In the modern world, people are confronted with more information that they can process. Every communication channel is getting saturated. As a result, companies and organizations face an unprecedented challenge in trying to influence their audiences.
It is also increasingly difficult to identify who influences whom. The traditional distinctions between stakeholders, decision makers and consumers are no longer valid. Often, non-traditional actors have stronger leverage on decision-making than well-established institutional ones.
Why does this matter for influencing strategies?
Traditionally, influencing strategies were executed by lobbyists and public affairs professionals. The most important asset of a good lobbyist was his/her list of people on speed dial in their phone. Bluntly speaking, it was a business of trading relationships.
But now, decision-making processes are influenced by a multitude of actors, so it is impossible to know “everyone that matters” in any given subject. In fact, effective influencing strategies now have to start with identification of those who can actually impact decision making. And effective identification requires looking at both prominence and relevance of an individual. While prominence comes from personality and level of activity, relevance is still rooted in a social capital (i.e. position).
Influencing the influencers
Once you understand who is influential, and how influential they are, the next step is to understand where these actors “are” in terms of their knowledge, opinions and beliefs. Using big data cleverly, and combining it with opinion research, can help facilitate this task. It helps also to identify those whose opinions are so strong that they are unlikely to change, even through a concerted advocacy effort.
This understanding provides the basis you need for the development of an advocacy strategy. Effective advocacy strategies are integrated – they require a 360° view of communications channels, starting with personal meetings and ending with social media. It is absolutely not enough just to speak with people any more. Changing minds means a broader effort. Even if there is strategic decision not to use digital channels in campaigning, these channels cannot be ignored.
In the execution of an advocacy strategy, one has to think about the “campaign approach”. Indeed, advocacy is a permanent campaign. Both words – advocacy and campaign – bring to mind thoughts of grassroots campaigns and activism, but there is so much more to both.
The campaign approach provides clear benefits: structure, cross-channel focus, creativity, edge and unwavering movement towards the desired outcome. This last is so important, as the clear and correct definition of the desired outcome (the “so what” of the campaign) will determine the success of your efforts.
This broader and more inclusive approach to influencing strategies recognises the complexity of the international environment, providing clear benefits. Organisations who take this approach can build direct relationships with those who matter to them. The question of which individual owns the relationship becomes irrelevant, as relationship owns relationship.
In this way, organisations can move from the business of selling relationships into the business of constructing sustainable relationships. The process might be longer, but the benefits are far stronger.