What can professional influencers do for your organization? The answer seems obvious – influencers bring a fresh look at products, services, or ideas; they reach their target audience in a personalized way; their perspectives are often refreshing and distinctive, as each influencer works to position his or her personal brand.
But consider a slightly different angle. We use influencers to market to the outside world – to our current clients, our prospects, and our stakeholders. We entrust these thought-leaders with a piece of our image, we allow them to reveal and reflect on who and what we are.
But what if we brought that influencer mindset inside our organizations?
Across an incredible range of industries, from fashion to scientific innovation to financial services to tech, across the galaxy of social media, the top influencers communicate incredible enthusiasm, energy, and curiosity, wrapped around sometimes surprising content (I once found an influencer who explained how to get rid of the rings that halo lamps make on glasses).
This is why we follow these people: according to the wellknown “trust equation”, trust is built up through our experience of an influencer’s credibility, reliability, and capacity to build intimacy; conversely, it is diminished when an influencer gives the impression of acting essentially to pursue self-interest.
Now what does this mean for internal influencers, people inside our organizations who take up the role of internal promoters of processes, solutions, or strategies to their colleague in the organization? These profiles exist and some companies try to stimulate this mindset, notably by implementing in-housesocial networks, blogs, and related platforms. They bring a fresh, personalized, user-friendly perspective. Yet their “influencer” position is more ambiguous than an external influencer, whose independence is well established. They can’t be “appointed” and they already have their jobs to do. So what can organization development specialists learn from the “trust equation”(credibility, reliability, intimacy) to encourage effective emergence of inhouse influencers?
Credibility: Influencers are highly credible thanks to long experience and deep understanding of their fields. For “insiders”, this credibility is easy to read because the career paths along which these people travel are marked with familiar signposts: having worked in a certain business line, been involved in a key project, or even lived through a well-known crisis. Organizations can communicate on these features to support credibility that is aligned with internal codes and rituals.
Reliability: In 2022 our world has become so uncertain that “reliability” could seem out of date. We don’t trust traditional social media influencers because they are always right, but because they adapt fast – they see new trends or issues and offer us a sense of security by helping us make sense of them. Internally, influencers walk a fine line between simply echoing an official policy and breathing life into it through the strength of their own analysis and mindset. The reliability of these influencers can be encouraged through a clear offering (and clear influencer choices) about format, timing, and chosen scope.
“By stimulating all employees to think critically and share their knowledge and insights, whether they face clients or internal partners, your organization becomes a healthier, happier place to work.”
Intimacy: This may be the key reason why we trust influencers – and it unlocks the question of how we can stimulate an “influencer mindset” inside our organizations. We are touched by the way influencers create a sense of connection. They offer us a glimpse into their creative and intellectual process – not just what but how they think about the products, activities, or processes they are reviewing. They may incorporate personal touches – experiences, anecdotes – into what they reveal. This is precious: because we glimpse what happens behind the scenes, we feel we are capturing the real story.
Given the potential impact of inhouse influencers, how can organizations support their emergence? How to encourage employees who play this role locally to reach out to a broader audience? And how to manage the boundary with external influencing? There is the technical side: providing the platforms, authorizations and guidelines, and information that influencers need for this work. But beyond these means – the “what” of internal influencing –organizations need to demonstrate a clear intent about how they want to interact with their influencers. Intent is the special ingredient of trust identified by Stephen M.R. Covey (The Speed of Trust) that catalyzes the other factors discussed above. It playsthrough the agenda that the organization sets for its internal influencers – how independent they are, for instance. It provides an opportunity to embody certain values (if influencers operating within the company culture bear witness to those values, that is solid proof of their sincerity). Finally, intent comes alive through the way the organization behaves towards its inside influencers – the day-to-day experience of its influencers with their company’s processes, products, or activities.
Beyond benefits to the organization of building trust with employees by encouraging internal influencers, what does this mindset offer to employees? Influencers are employees who are clearly encouraged to bring their whole selves to work – one of the hallmarks of an inclusive culture. Inclusiveness enables us to make another connection with the influencer mindset: in a time of uncertainty, when organizations place a premium on collaboration, nobody can work in complete isolation. We are all influencers now, even if our scope is more modest than the followership of the professional influencers. By stimulating all employees to think critically and share their knowledge and insights, whether they face clients or internal partners, your organization becomes a healthier, happier place to work.