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In this season of Margins, we’re breaking down influence. It’s a topic that can seem enormously expansive — and enormously obnoxious. Just say the word “influencer” out loud, and you’ll see what I mean.
So I’m going to write about snowboarding instead.
During the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve done a lot of snowboarding. I bike to my local hill, hike up the bootpack, burn a whole bunch of calories, and shred my way down on my beloved Rossignol Sushi.
But where did that Sushi come from? In the 1960s, a man named Sherman Poppen strapped two of his daughter’s skis together and invented something he called the Snurfer. Essentially, it was a standup sled, designed to “surf” on snow. For most, it was a novelty Christmas gift that likely sat in the garage for years. But for a few people, it formed the basis of memories they’d never forget, and it developed a cult following — and inspired a few enterprising Snurfers to improve upon the design, adding features like bindings and steel edges to improve the riding experience.
The most famous Snurfer? Jake Burton Carpenter, whose company Burton is practically synonymous with snowboarding. Jake and his wife Donna grew Burton into the brand it is today and led the way in transforming snowboarding from a punk rock upstart banned from ski resorts to a sport that even John Kerry loves.
Now, would there be snowboarding without Jake? Yes. But not in the way that we know it. Jake did not invent snowboarding, but his combination of creativity, passion and business savvy grew it into a mainstream sport.
Last year, Jake passed away after a battle with cancer, and resorts around the country participated in “A Day for Jake,” offering free lift tickets to get people out riding. In 1985, none of these resorts would have let Jake and his snowboards in. Now, my grandma asks me what kind of snowboard I want for Christmas.
I’ll be honest. I had never thought about Jake much until his death. But his life is a testament of why influence is such a fascinating subject: a novelty winter toy inspired Jake to do something big, and here in 2020, that same influence made my quarantine afternoons a hell of a lot more fun than they could have been.
If that isn’t influence, I don’t know what is.
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What Does Influence Really Mean?
Art Markman is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, where he also serves as the director of the school’s IC² Institute. His most recent book is “Bring Your Brain to Work: Using Cognitive Science to Get a Job, Do it Well, and Advance Your Career.”
Mary Ellen turned to Art for some help in defining what exactly “influence” means. Art pointed out that the common definition of influence has to do with the power of people’s ideas — an idea so powerful, perhaps, it changes the world. But having an idea, Art explains, isn’t enough. Instead, at its core, influence is about something else: behavior. “If you look at the relationship between what people say they’re going to do and what they actually do, a lot of the most difficult and profound pieces of influence have to do with affecting people’s behavior, rather than affecting the way that they think about things or the way that they say things,” he explains. “So a lot of what we’re trying to do when we really want to have influence is to affect the way that people act.”
So how do you get people to change how they act? The answer is familiar to any marketer: appeal to the emotions. Emotions, Art explains, are simply how our mind interprets feelings. The key, he says, is to find a way to affect those interpretations. He gives a company switching over to a new software system as an example. People will likely be angry and frustrated at switching — and blame certain issues on the system itself. But if the person in charge tells people upfront that their issues are with the system are the result of changing their habits, then people will approach the change with a more open mind. In other words, it’s an emotional appeal — and one way to wield the power of influence.
“To my mind, influence and particularly its most difficult parts are really about trying to change somebody else’s behavior.”
You Don’t Have to Be the Life of the Party
Beverly Brooks Thompson is a fundraising consultant and managing director at Carter Global. In addition to her nonprofit work, she has also run for political office in Louisiana.
Beverly is a self-described extrovert, which begs the question: Do you have to be an extrovert to wield influence? What about the person who’s a bit shyer? Are they simply destined to never change anyone’s behaviors?
Not so fast, says Beverly. Every person has a different personality, she points out, and we all respond to different types of people as well. Honesty and integrity are just as important to cultivating influence.
But maybe it’s the idea of an influencer itself that has us tripped up. Beverly points out that the word has taken on a negative connotation in our social media-driven world. Instead, maybe we should call those people “attention-getters,” says Beverly. “I think we’ve really gotten away from the true context of what true influence is about,” she explains. “I think it comes down to the work and doing what you say you’re going to do.”
