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.
charity: water uses content to help connect people to their cause. The organisation is a storytelling machine through a combination of the written word on its blog or Medium website, exquisite photography on Instagram, or video via YouTube.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) too has a finely-tuned culture of storytelling. It uses content to pique the public’s interest in space travel as well as take people behind the scenes that in turn helps build people’s connection with the agency.
NASA’s mission is to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research. Producing content that underpins this narrative influences the way we think about NASA and the role the agency plays in society, not just in the US but globally.
NASA has been at this content game a long time. While the content it produces today on its website and through social channels enables the space agency to communicate directly with the masses, in effect becoming it’s own media channel, it wasn’t always the case. Nearly 60 years ago, NASA produced editorial-style content to showcase the great work it was doing and in doing so influence how the media covered the agency.
“In a lengthy 1959 policy memo, Walter T. Bonney, the head of NASA’s nascent Public Information Office (PIO), laid out a vision for NASA’s content marketing approach to PR. “In practice, PIO staff work as reporters within the agency, seeking out newsworthy information from NASA technical personnel and processing it into a form useful to the press. The press uses this product of the PIO—the releases, the pictures—much as it uses the product of the wire services, with this important difference: It rewrites the product of the PIO and in the doing, makes the product its own.”
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.