Influence is rapidly becoming the most important commodity in SEO and content marketing. As Google gets better at interpreting brand, authority and popularity signals, we’ll see sites that represent influential people and organizations dominate the SERPs more and more. Influence also helps our content assets get consumed at a higher rate, paving the way for increased conversions for our online businesses.
While driving home from a speaking engagement in MORCon 2014, I realized that a lot has changed in my life and career in the past 12 months. When I first spoke at a public digital marketing conference (MORCon 2013), I was a virtual unknown in the Philippine SEO community. Today, I’m the CEO of my own digital marketing agency and I was blessed to have been elected as the Vice-President of SEO Organization Philippines. It blows my mind how all of that happened in barely 365 days and it got me thinking what it took for me to get there.
Quick answer: building influence. Influence allowed me to build an audience even before I launched my blog. It allows me to generate business leads and it allows me to convert those leads more easily into paying customers. By no means does this mean that I’m some kind of SEO rockstar – because I certainly am not one. It only means that I’ve been able to put my name out there and I did just enough to earn the respect of the people in my niche.
If you’re wondering what I did to generate some influence in the past year, there’s really no big secret. I followed these 11 common sense steps en route to becoming relevant in real life. Here goes:
Mass Up on Knowledge
Influence emanates from the possession of qualities that people find desirable. In the case of the Philippine SEO industry, people gravitate towards personalities and companies who are perceived as being highly knowledgeable at what they do. The more authoritative the people perceive an entity to be, the easier it is for that entity to influence them.
I was fortunate to have had five years of SEO experience by the time I made my first public speaking appearance. The time allowed me to accumulate knowledge, insights and experiences that can help other people with their own challenges. This allowed me to send out implicit signals that I was worth paying attention to, allowing me to get my points across without a lot of resistance.
One of the things that people ask me a lot is how I got to a point where I know this much about SEO and general digital marketing. I usually start by telling them that my knowledge is decent but it pales in comparison to what the true experts of the game know. I also tell people I do a few things to stay sharp:
- I take my job seriously
- I read good information sources such as the Moz Blog, SEO by the Sea, Kaiserthesage, and Copyblogger.
- I converse a lot with other people whose knowledge I respect.
If you want to build up your influence in your niche, I suggest making sure that you can hold your own with the experts from a pure knowledge standpoint. You can get by with charm and eloquence for two minutes. After that, you better start spouting wisdom or people are going to notice and dismiss you as a poser.
Find Relevant Content Communities
Even before I started speaking in conferences, I did some pre-work by helping people get familiar with my name and giving them an idea of what I bring to the table. Months before MORCon 2013, I joined the SEO Organization Philippines Facebook group and started participating in the discussions. I found questions that I was comfortable answering and gave people honest-to-goodness advice.
Xight Interactive’ s COO JP Prieto told me once that he first came across my name when he was reading discussions in the group. He says he thought I gave some sensible answers and it made connecting with me later much easier. My participation in the discussions was later rewarded as a search for fresh speakers in MORCon 2013 took place. I was fortunate enough to be selected and to this day, I believe that getting involved in day-to-day discussions was a big factor in earning some recognition from fellow members and the organization’s leadership.
Build Your Own Content Platforms
Participating in discussions and appearing in conferences are helpful, activities in getting you noticed, but these two alone aren’t enough to take your influence to the next level. The thing about public forums like these is that you’ll always share the space with other people. There will always be other influencers who can steal your thunder and there can sometimes be detractors that will try to make you look bad. In order to get your target audience’s undivided attention, it’s a good idea to set up platforms where you can share your knowledge on your own terms.
Setting up your own website is the easiest way to do this. In your own blog, you will have full branding and editorial control. You choose the topics, you control your brand messaging and you moderate the flow of discussions. You can also use the site to grow your following on social media and to build a mailing list that can be leveraged for traffic and sales later on.
A site is great because it allows people to experience your thought leadership even when you’re asleep. You don’t have to be speaking or actively posting to influence people. You just need to create content regularly and let people come to consume it. GlenDemands serves exactly that purpose as far as I’m concerned.