“I think we’ve gotten away from the word ‘influencer,’ in a negative way.”
People Featured in This Episode
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MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: From Managing Editor Magazine, this is Margins. If you’ve got “content” in your job description, we made this podcast for you. And this season of Margins, we’re exploring the concept of influence. Who has it, who wants it, and how we wield it at work and in our communities. I’m your host, Mary Ellen Slayter.
ELENA VALENTINE: And I’m your co-host, Elena Valentine.
The Big Idea
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: So Elena, like let’s talk about influence. It’s a weird word. What do you think when you hear that word? What does it mean to you?
ELENA VALENTINE: When I think about influence, I think about two sides of the spectrum. On one side, I t hink of your hoity-toity celebrities who are flaunting, you know, the latest slim fit juice. But on the opposite end, I think about influences in everyday thing. All we do is influence. And so whether it’s our spouses, our friends, our family, our coworkers, influence is part of what we do.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: Yeah. It’s like a pretty human thing, right? Like I think it’s hard to not be influenced and it becomes weird when you become aware of it. I think that’s one reason why the idea of an influencer being a job for someone feels so strange. Okay, let’s go ahead and be honest. You and I are both in the influence business already. We tell stories and we try to pray. We pray, we both pride ourselves on doing so authentically, you know, and with a sense of care. But fundamentally that is what we’re doing. We are trying to influence people’s behavior, whether it’s to apply for a job at a certain company, you know, to buy one software platform over another. Like, I mean is that not what we’re trying to do here?
ELENA VALENTINE: You’re right, it totally is. And so I guess for me, right when I think about the influence stories I’m creating, typically it’s an amalgamation of many folks together and collectively we’re creating a story. But I think where it gets weird is when someone themselves is the influencer. And I guess again, right, ever since we named it, it’s been awkward cause we’ve had influencers since millennia, right? Alexander the Great — pretty big influencer. Cleopatra — the ultimate Empress of influencers. But I think now in this world of social media, it’s been influencers that you wouldn’t expect. Like at this point we expect Kim Kardashian to be the influencer, but with social media and everyone having an opportunity to have this platform, to have that level of accessibility, you know, there’s been this narrative that anyone can be an in fluencer and I don’t think that’s true. And as a result, what we get is a lot of crap from a lot of people. And it’s now breaking down the trust of, you know, relationships and how people might make decisions as a result.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: Yeah. Because I think, you know, when you, some of these folks like these early influencer relationships, like they got these platforms because they were saying and doing interesting things, and so they got people’s attention. They got sort of an outsized level of followership compared to like what you would think, right? Most of us are, we’re all in our little influencer networks, but most of them are pretty balanced. You know, it’s like I influenced you, you influenced me. But I think that when we start to talk about these capital I influencers, then we’re talking about people that have a disproportionate level of like impact going out. And the moment that gets monetized, I think that’s when it gets weird because then you have to start questioning, “Well, there was this person who I trusted. I gave them my attention and I trusted their judgment and their taste. Can I still trust them if I know that they’re getting paid to say these things?” E
LENA VALENTINE: I was just about to say the same thing. It gets monetized. As soon as you are paying someone to influence, that’s when it gets weird. That’s when the intention becomes different. It’s one thing to say, “Hey, this is me just so you know. This is the mic I use. These are my headphones. I’ve been using these for years. I love this product.” Versus now someone is paying you to say you should use this product without necessarily even having had the experience to use it.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: Or like affiliate links. So one hand, I want people to be honest and disclose when they have these relationships. And I mean, one, the law requires it? Like the law requires that you disclose this, the Federal Trade Commission. But then you embed these affiliate links and it’s like, once I know that, once I see that it’s tagged that way, like I, why would I, I don’t know that I trust you quite the same any more, which isn’t quite fair because why would the transparency make me trust it less? That doesn’t seem fair.
ELENA VALENTINE: I think because people want to feel like they are having an authentic relationship and connection with you. So perfect example. Can I give an example?
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: Oh yes. Please, please.
