The Cambridge dictionary defines ‘influence’ as the power to have an effect on people.
Let’s face it, we’re all trying to influence an outcome of sorts.
Businesses want to influence buyer behaviour either directly or indirectly, with the ultimate goal of selling more products and services.
Cause-based nonprofits want to influence public opinion (and sometimes, a broader public agenda). However, often their more immediate goal is to raise enough funds, whether through grants or donations, in order to keep the doors open and the dream alive.
With some nonprofits – community or publicly-funded bodies that provide education around a particular disease or health issue, for instance – the objective is to influence people’s behaviour.
For example, Australia’s R U OK? organisation has a mission to “inspire and empower everyone to meaningfully connect with people around them and support anyone struggling with life”. The organisation’s call to action? If you notice someone who might be struggling, start a conversation.
Politicians, of course, want to influence people’s perceptions of them as individuals and the party they represent.
A speaker/author wants to influence people to take action, whether that’s to buy a book, register for a webinar, share a blog post, subscribe to an email list or attend an event.
Over time, a strategic PR program can help an individual, company or organisation exert influence – in a good way of course! – over desired target audience communities, whether directly or through a third-party such as the media or independent influencers.
Critically, content can play a mighty hand in this regard.
Think about it. In all probability, a high-profile (visible) thought leader in the field of science will have a greater chance of securing funding for a major science-related project than a high school teacher.
A company that has spent years producing an annual research report on a particular industry topic will be better placed to influence opinion on said topic than an unknown company CEO who writes a letter on the same topic to their industry trade journal.
A business made up of subject matter experts (e.g. lawyers or consultants) who focus their efforts on creating content that educates an audience around their particular area of expertise will become more influential in the marketplace compared to their ‘invisible’ competitors who are not known by the public or the media for their knowledge and ideas.
With authority comes influence
Publishing high-quality relevant content can be a powerful way for an individual, company or organisation to build and maintain authority. And with authority comes influence.
Fast-growing nonprofit charity: water influences people to take action, whether that’s donating to their cause (bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries), sharing the charity: water story with their own personal networks, or volunteering to help the organisation.
Scott writes that NASA created materials that addressed reporters’ needs in press releases, bylined articles, background materials, and in sponsored media symposiums, television newsreels, and fully produced radio broadcasts complete with interviews and sound effects. That content output helped to feed a world hungry for information about America’s space efforts; and the world’s press outlets, clamouring for content to serve up to their audiences were more than receptive.
Why would NASA do this?
Because they’re dependant on the public purse. Their sphere of influence needs to be broad and ongoing, including not just members of the public and the media, but also stakeholders such as politicians and bureaucrats as well as the organisation’s own employees.
Growing influence through content
If your content is smart, relevant, insightful, cogent – you improve the chances of being heard above the din. If not, you’re back with the rest of the herd.
If becoming an influential public voice is important for your cause, issue or business, then a savvy owned media strategy, backed up with an authentic presence on social media, should be the centre of your communications world.