Can social media teach the professions how to influence?
Take a working definition of a social media influencer - someone who has a following they are capable of inspiring because of their status or knowledge. Now compare this with the ambitions of three randomly selected professional bodies:
“An independent voice that uses the expert knowledge of our members to influence government policy.” (ICE)
“A recognised and influential role in science and society.” (Royal Society of Chemistry)
“A powerful voice for our profession.” (IIA)
While the tools and tactics of modern social media may be relatively new, the ambition to influence has always been a core part of what it is to be a professional body.
Over recent years many of these organisations have put time and energy into thinking about how to use social media to get better traction with their stakeholders. And with good reason. The ability to reach deep into the silent majority of your membership. Realtime feedback on the direction of your strategy. A significant reduction in overhead typically starting with print distribution. The possibility of a two-way conversation. Data, and therefore measurable KPIs.
Nor do you need to employ expensive consultants to deliver a message and understand how it lands. A simple Google search will equip most organisations with the tactics and technology to reach their stakeholders and reap these benefits.
No amount of social media savvy, paid for or otherwise, will count for much if what underpins this activity is not purposeful, relevant and inspiring. It is not just enough to understand how to use technology in order to influence. You need to have something to say.
That requires searing honesty about what you are actually able to contribute. It may well be that you are better placed than your competitors to offer sectoral insight. That does not mean you can opine on blockchain or management theory and assume your stakeholders will attach the same importance to your views as they would the Mckinsey Global Institute or the Harvard Business Review (both of whom you are now competing with).
The ability to tap into the views of your members is likely to be your strongest asset when it comes to being an influencer - provided you asking the right questions. Failing that a partnership strategy with a well-regarded think tank or business school could save time and overhead.
To influence also requires a clear understanding of the diverse needs of your stakeholdersand a degree of pragmatism about what they might find relevant. A recent professional body we worked with wanted to be a Davos for the built environment when many of its members were more interested in seminars on the latest treatments for dry rot. The solution was not an ‘either or’ but a recognition that both had their place.
Finally, it is worth remembering that to influence is a means to an end. The key question is what change do you want to bring about as a result of your influence? Some years ago, wehad a conversation with a technical strategy director whose ambition was to be known for his power to convene different audiences in a room. This was a useful trust building exercise that allowed for the sharing of views. What mattered however, was how the organisation then used the relationships it had been able to build to help shape the policy agenda.
The tools and tactics of modern stakeholder engagement are important to understand and use effectively, but they are not in themselves enough to effect the change you want to bring about. That requires leadership.
Here are some questions to consider:
- Is your social media strategy an end in itself or does it support your broader purpose as an organisation?
- Can you define this purpose in terms that are relevant and compelling to yourstakeholders?
- Is your thought leadership aligned with mission as an organisation?
- Is it credible? If not, what might it take to ensure that it becomes so?
- Is it relevant? If not, what can you do to make it so?
- How can you leverage your brand into new and interesting places through smart partnerships with third parties better placed to provide you with a seat at the table?
- What can you offer them in return?