ELENA VALENTINE: So Leslie Jordan from Chattanooga, Tennessee, who is, you know, a well- known actor on “Will and Grace” has had newfound fame in our sheltering in place for just creating most just hilarious, truthful, authentic videos on Instagram. He’s just blown up. He’s gone viral because he was funny. He was interactive, he was natural, right? You know, there was nothing about his production that was fancy. He’s just on his smartphone just having a laugh to himself and, and that’s what all of us are feeling. And he just expresses that and he’s made it very clear during the shelter-in-place. He’s like, I’m not here to make money, right? I’m not trying to, you know, monetize this right now, et cetera, et cetera. Like I just want to make people happy. I want to make people feel good. And it’s because of that. He’s built this following and it’s been only until recently he got really upset, um, on Facebook. You saw now a bunch of ads with folks who are now trying to make money off of his name. And he addressed this and he said, H ey folks, this is not something that I, um, have backed in. In fact, if anything right now, if I am going to produce a product as a result of my name, I’m going to give it to charities. And so it’s been like he, he leaned in to the fact that I’m not here to monetize. I’m here to make people happy. He’s built this audience super organically. Who knows what he’ll end up doing with that after the shelter in place. But it was so clear that part of the reason why he has the level of influence he has now is because of the level of transparency and authenticity that he’s brought to the table in a particular to say, I am not getting paid to say this. I am not getting paid to share this Jimmy Kimmel children’s storybook. Right. Like everything he’s done has been from himself, from his own, no other affiliates behind him telling him what he should do or say. And I loved it.
Interview 1: Art Markman
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: So what exactly is influence? Like, what does that word even mean? To get that answer, we turned to Art Markman, a professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.
ART MARKMAN: A lot of times we think about influence popularly primarily in terms of thinking about ideas that people have. But if you look at the relationship between what people say they’re going to do and what they actually do, a lot of the most difficult and profound pieces of influence have to do with affecting people’s behavior, rather than affecting the way that they think about things or the way that they say things. So to my mind, influence and particularly its most difficult parts are really about trying to change somebody else’s behavior.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: What do you mean when you say behavior? Like to a psychologist, what is behavior?
ART MARKMAN: Behavior is the stuff people do. Now, some of those behaviors are the way that we act on the world. That can be anything from the way that we talk to people, to the way that we manipulate things, or whether you exercise or not, or things like that. But behavior can also be thought patterns. We behave in part by having these patterns of that internal monologue that we go through. A lot of people who’ve gone through therapy, one of the things that they’re trying to do is to change thought patterns, particularly ones that might help to maintain anxiety or something like that. All of those are behaviors of different kinds. What I’m distinguishing that from is what people are willing to say. Because, let’s start with New Year’s Resolutions — people on New Year’s Day with full belief and desire will state, “This year, I am going to…” — whatever it is, quit smoking, get in shape, be nicer to people, have better work life-balance. And by the beginning of February, life has returned to the way that it was. So no matter what they said they wanted to do, the behavior didn’t change. We also know that people learn what other people want to hear. They will learn to say the right kinds of things. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re doing those things behind closed doors in their own lives. So a lot of what we’re trying to do when we really want to have influence is to affect the way that people act.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: I’m thinking like there’s influencing people’s thoughts, there’s influencing their behaviors; but what about influencing their emotions? Is that still influence or is that something else?
