How Not to Make Friends and Influence People

Meghan Gardner

Recently, I delivered a short presentation on influencer marketing: tips and strategies for cultivating relationships with YouTubers, bloggers, and others who influence customers to buy into a brand.

What I took away from the experience was that influencing the people right next to you may be even harder than trying to capture the attention of someone with 500,000 followers. Here’s what happened.

I arrived early to a large room filled with light and strategically placed chairs for sipping coffee and sharing ideas. After about 20 minutes of chat and caffeine, the presentations began. I was second on deck, following a presentation on infographics that included, well, a lot of infographics. My presentation did not, and that’s for two very good reasons:

  1. As I admitted during the session: I am really bad at graphic design.
  2. More importantly, I like presenting with minimal information on a slide—I like to think of them as cue cards for both me and the audience.

I had two people contact me after the event. The first sent me a direct email explaining her current role, her career objectives, and a request to have a cup of coffee if I’d be willing to have an informational interview as she looked to enter the marketing field.

The second sent me a LinkedIn message whose subject line was misspelled (it happens) and who was complimentary about my presentation (thanks, man!). He then went on to tell me my presentation’s visual elements were terrible and that he thought he might help, in exchange for me helping him find a job.

It’s probably obvious which invitation I accepted. But the point here is not that I didn’t like this guy calling out my lack of design acumen. The point is, he didn’t engage with me, a potential influencer in his network, in a way that would enable him to get what he wanted and build his brand. He ignored the fact that I had already owned my preso’s lack of visual panache (see: admission in item #`1 above), and didn’t consider that I may have gotten the OK from the people who actually know about this stuff: my own creative team (I did, honest).

Finally, this contact didn’t bother to research our website before he reached out to me. If he had, he would have seen that we have a complete in-house creative department whose talent is off the charts—and who may have had a thing or two to do with the “design” of my preso.

Appreciating art may be subjective, but criticizing commercial art requires context. Our team strives to be ruthlessly honest about our own work, and open minded about others’, so that we can create work for our clients that is truly, objectively, great. That’s not possible if we’re not open to always improving what we do.

If I were to reach out to a blogger to ask them whether whey would consider partnering with my client, I wouldn’t start with, “Hey, your blog stinks. Here’s how my client can fix that for you.” And when we try to win new business, we don’t go after the mistakes we think potential clients have been making. We go after the opportunities to which the market points.

Winning influence is hard enough—why assume you know more than the influencer you’re trying to persuade? Next time, that would-be LinkedIn contact might consider the following before trying to win a new influencer:

  1. Do your homework: Find out as much as you can about the person, their role, and their likely pain points.
  2. Ask, don’t tell: Rather than deciding you know better than they do, start by asking why they made the choices they did. (In this case, my choice was to have a sparsely decorated set of slides).
  3. Share something useful other than your own opinion: Offer a reference to a great book, clever article, good video, or other resource that will help drive home your point of view—and prompt discussion, not just a reaction.
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Meghan Gardner

Senior Vice President, Strategy

Strategy