A brand's influence and following are terms mentioned often, and sometimes interchangeably. Yet, there is a distinct difference between the two.
In a nutshell, a following is simply the number of likes or followers a brand has, something that may or may not result in an action. Influence on the other hand can shape behaviour and lead to active engagement with a brand.
So how do you create influence?
Strong relationships, a non-negotiable
John Hall, CEO of Influence and Co, identifies the fostering of relationships as the non plus ultra of building influence. According to him, the number of followers a particular endorser or a brand itself shouldn't be the main concern for communication specialists.
Instead, garnering the right kind of engagement and support – in form of organic reach – is always superior compared to paid likes. Building a network with entities that are aligned with the brand's goals, values and target audience – and forming solid, trusting relationships – should therefore take priority over quick-fixes focusing on impressive-looking numbers.
Hall further points to the fact that quality will and should always trump quantity for long-term success. Adding to this, Victoria Harres from PR Newswire suggests focusing more on consumer and public relationships as technology enables a direct line of communication.
The personable nature of creating and maintaining relationships with both the media and end-audience through company blogs, social media and the like emphasise the growing opportunities company's have to actively shape the perception and influence they have among the public.
Despite increasing variety in communication channels, Harres warns to keep the ever-important foundation of good relationship building. Respect for the audience and its needs should be at the core of any influence-building strategy, as communicating for the sake of it will ultimately do more damage than good.
How to leverage insights for success
While a large number of followers or likes on social media is no longer indicative of successful relationships with different audiences, the rise of technology has opened up new avenues to understand and communicate the key publics. The capacities of Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, Twitter for business and so forth keep expanding, therefore improving accessible knowledge for communication specialists.
A well-rounded practitioner will know how to adapt communication strategies based on such insights to differentiate between active and passive engagement. This in turn will enable more effective use of particular communication channels and approaches based on tangible information.
A brand's success isn't determined by its number of followers on media, but on the actual influence it as regarding engagement from the target publics.