ART MARKMAN: Well, in order to answer that, we’ve got to think about what emotions are. Emotions are the interpretation of the feelings that you have, where those feelings emerge from the way that your motivational system is working. So when you are motivated and engaged to do something, so you have energy towards a particular goal that you’re trying to pursue, then your motivational system, because it’s buried way deep in the brain and doesn’t communicate particularly well with all the storytelling apparatus we have, communicates with the rest of our brain through feelings that it generates. Basically, when motivationally you’re doing well, you feel good. And when motivationally you’re doing poorly, you feel bad. The more engaged you are, the stronger that feeling is. So if you’re not that motivationally engaged, the feelings aren’t very strong. And if you’re deeply motivationally engaged, then your feelings are very strong. I can influence your emotions only if I can influence one of two things. I can either influence your motivation, which changes the depth and direction of the feeling. Or I can try to influence the interpretation of that feeling, which is what turns it into an emotion. Let me give you a quick example of that. Lots of times in organizations, if you think about change management, an organization will make some kind of change. Let’s say they bring in a new human resources system. Well, making a big change like that is uncomfortable for people. It disrupts a lot of people’s habits. So for six or eight weeks, even if the new system is perfect, it’s going to be uncomfortable to use it because none of your habits work anymore. What do you do? You decide this is really uncomfortable, I need to blame that on something, I’m going to blame it on the new system and therefore this new system sucks. So what could I do as somebody who’s trying to create better change management? I could come out up front and say, “For the next three months, using this system is going to feel really uncomfortable because I’m disrupting your habits. So for the next three months, if you feel uncomfortable it’s not because the system sucks, it’s because habit change sucks.” What I’m doing is affecting the interpretation of the feeling that you have in ways that change your… and therefore influence your appraisal of that feeling. Now you blame the discomfort on something else and hopefully if the new system doesn’t suck, then six to eight weeks in when you’ve gotten over the discomfort of all the habits you had to change, you think, “Well, this system isn’t so bad, but man did I hate having to switch from one thing to the next,” and then everybody goes home happy.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: As we record this, much of the world is adapting to the coronavirus pandemic. So, when we’re talking about influencing people in this crisis, how should we be thinking about the problem? Should we focus on about changing behavior, changing minds, or something else entirely?
ART MARKMAN: First of all, I’m a big believer that it’s okay to get people to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. So I think the first thing we want to do is to get people doing the right thing, and we want to attack that in as many ways as possible. One of the ways, of course, is to make it really hard to do the wrong thing. So by creating a lockdown, for example, by closing all non-essential businesses, you make it really hard for people to do dumb things because they can’t go to a bar and get really close to people. The bars aren’t open. So no matter what people were thinking about, you’ve protected them from themselves. One of the things you want to do is to just go right at the behavior. Now, the second thing you want to do is to try to help people to want to change. So there’s an old joke, right, that says, “How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?” The answer is only one, but the lightbulb has to want to change. The real trick is how do you get people to want to change? The way that you do that is by creating a sense of the gap between where people are right now and where they’d like to be in the future. So you have to really highlight for them how the current situation is unsatisfactory, and therefore they need to make a change in their behavior. Now, that’s been really difficult to do in the case of COVID-19 for many people because early on in any epidemic, it’s an exponential function. Very few people have it. It doesn’t appear to be an issue in your area. It’s deadly to about 1% of people. So 99 out of a hundred who get it aren’t going to die from it. So it makes it seem like we are overreacting. Unfortunately, by the time it’s clear we’re not overreacting, it’s too late. Lots of people have it, lots of people are going to get sick and die, and you’ve radically increased the likelihood that you yourself are going to get exposed to it. So the difficulty is how do you create a sense of a gap in somebody who’s not experiencing an environment that makes that gap really obvious right about now. This is, by the way, the same problem that people face when dealing with having to get in shape or trying to get people to eat a little bit better. Or even getting people to smoke smoking, where the damage is often way off into the future, not in the present. These are all these kinds of places where you have to get people to feel dissatisfied with what they’re doing right now to give them the energy to want to do something different in the future.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: I’ll tell you, I’ve been freaked out about this since January. All right. Because I read the news, right? I read the news, and I took micro in high school so I know how exponential curves work. I looked around as I started preparing for this, and I found that even once we knew it was a problem in places, I started getting in these battles with my neighbors where they decided even though the St. Patrick’s day parade was canceled, they were still going to have parties. And it was okay, because the governor said, “Keep it under 250 people.” They said, “Well, we never allow more than that in the house at one time,” which is the most Louisiana party thing to say. So we got in these arguments, and then we had people come back and say, “Why are you shaming these people? Shame won’t work.” Does shame work from your perspective? Can I shame my neighbors? Was that ever going to be effective?
