Three dazzling examples that turned online influence into offline results

online influence

Andre Niemeyer (second from left) and the paddle board crew.

By Mark Schaefer

There has been a lot of talk about finding powerful word of mouth influencers who can help your business. But once we have identified these influencers, what do we do about it?

Today, I’m going to dazzle you with three examples of people who are setting an awesome example in this area. But first, let me set the stage with a little diatribe about how almost everybody is doing it WRONG.

For some businesses, I have been designated as an “influencer.”  Tragically, none of these businesses sell beer, cars, or bacon, but that’s another story.

As an influencer, I am deluged with offers from urgent strangers through email and Twitter every day.  If this is your business strategy, here is the probability that I will connect with you and help you: ZERO. In fact, I won’t even open the email.

On the flip side, I will go out of my way to help friends who make an authentic attempt to relate to me as a person and build a relationship. It seems so simple, but 99% of the businesses out there are doing it wrong.

Here are three success stories that I hope will resonate with the thousands of companies out there trying to jump on the influencer bandwagon!

Mining the halls

Last year, a fellow literally came sprinting down a hallway at a conference where I was speaking. “Mark! Mark!” he said. “I just wanted to meet you and say hello. I am a big fan of your blog.”

We had a pleasant conversation and when he learned that I was visiting Europe soon, he invited me to have dinner with him in his hometown of Dublin. Which I did!

The dinner led to a tweet-up, the tweet-up led to significant new business opportunities, and the new opportunities led to new customers. For the fellow, I provided a free speaking engagement for him in Ireland, invited him to guest post on my blog, and he secured a coveted speaking slot at Social Slam a few weeks ago — his very first speaking opportunity in America.

Social Slam panel with Dino Dogan, Dawn DeVirgilio, Jennifer Kane and Ian Cleary in his American speaking debut.

Social Slam panel with Dino Dogan, Dawn DeVirgilio, Jennifer Kane and Ian Cleary in his American speaking debut.

You may recognize the now familiar name of Ian Cleary as the person I’m discussing.  But this was no isolated or random incident. Ian is a master of converting online relationships into powerful business benefits.

At the recent Social Media Marketing World event, I ran into Ian and asked him how many sessions he had attended and he said “none.” At first I was surprised.

“I’ve been in the hallways,” he said. “That’s where the conversations and relationships are taking place.”

Ian was working hard to turn the weak links of social media into the strong ties that convert into business opportunity. His personal brand is growing quickly through the effort he is putting into his new friendships.

“If there’s someone I really want to form a relationship with, I focus on how I can help them,” he said. “Everybody is looking for ways to USE the influencers but if you can turn this around and truly help them, that makes it much easier to build a relationship!”

Paddling his way to community engagement

One of the brightest and friendliest of my new connections is an entrepreneur named Andre Niemeyer.  Andre, who has been a member of the {grow} community for a couple years, immigrated from Brazil as a college student and has successfully carved  a niche for himself in the hyper-competitive digital marketing space in southern California.

andre niemeyerHe is talented of course, but I believe he stands out in his market through a heart that is authentically kind.

Before the San Diego Social Media Marketing World Conference, Andre put out a Facebook and LinkedIn message to all attendees: “If you’re coming in a day early, I would love to teach you how to paddle board. Would you like to try this with me?”

“They didn’t have to provide anything,” he said. “I had all the boards and paddles. Seven people turned out. We had a great time paddle boarding, which led to dinner and meaningful discussions. Although there were 1,000 people at the conference, every time we saw each other a smile came to my face and we would talk about the ‘paddle meeting.’ At a conference that large, social transactions often ring hollow. That paddle board group changed that for me and, I believe, the rest of the crew.

“Several members of the group described the activity as the highlight of their trip. I couldn’t be more humbled by that, since my purpose was to show some San Diego hospitality and offer an opportunity for more meaningful community building.”

Andre is authentically helpful and in a noisy world, people are attracted to that above anything, I think.

Awareness through conversation

While I was in California, I was invited to an “influencer dinner” at a well-known steakhouse sponsored by the company Sprinklr.  I was skeptical of being cornered into some kind of sales pitch but decided to attend because frankly, I like steak. Also, I like Jay Baer and I saw that he was attending so I thought, What the heck?  I perceived real potential value in the two hours of time this would take and decided to check it out.

New friends Liz Philips and Paola Elizaga at Sprinklr influencer event

New friends Liz Philips and Paola Elizaga at Sprinklr influencer event

It turned out to be a very valuable event. I had an amazing conversation with Intel’s Ekaterina Walter, became friends with Paolo Elizaga of P&G, and got to tap into the mighty brain of Lee Odden.

There was no sales pitch from Sprinklr. However this was a very effective influencer event because relationships with companies are formed through interactions over time. I got to meet the folks from the company and I have a positive feeling about the nice environment they created for a group of social media thought leaders. So now, this company is on my radar screen.

Am I willing to open an email from them? Yes.  And that is a big step forward, right?

The networking expert. Not.

Making personal connections that result in business benefits is a nuanced art. Here’s an example of influencer marketing that backfired.

