There was a time, not that long ago, that I advocated gimmicks. I still think they have a time and place, but lately I’ve been much more focused on the power of community influencers.

Perhaps the most common misperception in PR today is that media write about products. Sure, some do product reviews, but ultimately, journalists write about people. Find me a story without a human angle—a source quoted, a product or service’s impact on humans—and I’ll, show you a blog post nobody reads.

Twice in the last couple of weeks I’ve come into contact with companies led by people who want to limit their involvement in communication programs to almost-nothing. One of these, a high-profile multi-billionaire, on one hand wants Big Media to write profiles about him and his company with a view to attracting additional investors. But Twitter, he wants no part of. Won’t share his insight and wisdom via a blog. And his top execs are all in lockstep with him on this.

That dog, as they say, just won’t hunt.

I’m often asked how one can be and/or attract influencers. This is one of those pesky terms that changes meaning based on a plethora of variables, but the following are true whether you’re marketing a book, a multi-national conglomerate, or an online service for small businesses.

A person must tell your story
I don’t care how great your product is; without a human telling your story, it won’t sell. Books are the perfect example of this. Even Grisham, King or Connelly tales that are pre-destined to be bestsellers have authors who are committed to connecting with their readers.

Beyond this, though, in our socialified media world, we must look also at the personalities–the readers, users, customers, clients–who will influence success.

Personality matters
Think about the people you listen to. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, one thing is true: each has a personality that shines through. As the world keeps shrinking, making personal connections becomes more important—and easier—daily.

Celebrity has been redefined
TV and movie stars and singers still yield a ton of power, but community celebrities are the ones that smart brands are looking to get in good with now—or become. These are the people who create the content that we love to consume. Those who help us sort through the clutter. Those we trust.

When I think about influencers today, the best example I know is Jen Forbus. And I’m not alone—when I mention her name to famous author types or crime fiction readers, the reaction is universally one of admiration and respect. Here’s what Jen does right:

  1. Jen is genuine. Her voice is her own. She is what technology analysts used to be, before they started selling their quotes: an impartial arbiter of her own opinions. She is not an influencer because she set out to be, but rather because she is passionate about her area of expertise. She’s influential because she doesn’t try to be.
  2. Jen knows her topic as well as anyone on the planet, and she shares her knowledge without hesitation. She never panders or condescends, and she’s not afraid to let her sharp sense of humor show.
  3. Jen connects with people, daily, directly and personally. She is constantly engaged with authors and readers. She’s the kind of early adopter and advocate that every company wants for its offering.

With all the word-of-mouth gurus out there, sometimes there’s just too much advice. No matter what you do between 9 and 5, you know that word-of-mouth is crucial. And that it doesn’t just happen. It starts with creating content…but doesn’t end there. That content won’t grow legs and bound out into the world itself. It has to be shared, and the people doing the sharing and the community within which that sharing happens make all the difference.