My Personal Influencers

When we kicked off our Ant’s Eye View (re)branding project with Brains on Fire, they asked a very intriguing question. “Who are your mentors?”

I found myself realizing that the first three names that came to mind revealed more about my own personality than about theirs. (I also realized that all three names will probably make your eyes roll because they’re so “obvious”, but read on to see if you believe my reasons are, indeed, obvious) There are others I would consider more “true mentors” (I’m looking at you, Dad), but the guys below are people that have helped me to define the best approach to doing business. Interesting that two aren’t “business people” and one is an evangelism guru….more on this below.

Staff Guy Kawasaki
I have to admit right up front that anyone working in the social space is probably going to add Guy to their list of influencers. But there’s a reason: he’s had a profound impact on the work that we all do.

I started doing formal community building and fan relations work in 2000. At that time there were very few corporate entities who had engaged fans and even fewer people who’d ever documented the process. Guy already had a number of books on the subject. As I read through each one, I realized I was flagging every other page as an answer to a question I had about my daily tasks.

When I decided that I wanted to meet Guy in person, I dropped him an email offering to buy him lunch when I was in his neighborhood next. 12 hours later I had an email from Guy agreeing to meet up. (Well, he wanted to meet for hockey playing, which I’m horrible at, so lunch was reached as a compromise)

What struck me about Guy was how similar his online voice and his physical voice were. There wasn’t any “online persona” here… Guy was Guy. I doubled my efforts after meeting him to improve my writing skills online to better reflect my own personality.

But what I learned the most from Guy, through his books, speaking gigs, and conversations, is that to be truly good at community relations, you roll up your sleeves and get invested. Be part of the company team, be part of the community team, be part of all the working elements. “That’s not my job” is a stupid and harmful thing to say.

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Barack Obama
So much has been (and will be) written about Barack Obama and his 2008 campaign, but it will always take on a personal meaning for me. In 2008, we saw the power of social engagement (not just social media) drive a true, fundamental change in the dynamics of our society. We saw how excited a citizenry can get when motivated not by fear but by inspiration.

Obama validated and expanded our industry, making it a reality to believe that these social things we’ve all been talking about might actually be able to impact the world outside our bubble. I’ve always thought of Obama the candidate less as a figurehead and more as a community manager. He engaged all groups around him, excited them towards a shared cause, then dealt with the details and personnel managment to actually get there.

Besides, who can here this and not think “social media thinking has reached the highest office in the land”?

If one voice can change a room,
then it can change a city.
If it can change a city,
then it can change a state.
If it can change a state,
then it can change a nation.
If it can change a nation,
then it can change the world.   

I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Barack Obama during the primaries and was incredibly impressed with his warmth and focus. Even when he was steeped in media attention, he still made me feel like I was important to him. Shortly after that meeting, while wondering if my read on him was more than simply “good politician”, I found a picture in Newsweek that made me believe it was something more. Shortly after my meeting with him, this photo showed him walking down the hall of a hotel, pulling his own suitcase. There are clearly others around him, but he was humble enough to pull his own bag.
It was a reminder that there is power in humility.
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Bono
I’ve been a U2 fan for literally as long as I can remember. I have ever album, ever single B-side, and nearly every bootleg that I can get my hands on. I love the band and I love that they continue to work on expanding their sound without completely departing from it. (The “All that you can’t leave behind” album is, in my opinion, one of the best albums ever produced)

Whatever you think about the band’s music, you can’t deny their fame and star power. Bono is arguably one of the biggest stars on the planet. And he uses that power to affect change in ways only he can.

In 2005, Bono was featured on the cover of Time magazine with Bill and Melinda Gates. The article highlighted something that has stuck with me for years: Bono knows his issues forwards and backwards, but uses his star power to get the right people talking to each other and then gets the hell out of the way to let them work.

Bono grasps that politicians don’t much like being yelled at by activists who tell them no matter what they do, it’s not enough. Bono knows it’s never enough, but he also knows how to say so in a way that doesn’t leave his audience feeling helpless. He invites everyone into the game, in a way that makes them think they are missing something if they hold back.

It would be easy to chalk up Bono as an activist rock star, uninterested in working with anyone who’s not a flaming liberal and woefully short on facts about the issues he’s ranting about. But there’s nothing further from the truth. He’s given an incredible speech at a George Bush prayer breakfast, is a staunch Catholic, and can argue African issues with just about anyone on the planet.

Through a deadly combination of study, knowledge, passion, and charisma, he’s able to drive forward his causes and build armies of supporters for them. Sounds like the perfect set of attributes for a world class community manager, doesn’t it?