While I was attending the conference in San Diego, I received a hand-written note under my door with some chocolates. The author of the note expressed a desire to meet me at the event.

I had no idea who this person was — had never even heard his name before.  I felt a little creeped out that a strange man had found my hotel room number and was sending me candy under the door.

It turns out that this fellow was a professional “networking expert.”

He eventually cornered me and asked if I could do a video interview for his site. I was happy to oblige but it became apparent that this fellow really knew nothing about me, nothing about my books, nothing about my business, and could not even put together a meaningful question to ask me. My perception is that the video was a ruse — like the candy — to provide some nominal value that would make me feel like I needed to reciprocate.  Sure enough, when the “interview” was over, he wanted to talk about “next steps.”  I left feeling disappointed and used.

The difference

Do you see a pattern in the successful interactions?

1) The social web is an amazing opportunity to create small interactions that lead to larger engagements — meaningful relationships and business opportunity.

2) Turning online connections to offline relationships transforms weak links into strong bonds.

3) Offer true helpfulness and real value.  Actionable relationships are earned, not bought. We’re not idiots. We know when we’re being used.

4) At the end of the day, we do business with people who we know and trust, not somebody who is trying to game us. Trust is paramount and needs to be at the foundation of your social networking strategy.

I believe social media (and specifically Twitter) is personal networking on steroids. But the basics remain the same. You still have to earn attention and trust to turn a weak link into a powerful one.

What do you think? How are you networking on the social web? Please add to the conversation!

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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  • This article is like a bonus extension to ‘Return On Influence’ (which is good cos I just finished it) 🙂

    It’s great to see some real world examples of online connection that have led to real relationships (both personal and business). I am on the verge of trying to connect with some online ‘friends’ in an offline situation (for want of a better word!) in the form of a photography meetup in London through Google+.

    Having a common ground initially such as photography does make it easier to connect with people and ‘break the ice’ so to speak. I’m really hoping that, should my invite e accepted, it will lead to new contacts for my photography, but also new friendships that can help those involved to grow their art.

    Maybe false or misleading connection attempts at events is offline spam, in person, worrying!

  • This is great Barry and I am happy to see you taking these “weak” connections to the next level. For me, what you are about to experience is the most fun, and most rewarding, aspect of the social media scene — actually meeting some of these wonderful people! There is nothing like it! I have made more friends in the past two years than in the previous 20 combined. : ) Good luck!

  • Hi Mark,

    Here comes that word again, “authentic.” When it is clear to people that the only reason they are being friendly is because they see it as an end to a means it sets off a not so nice buzz in your head.

    But when you feel like they are giving of their time and not asking anything for it things change and it becomes much easier to relax and just talk.

    That is what you want. You want people to feel free to just talk and not wait for the “catch.”

    When you don’t feel like a piece of meat or just a number you respond to things differently.

  • Thanks for this one, Mark. In my opinion, leveraging the interactions on social media to build offline relationships is what it’s all about – and I’ve found it particularly helpful at the local level.

  • That is a great point and something I have written about quite a bit. The irony of the web is that even when we cannot see or meet a person, it is pretty easy to sniff out a fake. In some ways, the web seems to actually amplify personality traits! Thanks for the great observation Josh.

  • And the most fun part of social media too!!

  • I first opened this article because I saw it was about “ian from Dublin”. Alas I soon realised that it was not about me even though I am also “Ian from Dublin”
    However I read on because it struck a chord with me. I invest quite a bit of time into building relationships both offline and online but mainly offline face to face. I have learned that if I want to build a business relationship I must “give” to the relationship. Too many people only want to build relationships where they “take”. So i will usually try to help my new friend (s) in some small way and then if they try to help me in turn we can usually build a decent relationship. If they just want to “take” from me then the relationship will not last long.

  • Hey Ian, I briefly met you at an event run by Gerry Moan. We should meet, we now have something in common!!

  • Pepita Bos

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Mark. They are inspiring and I will certainly share them with clients and people in my network.

  • Pepita Bos

    I am not sure if “authentic” is the word I would use as I know users and takers who are quite authentic in being users and takers…

    I’d prefer “empathic” I think. What do you think Josh, Mark?

  • Andre Niemeyer


    Thanks for all you do and your unwavering commitment to generate value through meaningful, long lasting connections. In this noisy world of ours, your mission couldn’t be more valuable. Again, thanks for all you do and for sharing these stories to inspire us. I, too, met Ian Clearly and had a great time meeting him. Keep up the great work!

  • yes. like that

  • love it when a plan works out : )

  • Thanks for letting me know Pepita!

  • Many thanks for your help with the article!

  • “Cheers” to all the Ian’s of Dublin!

  • Great examples! I think from my 1st connection to Ian to multiples times after, I always “found” him in a hallway!

  • That must mean you were in the corridor also!!!!

  • Andre Niemeyer

    Hallway here too! @iancleary:disqus the Hallway King!!!

  • Andre Niemeyer

    We must have a steak together next time @markwilliamschaefer:disqus. Brazilian Steakhouse!

  • LOVE!!!

