What Makes An Influencer? 5 Things Marketing Superstars Do Differently

January 23, 2014 Brendan Cournoyer

Influencer marketing

Content marketers throw around terms like “influencer” and “thought leader” a lot – but what do these things really mean?

To me, being an influencer means becoming a trusted source of information and authoritative figure within your market. It means not being someone who sells, but someone who helps. And it means when you share an idea, people actually listen.

There are different ways to gain influence with your audience. One is to align yourself with those who have already gained the trust of your targets; another is to eventually become those people and brands yourselves.

The hard truth is, building influence takes time and effort – it rarely happens by accident, and some are better at it than others.

So the question is – what makes an influencer? Here are five ways the most influential marketers set themselves apart from the pack.

1. They brand themselves

Most of the top marketing influencers in the game aren’t just marketers; they’re entrepreneurs. These are people who have the will and ambition to put their names and faces behind an idea. They don’t just blog, they have their own websites. They don’t just market, they start their own companies to help others do it better.

More than anything, they become their own brand. Follow @MarketingProfs on Twitter, and you’re also following Ann Handley. She’s the face of that organization, and as the site’s reputation has grown, her reputation as a thought leader in the field has grown with it.  Of course, not everyone will get to 211K+ followers, but the fact remains that some of the most respected thought leaders are the ones with the confidence to put their name behind their business.

2. They stay versatile

Obviously, top influencers also tend to contribute a lot of content, and some of the best do it in a lot of different ways. It’s the same principle that any brand should follow, in that the more channels you take advantage of, the wider your reach, enabling you to connect with more and more people.

For example, the best thought leaders don’t just blog, they podcast. They don’t just do live webinars, they post on-demand videos on YouTube. They’re not just active on Twitter, they also post to Facebook, Google+ and StumbleUpon. They don’t just share things via LinkedIn, they start their own groups and conversations. And perhaps most notably…

3. They don’t just write, they author

This is one thing I know: anyone who wants to be a top marketing influencer eventually writes a book, and it’s pretty clear why. First, being a published author is undeniably cool and brings a whole new level of credibility to your personal brand (after all, nothing says thought leader like having the words “New York Times best-seller” next to your name).

Secondly, the book itself is a form of branding. Brian Solis didn’t just write a marketing book; he wrote The End of Business as Usual because his niche is disruptive technology and its effects on the way we do business. Jay Baer didn’t just suddenly come up with the idea behind Youtility; he had been writing and talking about those principles for years. Andrew Davis didn’t write Brandscaping to make a few extra bucks (well, maybe not just for that); he did it to elevate a concept he felt passionate about.

Companies do the same thing. Have you ever seen an "X for Dummies" book that’s “sponsored” by a vendor? It’s more than just strategic advertising. It allows them to say “We wrote the book on X topic.” From an influence standpoint, you can’t beat that.

4. They share the wealth

As I alluded to before, top influencers aren’t just about selling, they’re about helping, and this extends beyond customers. The top marketing thought leaders are also willing to share their expertise with other sources and publications. Part of this is no doubt strategic (once again, it extends the reach of their messages to new audiences), but this strategy also enables them to promote their ideas while being positioned as experts in their field.

For example, Joe Pulizzi isn’t just the founder of Content Marketing Institute, he’s arguably the biggest champion of content marketing in general. He’s always willing to provide a quote to a journalist or share some insight with a fellow marketer. When I wanted to do a short Q&A on video and content marketing, I went to Joe.

Great influencers care about leading the charge in this way, and that enables them to build influence and trust with the greatest number of listeners.

5. They speak – in front of people

Finally, top marketing influencers put themselves out there – literally. The best marketing session I’ve ever been to was at an event a few years ago, by a presenter I had never heard of. He was high-energy, unique, and funny, and his name was Marcus Sheridan. Fast-forward to today, and “The Sales Lion” is one of the most popular speakers on the marketing events circuit.

The point is, blogging is great, but making it a priority to share your thoughts in person is still an incredibly powerful tool for building influence. That’s why the top marketing influencers all speak. Mitch Joel. Lee Odden. Sally Hogshead. Chris Brogan. Go to any popular marketing event this year, and I bet you’ll see at least one of those folks on the stage at some point.

Ultimately, becoming an influential figure in your field isn’t easy. It takes talent and (let’s face it) luck. You need strong ideas and a unique voice. But more than anything, it takes work. These are some of the ways the top marketing thought leaders got to where they are, at least in my eyes.

What else does it take to be a great influencer? Share your thoughts in the comments and let us know!

About the Author

Brendan Cournoyer

Brendan Cournoyer is the VP of Corporate Marketing at Brainshark, a business presentation solution provider that enables companies to improve productivity for sales, marketing and training. For more musings on the world of content marketing, SEO, and more, follow Brendan on Twitter @brencournoyer.

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