Your site isn’t the only content platform where you can take center stage. Putting together your own event can work wonders for your brand and boost your influence in your niche. Last July, we put together the GDI SEO Training Camp in my hometown of San Fernando, Pampanga. At the time, I was only blogging for one month and my company was only a couple of months old. The event was originally planned to be a small training session for my team and a few people who wanted to join. We didn’t promote it and we made it an invitation-only affair. By the time that the big day came around, we had more than 70 attendees from all over the country (almost as many as in this year’s MORCon). I hosted the event and delivered a presentation, allowing me to build even more influence on the people who were there.
A lot of people back away from putting together events because they feel that it involves a lot of work. In the case of the GDI SEO Training Camp, that just wasn’t true. It took the efforts of just three people to book the venue, book a caterer and take care of small errands. Thinking about the tasks was more tiring than the actual work involved.
Identify Influencers in Your Niche
Similar to how PageRank flows from webpage to webpage via hyperlinks, influence can be transferred from person to person using a variety of signals. Mentions, references and votes of confidence from people in your industry can do wonders for your reputation and ability to influence. The more influential the people who give you citations are, the bigger the impact on your own influence.
Identifying influencers is the first step towards that goal, Be sure to keep an eye out for people who carry a high degree of authority in your niche. These are people who get other people to listen when they talk. Their opinions are valued and their insights carry weight in the community at large.
Don’t confuse popularity with authority. A person can be popular because he or she knows a lot of people, but those people may or may not have a high degree of respect for the popular person’s opinions. A true influencer has both a strong following and the influence to compel people to take action.
From the time I started being active in the Philippine SEO community up to now, I still look up to influencers like Benj, Arriola, Jason Acidre, Sam Nam, Gary Viray and Sean Si. These people command a lot of respect from their fellow marketers and it’s always good to get things like links, mentions and conversational references from them. Every time they do that, it adds a little bit to my standing as a practitioner in the industry.
Get Out of Your Office and Meet People
Here’s a little something about human nature: we like great content but we like it even better when it’s being delivered by a real person whom we can interact with. Having a site that showcases your knowledge is great, but it takes a long time for it to gain traction if nobody in your niche knows if the author is a real person or not.
In my experience, getting in front of other people accelerates the influence-building process. Going to conferences, attending trade shows and participating in meet-ups allows you to get in contact with like-minded people. More often than not, it’s easier to let them know what you’re about by socializing with them rather than promoting to them online. A simple handshake and a few minutes of sincere conversation gets much better results than even the most high-priced ads online.
Sharing your time with people in your community is a gift that is reciprocated by even greater rewards. Through socialization, I have earned leads, links, social media mentions and business partners. These things would never have been possible if I sat in my office all day and just created content like a machine. Influence has intellectual value at its core, but things get a lot easier when you add a human touch to the equation.
Influence the Influencers
As alluded to earlier, influencers can really accelerate the accumulation of your own influence through simple citations and positive mentions. Receiving good press from entities that people follow opens up new audiences to your brand and expands your ability to integrate them into your own following.
Granted, this is something that I haven’t been able to focus on for the past 12 months, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have my moments. As a matter of fact, I clearly remember which instances led to the growth of my stock as a marketer and those moments had a lot to do with influencers giving me a lift.
Those moments include:
- Sean Si recommending me as a MORCon 2013 speaker.
- Sam Nam (my former boss) introducing me to Jason Acidre.
- Jason inviting me to guest post on his blog about content strategies.
- Jason mentioning me or my blog posts here, here and here.
- Benj Arriola sharing my post about the ROI of SEO on social media
- Gary Viray, Grant Merriel, Jayson Bagio and Jason gracing my event as speakers along with other popular figures in the community.
These seem like a few simple things, but collectively, they gave me enough social proof to gain a little credibility in the local SEO scene. My immediate plans to build on this includes participating more on Moz, submitting a YouMoz post and getting into Search Engine Land as a contributor. If I pull that off, I believe I can enter a new level of influence within my industry.
