I’ve never really been one for titles or labels. Pejorative terms like geek or nerd never bothered me growing up. I never really quibbled over being called a technician or an engineer (or rock star). And when the time came to define what it was that I did in my spare time in front of a monitor and keyboard I just settled on blogger because that was the most specific term that described what I did. All that changed this year.
When I went to VMware Partner Exchange, I spent a lot of time hanging out with Amy Lewis (@CommsNinja) from Cisco. Part of this was due to my filming of an IPv6-focused episode of Engineers Unplugged. Afterwards, I spent a lot of time as a fly on the wall listening to conversations among the assembled folks. I saw how they interacted with each other. I took copious notes and tried to stay out of the way as much as possible. Not that Amy made that easy at all. She went out of her way to pull me out of the shadows and introduce me to people that mattered and made decisions on a much grander scale than I was used to. What struck me is not that she did that. What made me think was how she introduced me. Not as a nerd or an engineer or even as a blogger. She used a very specific word.
It took some time before the enormity of what Amy was doing sank in. Influencers are more than just a blog or a Facebook page or a Twitter handle. They take all of those things and wrap them into a package that is greater than the sum of its parts. They say things that other people listen to and consider. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense.
I think of influencers as people like Stephen Foskett (@SFoskett), Greg Ferro (@etherealmind), or Ivan Pepelnjak (@IOSHints). When those guys speak, people listen. When the publish a podcast or write a product review that turns heads. Every field has influencers. Wizened people that have been there and done just about everything. Those people then spend their time educating the greater whole to avoid making the same mistakes all over again or to help those with ability to find the vision needed to do great things. They don’t hold that knowledge to themselves and use it as capital to fight political battles or profit from those that don’t know any better. Being a blogger or technical person on the various social media outlets invovles a bit of give and take. It requires a selfless type of attitude. Too many analyst firms live by the maxim “Don’t give away the farm” when it comes to social media interaction. Those firms don’t want their people giving away advice that could be locked into a report and assigned a price. In my mind, true influencers are the exact opposite.
It struck me funny when Amy referred to me in the same way that thought of others in the industry. What had I done to earn that moniker? Who in their right mind would listen to me? I’m some kid with a keyboard and a WordPress account. However, the truth of things was a little beyond what I was initially thinking. It didn’t really hit me until my trip to Cisco Live.
Everyone is an influencer.
Influencers aren’t just luminaries in the industry. They aren’t the wise old owls that dispense advice like a fortune cookie. Instead, influencers are people that offer knowledge without reservation for the sole purpose of making the world better off than it was. You don’t have to have a blog or a Twitter handle to be an influencer. Those things just make it easy to identify the chatty types. To really be an influencer, you only need have the desire to speak up when someone asks a question that you have insight into. If two people are having a conversation about the “best” way to configure something, an influencer will share their opinion freely without reservation. It might not be much. A simple caution about a technology or an opinion about where the industry is headed. But the influence comes because those people take what you’ve said and incorporate it into their thinking.
I’ve been trying to champion people when it comes to writing and speaking out on social media. I want more bloggers and Tweeters and Facebookers. I’ve taken to collectively calling them influencers because of what that term really represents. I want more influencers in the world. I want intelligent people giving freely of themselves to advance the industry. I want to recognize them and tell others to listen what these people are saying. Sure, having a blog or a Twitter handle makes it easier to point them out. But I’m not above telling someone “Go talk to Bob. He knows a lot about what’s troubling you”.
It doesn’t take a lot to be an influencer. Helping someone decide between detergent at the grocery store makes you an influencer. What’s important is taking the next step to make it bigger and better. Make your opinions and analysis heard. Be public. Sure, you’re going to be wrong sometimes. But when you’re right people will start to listen. Not just people wanting to know the difference between Tide and Gain. People that have C-level titles. Product managers. People that want to know what the industry is thinking. When you see that something you’ve said or done has a a real impact on a tangible thing, like a website or a product look, you can rest easy at night knowing that you have influence.