Coming to Terms with Being an Influencer
#evolve Magazine
October 22, 2021

I just got this invite from a consulting group: Charles — want to be on our Feedback Panel of Infiuencers again?

The first time they extended this offer was truly an out-of-body experience. Me? An influencer?

Now don’t get me wrong. I have convinced people to hire me; I’ve closed deals; most of my friends take my book, film and dining recommendations seriously; I’ve cajoled women into dating me; and my steely logic has on occasion cooled the white-hot rage of my significant other. So, yes, I’ve made persuasive cases and changed minds, but not  at scale and certainly not on a systematic basis, which is what influencers do.

There are true influencers whose columns are widely read and shared. They’re often quoted and do TED talks, among other things that make people stop, listen and nod approvingly. There are also a veritable sea of so-called influencers who assume the trappings of influence but who are not impressive in any objective way. They may have amassed large social media followings, but a random stroll through their posts reveals an endless succession of mindless cliches and faux advice dressed up as “mic drop” insights.

It’s like being cornered by a loud, shapeless guitar solo that makes up in intensity what it lacks in artfulness. Frank Zappa described his solos as time decorated with his imagination; these are best described as time decorated by peeling wall- paper. Quantity (as in the number of followers) doesn’t change quality, but still, they get to posture and be viewed as bona fide influencers. How this came to be is a mystery, but great work if you can get it! 

So, you want to call me an influencer, sure, just tell me where and when and I will happily inflict my opinions on anyone who cares to listen or read. But now that I appear to be a bona fide influencer, I’m starting to wonder: are there things I need to do to remain an influencer, or continue to be invited to do things because they think I wield influence?

Since I’m not sure what I did to achieve influencer status in the first place, I’m completely at a loss. It’s not like I’ve crossed a threshold of social media followers, or been asked to join a TechCrunch Disrupt panel, or have any documentation to indicate that any of my columns or podcasts or Zoom calls changed a single mind.

I guess I can start figuring out what I need to do to amass a large social media following. But if that wasn’t a requirement in the first place, maybe I can skip that and just hope — expect, even — that my budding reputation as an influencer will organically grow my following.

Influencers are people who are taken seriously, which is really what makes my elevated status so curious, because it’s probably less because of my more “serious” business consulting work and more because of this not-entirely-serious column and our not-entirely-serious Work in Progress podcast (we speak seriously about pressing issues, but we also try — try — to be funny). If this is true, it means that the more unserious I am, the more seriously I’m taken. That would mean I’ve achieved what most influencers can only dream of: influence without account- ability. This I can do.

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