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By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growthSocial media influence; the harsh reality is that you either have it or you don’t. I’m going to tell you the cold hard truth about social media…what you need to know that most people won’t tell you. While anyone can have a social media presence, not everyone possesses social media influence. It’s clear to those in the know that social media is a universe of the haves and have nots. It’s the difference between relevance and irrelevance, visibility and anonymity. You might have something to say, but without influence, nobody will be listening. Put simply, having a social media presence without influence is little more than an exercise in frivolity. In today’s post I’ll share some thoughts on the importance of social media influence in the building of personal and corporate brand equity.  The amount of influence, or lack thereof matters in all areas of life, and social media is no different. That said, before we go any further I think it’s important to address social media critics and the naysayers by answering the questions: Does social media work? Is social media right for business? Can you generate an increase in revenue and brand equity with social media? How does social media compare with other mediums? Watch the video below and judge for yourself:[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypmfs3z8esI&hl=en_US&fs=1&]Okay, it should be clear after watching the Socialnomics video that social media can produce huge ROI, but only if you know what you’re doing. The one thing that each of the personal and corporate brands profiled in the video all had in common is that they leveraged social media influence to accomplish their objectives. If you choose to dive into the social media world without a strategy, without understanding how to create social media influence, you will not be pleased with your results. Like anything in life, if you’re going to do something, you’re better off to do it right or not to do it at all.There’s nary a week that passes where I don’t have a conversation with somebody who proudly proclaims that they created a Twitter page, to which I usually respond; “that’s great, but why?” Don’t get me wrong, recognizing the value of participating in the most powerful medium on the planet by getting in the game is a good thing, but it’s an even better thing when coupled with a plan. Let me say this as clearly as I can…a ready, fire, aim approach will rarely find the target.For all you well intended ad agencies, consultants, marketing managers, brand managers, entrepreneurs, and professionals ready to dip your toe, or your clients toe in the water that is social media, keep in mind that it does no good whatsoever to have a blog that only has one published post in the last 6 months, a Twitter page with 4 followers, a LinkedIn profile with 18 connections, a Facebook account with 7 friends, etc. It’s like flashing a neon sign that says I’m irrelevant and nobody cares. It won’t do anything to help you, it will only hurt you. In today’s world no one wants to do business with a company that’s not connected, has no influence, isn’t engaged, and that doesn’t get it.While having little or no online following can easily brand you as being without influence, having legions of followers solely for the sake of amassing large numbers doesn’t necessarily mean you have any real influence either. Anybody can amass tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of followers just by following as many people as they can and waiting for them to reciprocate. The important thing to understand is whether or not anything of substance or value underpins the numbers? Think about it for a moment…almost nothing can hurt a brand faster than constantly messaging irrelevance to a large constituency. Not a good move… Who you choose to follow on Twitter, which blogs you read and comment on, who you add as a friend to your Facebook account, or which invitations you accept on LinkedIn speaks volumes about what you’re attempting to accomplish online. Like most things, building and maintaining your social media footprint should be engineered by design, but the truth is that most people allow it to be constructed by default. In a perfect world you would build relationships with the largest possible universe of targeted constituents where you can productively engage and contribute.  Just as you don’t want to add to the noise, nor do you want to remain part of the silence. Having a relevant, highly engaged social media following means you have influence and can create action.So, how do you start to build social media influence? The best way is to start off on the right foot by not tainting your brand or reputation.  Don’t begin by trying to sell something, but rather by listening, engaging in conversations, building trust, and adding value. Contribute knowledge and information to the constituencies that you want to build influence with. Become a part of them as opposed to a vendor to them…This is a difficult concept for old-school marketers to get their arms around, but a critical one nonetheless. I would strongly suggest reading two previous posts: “Shut-up and Listen” and “ Stop Selling and Add Value“ as support for these positions.  Following are a few tips to help you build influence online:

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