ART MARKMAN: Well, I want to distinguish between guilt and shame. Technically speaking, what you’re doing is guilting your neighbors, not shaming them. There’s nothing wrong with that. The distinction I’m making is that guilt is an outward-facing emotion. It’s that you feel guilty when you engage in a behavior, and when someone else is aware of that behavior, it makes you feel bad. Shame is an inward-directed emotion. Shame is I perform something and I feel bad about myself as a result of having done that. The reason I’m making that distinction is because shame is actually almost never a beneficial emotion. When you do something and then you feel terrible about yourself as a result of doing that, it often makes you hide from it, not be willing to think about it so that you don’t really make changes in your behavior. You hide what you’ve done. It’s very rarely an effective emotion. Guilt on the other hand is great, right? Because guilt is part of what keeps us doing stuff we don’t really want to do, even though it’s probably the right thing to do. Actually, the bane of human existence from the dawn of time forward is the trade-off between the short-term benefit and the long-term benefit. So the thing that’s right for me in the short-term trumps the thing that is right for me in the longterm every single time. So whether it’s a piece of cake versus what I’m going to look like a year from now, smoking a cigarette today, drinking too much today — all of those things are more desirable today than they are in their long-term consequences. I like to point out this isn’t a modern world kind of problem. So you’re going to have to bear with me for a second. But I like to point out that if you go to the Bible and the Top 10 List in the Bible, which is the 10 Commandments, and you excise a couple of them that have to do with follow this religion rather than that one, all of the rest of the things on that list have to do with do the thing that’s right in the long-term, not the thing that’s right in the short-term. So the guy who just annoyed you? Don’t kill him. The very pretty thing somebody else owns? Don’t steal it. The very attractive person living next door, married to your neighbor? Leave him or her alone. I like to point this out for two reasons. The first of which is these are on the list not because they’re easy, but because they’re hard, right? That is, the list doesn’t say breathe regularly. It doesn’t say eat a couple of meals a day. We’re going to do that. So it’s all stuff that is hard for us to do. Then, of course the other thing I like to point out is the list is basically a failure. Humanity does every single thing on that list. Not every individual, but humanity overall does all of those things. I like to point that out because a lot of people when they think about influence think about messaging. If I could just figure out the right thing to tell you, then you would act differently. I like to point out that according to the story surrounding the 10 Commandments, God gave this list to humanity. So if God can’t come down and say to people, “Do this,” and have people listen, what makes any of the rest of us think we’re simply going to tell something to someone and that’s going to have a profound influence on their behavior? It’s not about messaging.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: Yeah. Apparently, not even about the messenger.
ART MARKMAN: Exactly. Exactly right.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: Or the channel. It’s like, “Look, I put it on stone tablets. What else do you people want?”
ART MARKMAN: Right. Yeah. Exactly.
MARY ELLEN SlAYTER: And finally, Art left us with a reminder: influence is hard work. And that’s something all of us have actually experienced firsthand.
ART MARKMAN: Well, to characterize this more than anything else, just in terms of thinking about how to pursue the topic, remember that changing other people’s behavior is exactly as difficult as changing your own. We all are aware of how hard it can be to make changes in our own behavior. So we have to expect at least that much difficulty in changing other people’s behavior. And we have to put in the same amount of work if our desire is to influence other people’s behavior as we would have to put in if we were trying to change our own. It’s not messaging. It really is about creating environments in which the desirable behavior is easy, creating moments in which people can be taught how to do new things, creating social groups that reinforce a set of behaviors, a set of norms. All of that needs to come together no matter what kind of influence we’re trying to do. If we don’t go through all that work, then we’re unlikely to succeed in our attempts. Just like if we don’t go through all that work, then whatever new year’s resolution we made on New Year’s Day is going to be gone by the beginning of February. By the way, I tell people — I’ll say this here because I’m trying to create a national movement — I believe it takes about eight weeks of preparation to really change behavior. So what I tell people to do is don’t really hold yourself accountable for your New Year’s Resolution on New Year’s Day. Commit to making the change in behavior. So observe what you’re doing, pay attention to your habits, create new plans, try things. Give yourself roughly eight or nine weeks, and then — and this is the movement I’m trying to create — on March 4th — Get it? March 4th? — that’s the day you commit to the New Year’s Resolution with a real plan for how you’re going to do it, because you’ve tried some things, and you’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t. I want March 4th to be the day that we all march forth into the year’s behavior change.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: You should carve that into a tablet.
