CHALLENGE – You need to motivate 100 people to take action online. You have boiled your strategy down to the following two options:

1. Identify 1,000 people to connect with individually in the hopes that 100 of these will take your desired course of action.

2. Identify 15 key issue influencers to help leverage your message to their networks.

Here’s a hint to help you decide – option 1 is going to be very time consuming while option 2 is going to save you time and be more impactful in the long run.

Influencers are of course a core component of any communications campaign. Though there is not a template process for building relationships with influencers, it is important to first understand that influencers command attention and drive action through a general process that goes something like this:

Influencer talks -> Network listens -> Network takes action -> Network’s networks listen, take action -> Multiply.

Done successfully, this word-of-mouth model can be incredibly powerful, hence its value to the PR/marketing world.

As part 1 of this series, it’s important that we first examine how one actually emerges as an influencer. In other words, what truly defines “influencer” status?

Does it take 25k Twitter followers? A Facebook page with 10k fans? A blog that averages 500 views and 30 comments per post?

Sure, numbers are a crucial component of overall reach but do not serve as the only  foundation of influence. Numbers aside, what is that key qualitative factor that makes someone a force to be reckoned with?


Any solid human relationship revolves around trust. Online, trust plays an even more important role in helping establish and build long-lasting personal relationships (if you doubt this in the slightest, give Chris Brogan’s Trust Agents a read). When you develop a reputation as a trustworthy person, things will begin to snowball on their own.

Case in point? Meet Jonny Imerman, founder of Imerman Angels, an amazing Chicago-based nonprofit that provides one-to-one cancer support for patients, survivors and caregivers.

Jonny Imerman

This man is an influencer. Does he have hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers or Facebook fans? Nope (though it’s only a matter of time as the organization scales to their current exponential growth). But ask a random selection of ten Chicagoans if they know Jonny and chances are pretty good at least one person will raise a hand.

Anyone who has a touch to the cancer community in Chicago knows that Jonny is the heart and soul behind Imerman that is endlessly working to bridge connections in an effort to help no patient fight cancer alone. In drilling a bit deeper, here are the top 3 qualities that make Jonny an influencer in the cancer community:

1) TRUST – Within 30 seconds of meeting Jonny (be it through his incredibly charasmatic emails/status updates or offline at the insane amount of events he attends), you feel as though you can reveal your deepest secrets to the man. He embodies that unique quality that makes you want to sit down and chat for hours.

2) CARE – Want to win people over? Fast? Be yourself, be personable and care what others have to say. Can we ever understate the importance of listening? Works the same offline and on. People want to be heard. The more we learn, the more likely someone is to lend their own ears back and the better we become at associating and communicating with one another. Few people lend an ear as well as Mr. Imerman and this extreme focus on listening is a quality that is universal across influencers.

3) CONNECTED – I’ve never met someone that networks as well as Jonny. And not in that awkward “random guy at the event, forced business card handoff” kind of way. Jonny endlessly connects with others who later help him connect and build the community of survivors, patients and caregivers for Imerman Angels. He pays attention to the details of everyone he meets and before walking away, he makes sure they hear the simple three-line core overview of what fuels his passion for life every day:

I’m a cancer survivor and I help connect cancer survivors with patients. No one should battle cancer alone and the mission of my organization is to make sure that doesn’t happen. If you know anyone who knows anyone battling or who has survived cancer, direct them our way.

Moreso, he remembers the details about YOU. I’m always impressed by people that are able to recall minor details about your family or interests over the long haul and it goes to show why the “care” factor is so important in becoming an influencer.

Done and done. This simple approach is why Imerman is growing like crazy and making more and more connections and pairings each day. It’s the reason Imerman has never once had to directly fundraise to support operations. It’s the reason that Imerman is so successful and making a HUGE impact on helping provide a crucial support network for cancer patients and caregivers.

So the next time you’re poking around trying to figure out what makes someone an influencer, make sure you’re taking all factors into consideration outside of those big shiny numbers online. The traits that define influence are going to differ based on your target community and it’s essential to first know what jibes well with who you’re trying to connect with before mapping out an outreach plan.

Next up later this week – Influence Part 2 – Where to Find Influencers…

Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. Scott,
    Thank you for being such an influential supporter of Imerman Angels all these years. Your guidance and expertise as a social media guru is a major reason for the organization’s outreach success. Much love from the Windy City!

  2. […] Read this article about the art of influence, featuring our own Jonny Imerman. […]

  3. […] My Photography ← The Art of Influence Part 1 – What Makes An Influencer? […]

  4. […] the first two parts of this series, we discussed what defines an influencer and also some nuts and bolts tactics around discovering […]


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