Harnessing Influencers: Best Practices
Introduction: Assumptions Regarding Engaging Influencers Must Be Revisited
The election of President Donald J. Trump and the success of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) suggest a seismic shift in the U.S. political system. Long-standing assumptions regarding political norms and stability must be revisited with new analytical approaches, especially in identifying and engaging the ascendant influencers poised to shape policy outcomes. Baron Public Affairs, LLC (Baron) has developed Influencer Analytics to address this challenge.
The Problem: Assessing True Influencers
Assessments of political influence underpin most public affairs activities, yet those seeking to marshal the support of respected voices outside of government struggle to identify the influencers with the standing to move a debate in a favorable direction. In seeking to prevail in the policy arena by enlisting those third parties, corporations, trade associations, and other organizations confront the following dilemmas:
Determining genuine influencers: Advocacy campaigns often engage the highest-profile, rather than the deepest, influencers. When recruiting third-party validators, public affairs specialists frequently rely on anecdotal information, or reputation without any foundation in either metrics or disciplined qualitative research. These common oversights drive spending to presumed influencers as typically determined by name recognition rather than true influencers as determined by credibility with relevant decision makers.
Managing the limitations and risks of lobbying: Direct meetings between interested parties and government officials present challenges. First, interests petitioning for redress of grievances have limited opportunities to interact substantively with key policy makers. Second, even national policy debates of critical importance might not be obviously relevant to the parochial priorities of government leaders, especially Members of Congress. Third, companies and other interests rarely operate from a position of such strength that direct pressure likely will prove effective. Fourth, most for-hire interlocutors depend on friendly relations with regulators and, therefore, often prematurely offer concessions rather than engage in contentious negotiations.
Succeeding in indirect advocacy: Information delivered to decision makers through public relations, policy research, and grasstops activity necessarily involve transmission mechanisms. The inherent inefficiency of such approaches makes accurately assessing the standing of influencers particularly crucial. For example, research and modeling to support the benefits of a given reform might require hundreds of thousands of dollars in total costs and months of effort. Such investment might be rendered largely pointless if the economists selected for the work do not enjoy the respect of the key policy makers.
Adjusting to changes in the political landscape: Even when initially accurate, assessments of influence rarely occur with the frequency needed to account for fluctuations. Moreover, Washington, D.C. insiders understand that maintaining a reputation as influential yields benefits regardless of the level of actual influence. Consumers of advocacy services understandably struggle with this dynamic in the absence of a reliable methodology. The result: resources flow to Washington, D.C. insiders savvy at marketing the appearance of influence even as their position has deteriorated significantly.
The Solution: Influencer Analytics
Baron has designed Influencer Analytics based on tens of thousands of citations from decision makers. This system combines the best of quantitative research and qualitative analysis to score the influence of external parties and refine the data into actionable insights.
- Assembling a database of tens of thousands of citations made by decision makers;
- Scoring external parties’ influence on decision makers using custom-developed analytical methods; and
- Exploring the reasons for, characteristics of, and lessons to be learned from observed patterns of influence.
The result: Companies, trade associations, public relations firms, and other organizations have the ability to enhance campaigns with greater reach, depth, scale, and agility. Influencer Analytics equips those engaged in the public policy arena to:
- Understand any group of senior decision makers: A comprehensive and vast array of citations by decision makers can be gathered regardless of party, ideology, or policy area. This methodology offers a reliable baseline applicable to essentially any public affairs scenario.
- Reveal authentic influencers: The citation-based methodology identifies true influencers. Moreover, Influencer Analytics also can identify the influencers of these influencers – “second-degree influence” – to unearth the originators and most important disseminators of ideas. Data of such depth enables public affairs specialists to optimize for both effectiveness and cost.
- Detect shifts and adjust: The volatility that increasingly defines the political environment requires sensing and applying important changes in influencer trends. Success in this task creates a powerful competitive advantage, especially in intense policy debates involving sophisticated and well-funded interests.
Conclusion: Know Whom and How to Influence
The American political establishment has been deposed. Economic nationalists on the Right and social justice progressives on the Left now exert unprecedented influence on policy outcomes. This fundamental shift disrupts a policy-making apparatus that had dominated for a quarter century. Influencer Analytics provides a crucial window into this new political landscape.