ART MARKMAN: Yeah. Well, you’ve seen how well that worked.
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Interview 2: Beverly Brooks Thompson
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: So now that we know what influence is, what’s it like to realize you have it? I asked one of the people who has the biggest influence on me, Beverly Brooks Thompson. Beverly works as a fundraising consultant to nonprofit organizations, and she also recently ran for state senate here in Baton Rouge.
BEVERLY BROOKS THOMPSON: It’s a lot easier to raise money for student scholarships and puppies — you know, causes — than it is for a brand that has your name on it. People give to nonprofits because they’re altruistic and because they want to achieve some good in the world. And research actually shows that people give to political candidates because they want to buy influence and or access. Who knew? Well, it was a very uncomfortable thing for me to ask somebody to invest in me and t hat’s how I felt about it. And it’s different when you’re saying, “Hey, would you give money for this scholarship or for this particular medical cause?” Because then you’re just a conduit talking about somebody else. And that’s why a lot of politicians will use surrogates to help raise money. And that’s what they call it. It’s somebody of influence or reputation to assist them in doing that. We did that in our campaign, and I was very blessed to have some of those. But it was uncomfortable. But what I realized at the end of the day and now in hindsight is I that I like inspired giving, and political fundraising is much more transactional. People are betting on the fastest horse, and if you are the fastest horse. Many people are ideological, and the fastest horse with the greatest message and somebody that they believe has integrity and can get the job done — absolutely! But I heard repeatedly by people who are in the space, the politicos that are really the lobbyists and things like that, they said, “You’re absolutely the best candidate. You’re the smartest. You’ve got the best background. We believe you’ll get the job done, but we’re not sure you can win.” I’m not used to that. Now, because of that, we built a movement. We brought a lot of people to the table who had not necessarily ever made political donations before. I mean, Mary Ellen, you’re one of them.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: Well, I made donations, but you definitely broke my previous limit. And I will also say in terms of influence, you sent somebody after me who’s called, I could not refuse.
BEVERLY BROOKS THOMPSON: Let me explain that, and I’ll use, if I can, that example. I put together a group of about 25 people that really believes in me and were honest, and they came from all kinds of backgrounds — so every race, every socioeconomic status, every range on the political spectrum, if you will. I mean, we had some die hard liberals and some Republicans and real conservatives that believed in me and believed in what I was trying to accomplish. And I started my campaign and ran it very much like you would run an annual fund or a capital campaign because that’s what I knew. But I was also in a conflicted space. I raised money for a living. So if I wanted to reach out to somebody for money that I was working with on a board or I had worked with in some other contexts, I wanted to protect that space, and there’s no law that said to protect that. It’s just my integrity would not let me reach out to people who I was working with in a professional space because I didn’t want to confuse the market. So I was very fortunate to have some people of weight and influence and reputation that said, “I’m willing to make these these five or six calls and open a door.” And that’s really what we’ asking people. Just think of if you’re asking somebody to help you open a door at a job. It’s no different. If somebody applies for a job with your organization and they say, “Hey, I applied for this position at Rep Cap. Would you say a good word for me?” I’m not going to say, “Mary Ellen, you have to hire this person.” But I will say I’m going to vouch for them. I’m going to give them some street cred. And I was so blessed that a lot of people did that for me, and it really assisted in raising money. It also made it easier for me to walk through the door and have a hard ask. So some people open those doors, and I would call that a soft ask — “Would you be willing to have this conversation? Would you be willing to donate?” And then I was able to really have the conversation with people. It’s not that much different in nonprofits. It was just much more important for me in the political arena. Now, I believe that if you’re going to ask for some, for money, for a cause and/or for yourself in politics, that people deserve to be asked by you, and they deserve to be thanked by you. And when you’re talking about 800 to a thousand people in a really limited time, that’s hard to do. But we had a movement, and we had more donors, I’ve been told — I haven’t proved this — but more donors than most people have on campaigns of our size. And we also have standard came from a whole lot of different walks of life. And so that normal political game that people play, I don’t know if I played that well, but I ran my own table and we were really successful, so to speak. We built a tribe, and I call them the Island of Misfit Toys, people who just felt like their voice hadn’t been heard and people that got involved in politics, and I’m super, super proud of that. I’m super proud of the race that we ran in, and I can say at the end of the day that we did all of the work. I knocked on every door. I made every phone call, and I can look at every donor in the face and say, “I left all of it on the field.”
