paddle crew

Andre Niemeyer (second from left) and the paddle board crew.

There has been a lot of talk about finding powerful word of mouth influencers who can help your business. But once we have identified these influencers, what do we do about it?

Today, I’m going to dazzle you with three examples of people who are setting an awesome example in this area. But first, let me set the stage with a little diatribe about how almost everybody is doing it wrong.

For some businesses, I have been designated as an “influencer.”  Tragically, none of these businesses sell beer, cars, or bacon, but that’s another story.

As an influencer, I am deluged with offers from urgent strangers through email and Twitter every day.  If this is your business strategy, here is the probability that I will connect with you and help you: zero. In fact, I won’t even open the email.

On the flip side, I will go out of my way to help friends who make an authentic attempt to relate to me as a person and build a relationship. It seems so simple, but 99% of the businesses out there are doing it wrong.

Here are three success stories that I hope will resonate with the thousands of companies out there trying to jump on the influencer bandwagon!

Mining the halls

Last year, a fellow literally came sprinting down a hallway at a conference where I was speaking. “I just wanted to meet you and say hello. I am a big fan of your blog," he said.

We had a pleasant conversation and when he learned that I was visiting Europe soon, he invited me to have dinner with him in his hometown of Dublin. Which I did!

The dinner led to a tweet-up, the tweet-up led to significant new business opportunities, and the new opportunities led to new customers. For the fellow, I provided a free speaking engagement for him in Ireland, invited him to guest post on my blog, and he secured a coveted speaking slot at Social Slam a few weeks ago — his very first speaking opportunity in America.

Social Slam panel with Dino Dogan, Dawn DeVirgilio, Jennifer Kane and Ian Cleary in his American speaking debut.

Social Slam panel with Dino Dogan, Dawn DeVirgilio, Jennifer Kane and Ian Cleary in his American speaking debut.

You may recognize the now familiar name of Ian Cleary as the person I’m discussing.  But this was no isolated or random incident. Ian is a master of converting online relationships into powerful business benefits.

At the recent Social Media Marketing World event, I ran into Ian and asked him how many sessions he had attended and he said “none.” At first I was surprised.

“I’ve been in the hallways,” he said. “That’s where the conversations and relationships are taking place.”

Ian was working hard to turn the weak links of social media into the strong ties that convert into business opportunity. His personal brand is growing quickly through the effort he is putting into his new friendships.

“If there’s someone I really want to form a relationship with, I focus on how I can help them,” he said. “Everybody is looking for ways to use the influencers but if you can turn this around and truly help them, that makes it much easier to build a relationship!”

Paddling his way to community engagement

One of the brightest and friendliest of my new connections is an entrepreneur named Andre Niemeyer.  Andre, who has been a member of the {grow} community for a couple years, immigrated from Brazil as a college student and has successfully carved  a niche for himself in the hyper-competitive digital marketing space in southern California.

andre niemeyerHe is talented of course, but I believe he stands out in his market through a heart that is authentically kind.

Before the San Diego Social Media Marketing World Conference, Andre put out a Facebook and LinkedIn message to all attendees: “If you’re coming in a day early, I would love to teach you how to paddle board. Would you like to try this with me?”

“They didn’t have to provide anything,” he said. “I had all the boards and paddles. Seven people turned out. We had a great time paddle boarding, which led to dinner and meaningful discussions. Although there were 1,000 people at the conference, every time we saw each other a smile came to my face and we would talk about the ‘paddle meeting.’ At a conference that large, social transactions often ring hollow. That paddle board group changed that for me and, I believe, the rest of the crew.

“Several members of the group described the activity as the highlight of their trip. I couldn’t be more humbled by that, since my purpose was to show some San Diego hospitality and offer an opportunity for more meaningful community building.”

Andre is authentically helpful and in a noisy world, people are attracted to that above anything, I think.

Awareness through conversation

While I was in California, I was invited to an “influencer dinner” at a well-known steakhouse sponsored by the company Sprinklr.  I was skeptical of being cornered into some kind of sales pitch but decided to attend because frankly, I like steak. Also, I like Jay Baer and I saw that he was attending so I thought, What the heck?  I perceived real potential value in the two hours of time this would take and decided to check it out.

New friends Liz Philips and Paola Elizaga at Sprinklr influencer event

New friends Liz Philips and Paola Elizaga at Sprinklr influencer event

It turned out to be a very valuable event. I had an amazing conversation with Intel’s Ekaterina Walter, became friends with Paolo Elizaga of P&G, and got to tap into the mighty brain of Lee Odden.

There was no sales pitch from Sprinklr. However, this was a very effective influencer event because relationships with companies are formed through interactions over time. I got to meet the folks from the company and I have a positive feeling about the nice environment they created for a group of social media thought leaders. So now, this company is on my radar screen.

Am I willing to open an email from them? Yes. And that is a big step forward, right?

The networking expert. Not.

Making personal connections that result in business benefits is a nuanced art. Here’s an example of influencer marketing that backfired.

While I was attending the conference in San Diego, I received a hand-written note under my door with some chocolates. The author of the note expressed a desire to meet me at the event.

I had no idea who this person was — had never even heard his name before. I felt a little creeped out that a strange man had found my hotel room number and was sending me candy under the door.

It turns out that this fellow was a professional “networking expert.”

He eventually cornered me and asked if I could do a video interview for his site. I was happy to oblige but it became apparent that this fellow really knew nothing about me, nothing about my books, nothing about my business, and could not even put together a meaningful question to ask me. My perception is that the video was a ruse — like the candy — to provide some nominal value that would make me feel like I needed to reciprocate.  Sure enough, when the “interview” was over, he wanted to talk about “next steps.”  I left feeling disappointed and used.

The difference

Do you see a pattern in the successful interactions?

1) The social web is an amazing opportunity to create small interactions that lead to larger engagements — meaningful relationships and business opportunity.

2) Turning online connections to offline relationships transforms weak links into strong bonds.

3) Offer true helpfulness and real value. Actionable relationships are earned, not bought. We’re not idiots. We know when we’re being used.

4) At the end of the day, we do business with people who we know and trust, not somebody who is trying to game us. Trust is paramount and needs to be at the foundation of your social networking strategy.

I believe social media (and specifically Twitter) is personal networking on steroids. But the basics remain the same. You still have to earn attention and trust to turn a weak link into a powerful one.

What do you think? How are you networking on the social web? Please add to the conversation!