The real influencers… are the negative influencers. What to do with the Rons of the world

How to identify, and manipulate, negative people in the office

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A few years ago, Malcolm Gladwell did some great work on ‘influencers’.  I believe the book was ‘Tipping Point’.  He talked about how a few charismatic and passionate folks can  – even accidentally unconsciously – start a movement.  They create trends.  They make and break business and products.  This was the first proper academic look at ‘influencers’.  Mostly, it seemed an obscure corner of the marketing world to be aware of.  It was interesting, as is everything Gladwell does.

More recently, ‘Influencers’ has a new meaning in the era of social media.  Mostly – super beautiful people who have monetized their lifestyle.  The Kardashians, for example, can receive up to a million dollars for a single tweet.  They take and post a beautifully staged picture with a (most often) beauty product.  It is worth it for everyone.  Google tells me she has 59 million followers.  A staged photo is a LOT easier and cheaper for everyone than a full ad campaign, commercials, etc.  Likely, that single tweet has more impact than a super expensive arty commercial might have.

Influencers became another en vouge tableau with the Fyre Festival.  The criminal mastermind created an epic multiday super festival for only the super rich.  Sold millions in tickets and lodging reservations to an event that was not going to happen.  How?   Lots of pictures of super hot girls frolicking on the beach and playing with turtles pigs.  If you went to the festival, then you too would play with these same turtles pigs and supermodels.  It worked.  Dude raised millions by posting these well crafted social media moments with top influencers.  Really, this was an ad.   Seems kinda like a waking nightmare to me.

I am not here to tell you about them.  I don’t care about them, as they have no impact on my day to day life.  Odds are, they don’t on you, either.  Unless you are still waiting for a refund from Billy McFarland.

I am here to talk about the ‘negative influencers’.  You are way more likely to deal with these folks daily, and they have WAY more impact on your life.  The negative influencers are the bitchy whiny victims who people still seem to listen to.  Here is an example from the corporate world.  I worked with a guy whom we will call ‘Ron’.  That’s because its his name.  Ron bitched about everything.  He was just an energy vampire that could give Mr. Rogers a bum trip.  Ron was very smart, though.  People looked to Ron, and absorbed his feedback on things.  His feedback, of course, was always shitty.

You know how when you drop a baby, it first looks to you to see how freaked out it should be?  When a toddler takes a fall, you learn QUICKLY to put on a happy face and smile and call them tough and strong.  If they fall and look up and see your horror… they will FREAK the fuck out.  This is how people looked to Ron, for some reason.  I could announce free pizza for the office.  What is better than that?  If I told everyone together, they would say ‘great’, and then look immediately to Ron.  Ron, of course, would say some ungrateful shit like ‘pizza again?  Can’t we have something different?’. Or ‘Jesus, not from Anthony’s again, those guys suck.’

Like Jujitsu, we learned to use Ron’s momentum against him.

This is how you use and shape a negative influencer – read on

We learned if we wanted to pass an initiative, we needed Ron on our side.   Before we launched a program, we would run it by Ron.  We would pull him, and any other negative influencers, into a room and lay it all out.  Start with flattery > “Ron, you know the department as well as anyone else.  We have a program, and I want to run it by you.  Let us know if we are missing anything, and what you think.”

While I hate to validate the Ron’s of the world, this is wildly effective.  See, Ron feels valued.  Ron is the kind of guy who thinks he should run the department anyway.  By feeding him early intel, and getting early buy in… now he advocates for us.  The most important part of this is he will advocate the program behind our backs!  He feels invested in the new initiative now, and feels a partial owner.  When people are bitching about the new thing at the proverbial office water cooler, Ron corrects them.  Ron knows, or at least thinks, he has ownership in this.  Ron thinks if this succeeds, if reflects good on him.  Besides, odds are Ron really does have some valuable feedback.  He isn’t used to people soliciting it, or using it.  He will lap it up like my Lab eating peanut butter off my…   well… you know!

Instead of undermining leadership behind our backs… now he is a net promoter of the program.  Debbie taught me this years ago, and I have been using it ever since.  It works!  Go out there and put those Rons to work for you!

*** I just read this back to myself using Jon Ronson’s voice.  It was great.  You should do the same.