Since I started my business, I’ve seen an interesting trend I’ve started to call “the fall of the influencers.” It’s what happens when online business people place certain major influencers on a pedestal, and then are ultimately disappointed when that person makes a bad call.
Some of these mistakes are minor, others are extremely harmful; some are one-time missteps, others are ongoing.
Either way, the pedestal starts to topple under the weight of outrage and frustration and hurt coming from that person’s audience.
Business owners can usually rebuild eventually, but the trust lost is hard to win back. Often, the impact is felt most deeply among the influencer’s most avid fans.
This last week has been especially intense on this front. MANY established and well-respected online business owners with large audiences have struggled to respond in a constructive way to the conversations that have come to the forefront after the murder of George Floyd, and the response has been swift.
As I seek to build an audience of my own, I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and it’s frightening. Am I ready to have my actions and words seen and evaluated by thousands of people? Do I have the tools I need to steward that responsibility well?
I know that moving into fear is an important part of entrepreneurship, so I’ll keep moving forward, but here are three things I’m learning that I hope will be helpful to you if you’re wrestling with the same things.
Having an audience is both a privilege and a responsibility
A lot of what we read about “building a list” or “gaining followers” makes no mention of the responsibility that comes with having others’ attention.
We talk about creating value, sure, and understanding what our ideal audience wants. That’s all great. But we don’t talk much about what happens when the chips are down. What happens when our audience is hurting? Angry? Exhausted? In crisis? How will we respond when something falls apart in the world?
What many influencers erroneously thought last week was that, because their business wasn’t about political or social issues, they could just keep talking about business and everyone would be fine with that.
They were wrong. Their audience demanded that they take a stand. Or at least pause their regularly scheduled programming and respond to those in their audience who were hurting.
It’s not enough to build your audience and not be prepared for the responsibility that comes with it. People are watching and listening. You can do so much good with that, but if you’re not careful, you can also do a lot of damage.
Seth Godin says it best:
“Marketers that fail are often impatient and selfish. Impatient, because they won’t invest in the long-term job of earning familiarity, permission and trust. And selfish, because they get hooked on the erroneous belief that merely because they have money, they have the right to demand attention. And selfish because they believe marketing is about them, not the person paying attention. We call it “paying attention” for a reason. It’s worth quite a bit, and ought to be cherished.”
A crisis plan isn’t optional
If you have an audience, you NEED a crisis plan. It might be as simple as a brief checklist to help you remember that when something happens, you need to pause and answer a few questions:
- Do you have pre-scheduled posts or emails that are now inappropriate or tone-deaf in light of what has happened?
- What is your audience experiencing right now?
- What does your audience need from you right now?
- What do you believe, and how can you share that with your audience?
- Is there some action you can take to be helpful?
Once you’ve done that, you can create clear communications to care for your audience. For things like this, moving quickly can be very important.
Another helpful tip: create an email template you can fill out if you receive a message from your audience with a critique. I’m not talking about trolls – no need to engage there – but about people in your audience who would like to draw your attention to something.
Responding quickly and wisely could mean that today’s critic could be even more connected and loyal to you tomorrow.
Your audience doesn’t expect perfection, but they won’t let you ignore your mistakes and hope they go away. We have to learn to lean in and have those painful conversations.
The line between business and anything else is very thin
I work in operations. That’s what I know, and what I’m good at. I’d love to just stay in my lane and talk about that all day long.
But social issues, political issues, and world events have a real impact on my audience. If I tried to spend the last few months completely ignoring the challenges of my clients as they walked through the coronavirus, I would be failing them.
I’m far from perfect on any of this. I’m grateful I don’t have a large audience, because it’s quite likely I would have made a major public mistake too. That’s why I’m processing what I’m learning here – in a way that I hope could help you too.
I’d love to hear about your experiences – have you been let down by an influencer you trusted? Do you feel ready to shoulder the responsibility of leading and being visible?