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: Oftentimes, we think of politicians — or any influencer — as having a certain personality type. We assume they must be extrovert and that part of the reason they’re so influential is because they just love talking to people. But do you really have to be an extrovert to be an influencer according to Beverley? Not at all.
BEVERLY BROOKS THOMPSON: It’s not about being an introvert or an extrovert or anything like that. What I do think it is is, are you willing to put yourself out there? Are you willing to take a stand on an issue? And then it goes all the way back to honesty, integrity, that sort of thing. So you can be a negative-influence E just as easily as you can be a positive influence. Not everybody resonates with those folks that take up the room, but it really does come back to that honesty and integrity. I think we’ve gotten away from the word “influencer” in a negative way. So you can be on Facebook or Instagram or whatever right now as an influencer — and I want to air-quote “influencer” — you know, the Kardashians are influencers or you see a baseball player who wears a shirt and drinks a smoothie, and they’re called an influencer. I have no idea if that makes you buy that shirt there called an influencer and I have no idea that makes you buy that shirt or not. I think we’ve really gotten away the true context of what true influence is about. I think it comes down to the work, and I think it comes down to doing what you say you’re going to do, because at the end of the day pretty wears off. So just because you put on this makeup better than somebody else does doesn’t make you an awesome person. I think we have to be really careful when we talk about that word in the context these days. Is somebody an attention-getter is probably better than are they an influencer?
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: You know, there was another, we had another conversation about influence in one of the other interviews we did. They said that influence was that intersection of attention…and what else did they say? Rex, do you remember? It was attention plus trust. And attention plus trust was their definition of influence.
BEVERLY BROOKS THOMPSON: And that’s what I mean with trust and reciprocity. You know, that’s kind of the intersection of networking. Networking is not necessarily deep relationships, it’s trust and reciprocity. Do I trust you? If I vouched for somebody who applies for a job, am I sending you really as a quality person? If I do, then you’re going to trust the next time I do t hat. If I don’t, then you’re not going to trust that. That trust is broken, right? Or if I don’t, um, represent myself in an appropriate way. And I think that definition is really impressive. You have to be willing to be a voice, and there is power in that even if you’re not in positional power. And I’ll tell you, I’ve recently really felt the weight of that. We created a space in my political campaign and had 22-plus thousand people vote for me. And probably even more importantly, a thousand people donated or showed up to events. And I feel a responsibility to that movement. So if I’m going to endorse them thing, if I’m going to show up in a room, if I’m going to lend my name to another political candidate, if I’m going to be on some t ask force or serve in some capacity, I now feel like appropriately or not that I’m representing those people.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: You’re right. You’re repping us now.
BEVERLY BROOKS THOMPSON: I feel like I am a voice for, and people have held me accountable on that. I put myself on a billboard. Somebody asked me to be on a billboard, and I literally just wanted people, regardless of the side that they stood on in an edu cational space, to just get involved in the conversation. And that was literally it. And some people applauded that effort, and some people ripped it apart. And the intention, I think, was appropriate. The expectation or ramifications of that, or the receiving of that information is now a little bit different. So I think I’m going to be measured and careful because you feel a bit of a responsibility to those people.
Closing and Housekeeping
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: So that’s it for this episode of Margins from Managing Editor. Find us on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen in. Subscribe now so you don’t miss a single episode.
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ELENA VALENTINE: Thanks to the rest of the team that helped make this episode: producer Rex New and Audio editor Marty McPadden.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: We’ll see y’all next time.