  • That’s why I love social media. The connections and opportunities it creates to meet onland

  • : )

  • RhondaHurwitz

    What great examples of the dos and donts. I respect the Sprinklr example: takes confidence to be subtle like that. I know lots of clients that would have worked in their “pitch” when sponsoring an event. How powerfully effective to rely on the the feeling you left with to create the relationship and move the needle.

    Love the other two examples as well. Remember to help an influencer, not use an influencer. good advice:)

  • I can just see Ian (Cleary) saying that – he actually reached out to me ahead of time to see if I’d be able to join him & Jeff for a meal before SoSlam began, but my flight schedule didn’t cooperate. We did get to spend some really fun time together (I think, right Ian?!!) though – and he’s absolutely right – most of the time it doesn’t happen in the conference sessions.

    So when I read your post today I immediately sent it to Jeremy Epstein who’s with Sprinklr and who I recently met IRL at another conference – we were both speaking, but my slot was done, his was about to begin, and we bumped into each other at the refreshments table, in the hallway. We hit it off immediately, chatting away, and then we found out that we LITERALLY live in the same neighborhood… what are the odds?! He is absolutely awesome; I don’t know if you met him when Sprinklr organized the event, but if you haven’t, you must (next time you’re in DC, come over for dinner and I’ll invite him and some other peeps too – that way you get to sample my cooking as well which is excellent, if I say so myself. :)).

    And Lee – OMG. Isn’t he super-smart? And super-nice?!

  • Hey Shonali, yes we had great fun and it was so nice to get to know you. Looking forward to meeting again soon. Ian

  • Me too!

  • Hi Mark!
    I really enjoyed the openness of this article in displaying the difference between those who are truly trying to turn connections into relationships of trust versus those who are in it for a quick gain and to check another person off their list. Like you, I too have met so called “experts” who try to network and share their proven methods of success, but I have often been left with moments of great pause where I am left to wonder what just happened. Being natural and genuinely listening have been great helps for me and I enjoyed very much the opportunities I had at Social Media Marketing World to meet and engage with so many unique and interesting leaders and upcoming leaders in the digital marketing space.

    Also, you are spot on about Andre Niemeyer. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him for about 2 years and he is definitely “authentically helpful” as you stated. He is also always looking for new possibilities and chooses to never get stuck on what may seem like limits.

  • It was great meeting you as well Ian! Thanks for a few very nice conversations!

  • Thanks you, great to meet you!

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  • Couldn’t agree more! Indeed, Sprinklr didn’t try to sell us anything, but they have sure remained in our memories longer than many other companies! That night I came back to my hotel room and browsed through their page, subscribed to their newsletter & have recommended them to a couple of friends. Oh, the power of real networking 🙂

    It was great meeting you, Mark! Thanks a lot for the awesome advice on Twitter, even while I have been actively using this social network for more than 4 years my perspective on it completely changed after your conference.

    Hope to see you again soon!

  • Sprinklr did a great job. They started the evening by saying, there will be no pitch but we just wanted to identify the people with our company, which was helpful. It is subtle, but I think anything heavy-handed is going to get in the way of building a relationship. Thanks for stopping by Rhonda.

  • Dinner? Did you say “dinner” at your house? I’m so there!!!

  • It was great meeting you too, Erin. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • Wow, that is so nice of you to say. Glad I could be useful : ) The cool thing about social media and meeting people IRL is that you never know where it might lead. I think that is the business case for the social web: “You just never know” : )

  • Full disclosure-I’m VP/Mktg of Sprinklr.

    I just want to thank you both for this. We very much believe in this approach and though some are skeptical about it, we are convinced it’s the only way to go in the Social era. Thank you for the kind words.

    IF there’s anything I can do for you, please don’t hesitate to ask (no expectation of reciprocation!)

  • and a big shout out to my pal, Shonali, for sending me this link. Thank you.

  • Great to see Sprinklr highlighted here! I first met Ragy Thomas, Sprinklr’s CEO, about 3 years ago. I soon became a believer in the technology AND the team led by Ragy. I am a former client who became part of the Sprinklr team (now working in Strategy + Client Services). Sprinklr has always been an innovator that placed great emphasis on relationships with clients, and I experienced it as a client first. Sprinklr is able to partner with large companies that want to create the future of enterprise social in order to deliver awesome customer experiences. It all starts with meaningful relationships, offline and online.

  • It is great when words and visuals on a page lift your spirit like this. Maybe it’s because these words, these stories, from and about Marc, Paola, Liz, Andre, Ian, Ekaterina, Lee, Jay, et al, stripped a lot of itchy, dishonest business practices away and we simply liked what we felt in the breeze. I’m almost positive that the first conversations with my parents, my friends, my wife, my kids, my teammates in sports and business, my dog, didn’t begin with the thought of “Hmm, what can he/she do to help me get ahead?” If the joy and success of social media isn’t to be corrupted, it will be because we didn’t place success before the pure joy of conversation.

  • Good one!!! We’re one of the hallway lurkers!

  • patrickdh

    Living the social for a difference, who wouldn’t want to practice it this way to be able to grow? Excellent write up

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