sales. The ROI for influencers is that they become ‘my guy’ to thousands of people. So instead of being ‘my guy’ to a few local business people, you can become the go to person for companies and business people throughout your region, country, or even globally.

It’s the reason people bought the George Foreman Grill (endorsed by a sporting hero), and the reason why people buy T-Fal cookware when Jamie Oliver tells them they’re great. People trust influencers, and that will always translate to revenue. Forbes (@Forbes) distilled the idea even further when they published an article online proclaiming that people do business with people they like. That has always been true. It’s just the medium that has changed.

The only catch is that to get there, you need to put revenue second. Here’s how you go from face in the crowd to industry leading influencer in your field.

Laser Focus Is Critical

Becoming an influencer in your industry depends on you becoming the leading expert in everything related to your niche. That requires an amazing amount of focus and knowledge, so if you’ve always been a jack of all trades, now is the time to decide on one thing you want to be the very best at, and focus only on that one thing.

Influencers are specialists, not generalists, and that’s the first step you need to take. Decide what your specialty is.

Understand That it’s Personal

Influencers own companies and they run corporations, but their status as an industry influencer is personal. Think of every influencer you follow on Twitter or LinkedIn. Pete Cashmore (@petecashmore) of Mashable. Neil Patel (@neilpatelof Kissmetrics and Crazy Egg. Richard Branson of Virgin. You trust their company because of them, and because of their insights and industry knowledge, but you follow them personally.

If you are not prepared to put yourself out there personally, you will not be able to connect with people on a personal level, and becoming an influencer is not an option. You are going to have to forget about online anonymity if you want to become an industry influencer.

Making a Name for Yourself

Deciding to become an influencer and actually doing it are two very different things. The good news however is that like everything else, there is a definite formula and actionable steps you can take to make it happen:

  1. Interview Other Influencers

Call it reflected glory. Call it riding coat tails. It doesn’t matter what you call it. It works. If you can land an interview with someone who is already an influencer or leader in an industry that is closely related to yours, you will automatically gain interest from people who want to read about them.

Interestingly, celebrity status alone and being an influencer are not seen as the same thing. In fact, in a 2014 survey by LaunchMetrics (@LaunchMetrics), a leader in influencer marketing, only 23% of respondents felt that celebrities were influencers. Which means that you need to be more selective about who you work with.

  1. Create Superlative Content

Great content gets you traffic and interest. Superlative content gets you expert status, and expert status helps to turn you into an influencer. You could start with your blog and a Pulse account on LinkedIn, but true influencers think bigger. One of the best ideas? Write a book that offers unique, in depth, cutting edge information about your industry. Then promote the book.

Don’t forget social media either. A well-crafted social media presence is crucial to what is being called aggregated credibility by the researchers behind the online peer reviewed journal First Monday. There is a formula to social media after all, and it’s scientific.

  1. Have Opinions, and Share Them

Great influencers are rarely followers. They’re thought leaders who have ideas and opinions, and who aren’t afraid to share them. They comment on a variety of issues, and they always make great, lucid arguments. Thought leadership isn’t even about being right all the time. It’s about sparking conversation, and introducing new ideas or new takes on old ones. In fact, thought leadership is interchangeable with the term “opinion leadership,” according to Neil Patel writing for (@Entrepreneur). So have one, or many, and share them!

  1. Keep Your Finger on the Pulse

Google pioneered the concept of Zero Moments Of Truth (ZMOT) a while ago. It’s since become a major concept in online marketing, and many influencers have used these moments to spark conversations. They’re all about identifying fleeting trends, and putting a unique and memorable spin on your commentary. Consider signing up for Google’s alerts for your industry or niche, and create content related to hot topics as they happen.

To paraphrase an article by Pardot (@Pardot) the biggest trick to taking advantage of this strategy is to have the answers ready before your customer even knows they’re going to ask the question. The same goes for becoming an influencer. You need to have the advice ready before the problem arises. When you can do that, then you’re well on your way.

  1. Don’t Chase Numbers

Becoming an influencer is not about how many twitter followers you have, or how many likes you get on a meme you’ve created. Influencers have many followers, but they’re more concerned about the quality of their followers than the quantity. It’s better to have a smaller group of people following you who are genuinely interested in what you have to say than many who ignore you most of the time.

As for buying followers? Unless you’re a Kardashian, that’s never an option. Not only is it dishonest, but as Tech Times (@TechTimes_News) pointed out recently, most social networks can and will purge fake accounts. Losing thousands of followers overnight will not help your cause.

  1. Be Generous

One of the most important elements of being an influencer is being generous with exposure. Great influencers will share content from others often. They are collaborators. They build relationships, and they share the spotlight. It works too. As a study by SiriusDecisions (@SiriusDecisions) suggested, white papers and research that contains collaborative content by other influencers and third party experts are more likely to be seen as credible. Which is why leading influencers tend to collaborate on projects. They essentially lend each other credibility.

  1. Become a PR Guru

Steuart Henderson Britt, who was a marketing influencer long before the internet was a thing, once said that “Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing but nobody else does.” That’s still true today, and it is true about becoming an influencer. If you want to be recognized as a leader in your field, you need to let the world know that you are, and that means learning to market your ideas and your content the way you market your business.

This step is crucial, because according to leading media intelligence company Cision (@Cision), 60% of B2B purchasing decisions are based on self-education, and made before there is ever any contact with a sales person. Publicizing your knowledge to your industry makes you a part of that education process, and that makes you more likely to be the catalyst for a buying decision.

Becoming an Influencer is Not Easy, But Infinitely Worthwhile

The truth is that while there are actionable steps that can be taken to become an industry influencer in your niche, it’s not easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it, and that would negate any competitive edge you might have gained from putting in the effort.

As BCG Perspectives (@bcg) pointed out in a recent study, the trend towards choosing to buy from brands and people perceived to be experts will only increase over time. It’s definitely worth getting started on building your reputation as the go to guy for your industry sooner rather than later.

What do you think? Do the benefits of being an industry influencer justify the time and effort of getting there?

Picture of Todd Mumford

Todd Mumford