Wednesday, June 6, 2018

What I Learned About Influencers and Advocates By Being One

Step back in time with me: It’s December 1994, Boyz II Men is crooning “I'll Make Love to You” on the radio, Prodigy opens up the Internet to users of its online service, and a guy with a giant love for Disney decides it would be fun to create a web page. I launched a single-page called Lampwick’s Guide to Disney on the Web, never expecting doing so would turn into a five-year life-changing journey leading to a voluminous Disney fan site, a free trip to Disney World, and a new career in the nascent field of Internet marketing. I'd like to share three lessons that I learned from my experience as a Disney influencer and advocate.

My old Lampwick website

Lesson 1: Brands (Not Influencers) Must Prove Influencer Authenticity

When I launched my Disney fan site, I didn’t do it to become an “influencer” (a term no one used yet), but I did wish to become an “advocate” (in the original sense of the word—helping others—not in the way we think of it today in a world of billions of interconnected people who, some seem to think, exist to help brands raise awareness.) I wanted to share my love of Disney and help others to have their own great Disney experience. And therein was my first lesson about influencers and advocates—the best ones do it to help others, not to become famous or get free stuff.

Today, the “influencer” concept is such a part of our Internet-saturated culture that teens with a few dozen followers declare themselves influencers on Instagram, and it can seem there are more influencers on LinkedIn than there are influencees. While it might have been easy in the late 90s to spot early-adopting influencers on the embryonic World Wide Web or in Usenet groups, it is far more difficult in the era of purchased followers and #fakenews. That means the burden is on brands to use the tools at their disposal to find not just the loudest voices but the most authentic ones. Marketers have come to understand the largest followership does not necessarily mean the greatest influence, but recognizing the intent of influencer candidates requires more than just counting followers and looking for keywords.

Lesson 2: Commit to Building and Nurturing Influencer Relationships

As my Disney site grew, so did my visibility and influence. My site was included in Luckman’s World Wide Web Yellow Pages, an actual printed book of websites. (There was a time before search engines, you know!) And as my visibility grew, so did my interactions with the Disney Company.

Some of those experiences were quite exciting—like getting an early sneak peek at the plans for the Animal Kingdom park. But other exchanges with the company were frankly alarming. A Disney lawyer contacted me to accuse me of stealing IP (and was bemused to learn I was on his company’s PR mailing list). And one Disney “webmaster” (remember those?) reached out to inform me that the Walt Disney Company exerted copyright on any photos taken inside their resorts and, by the way, my site had hundreds of photos I’d snapped inside Disney World. He didn’t want me to take down my site—he just wanted me to understand my place. As a Disney fan and very active advocate, I found the discussion distressing, and it caused me to question my effort to maintain and grow my fan site.

To learn my second and third lessons, along with the long-term benefits of treating your advocates and influencers right, please continue reading this post on my Gartner blog.

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