Be Open to Speaking Opportunities
Speaking engagements involve more than just conferences. They can also happen in schools and within private companies. In the past 12 months, I was blessed to have been invited several times to speak and I have said no just once only because I was out of the country. Companies in my home province of Pampanga, a couple of universities and a couple of small NGOs invited me to deliver talks and I could not be happier to say yes.
I made it my personal policy not to charge for speaking gigs. Knowing that I shared something that people can use and gaining a little bit of influence in my niche are more than good enough rewards for efforts. Regardless of which industry you’re in, don’t miss out on opportunities to speak for crowds that want to know more about your field of expertise. Even if you do it at cost, the payoff is often exponential.
When my brand started getting more traction in the industry, I also began to get requests for interviews from my peers. Most of them wanted to know my take on hot topics within the world of SEO and I have always been happy to oblige.
It’s great to be interviewed for several reasons: first, being interviewed implies that you are somewhat of an authority in a certain subject matter. Second, it introduces you and your brand to the audience of the website conducting the interview. Third, it gives you valuable mentions and backlinks which are vital to off-page SEO.
My advice: make yourself available for interviews just like I did here, here and here. Just like speaking in an event, it’s an extender for your reach and it’s a sure-fire way to gain a little more influence.
Build Mutually Beneficial Alliances
If there’s anything we’ve learned as a specie in the past 10,000 years, it’s the fact that there is greater strength in numbers. Building alliances with people and organizations that share your same goals is a great influence booster especially if you’re just starting out. Within a social group, members can share ideas, opportunities and initiatives which can benefit more than one person. It also makes problem solving easier especially if a group’s members have a diverse array of skill sets.
After MORCon 2013, I was fortunate enough to be invited into some of Sam’s Drink Tank sessions where marketers he knew congregated and socialized. Even after Sam left the Philippines to go back to LA, the group continued meeting up to continue what we started. These days, I’m happy to call Xight Interactive, Digital Room Inc, Sytian Productions, Search Opt Media and other friends in the industry my allies. We are continuously expanding our circles and looking for more opportunities to develop our businesses with each other’s help.
Do Uncoventionally Cool Things
Each of us has a unique combination of skills, personalities and attitudes that distinguish us from the rest of our peers. How we are as people will ultimately reflect on what kind of personality our brands will have. The better our brands are received by people, the more influential we become over our target audiences.
Personally, I’m logical most of the time but I will do some irrational things once in a while just because I feel like it. That reflects on how I am as a marketer: I subscribe to most of the industry’s best practices but I will do some things that are not in the textbooks from time to time. I find this to be something that helps people gravitate more towards me and it’s a great way to separate my identity from the rest of the herd.
Giving away an SEO proposal template without opting people into a mailing list, using textless decks in my speaking engagements and writing about potentially controversial topics are things that most online marketers would rather stay away from. Nor me though: I like manifesting my own personality in how I do business to give it a style signature which tends to resonate well with the audience that I want to attract.
Be a Good Boss
You can’t be a true influencer if you can’t even get the people around you to follow and respect you. Having been a manager since 2008, I’ve learned a lot about handling people and getting them to work together harmoniously. I’ve been blessed to have good mentors like Jec Gonzales, Ben Francia, Sam and Martin Anastacio to model my style after. Their guidance allowed me to develop a managerial method that relies on the following principles:
- Establishing a culture of respect regardless of position and tenure in the organization
- Making learning and development the primary motivation for doing the job
- Teaching my subordinates everything I know and not holding anything back
- Paying them above average wages along with benefits that will improve the quality of their lives
- Showing them the bigger picture and helping them realize that work isn’t just a set of tasks that needs to be accomplished
One of the beauties of this model is that my relationships with my subordinates transcend workplaces. Most of them are still in active contact with me to this day and some of them still work with me in various projects. More importantly, they tend to become free and honest evangelists of how I am as a professional, giving me valuable social proof which adds to my ability to influence.
Okay, that was a mouthful. Again, the last thing I want to happen is for this post to be misconstrued as me proclaiming myself as a rockstar. I am a still relative nobody — just not as obscure as I was last year. These steps can be applied on practically any niche. After all, thought leadership is not bound by industries and job descriptions.