The reality of online influence and the only thing that matters

online influence

I used to be a big shot.

  • In my corporate marketing days, I was among the top 1 percent on the company organizational chart.
  • I was awarded seven patents and I earned two masters degrees.
  • I closed the biggest deal in the company’s history, worth more than $5 billion in sales.
  • I earned a big salary and managed a highly-visible team of global all-stars.
  • I had received two Chairman’s Awards for outstanding achievement, a stock award that was the highest recognition in my company. As far as I know, I was the only employee who had earned this twice.
  • In my position as Global Director of eBusiness, I was the company’s go-to guy for anything Internet.

My corporate life was a frenzy of activity. I was getting hundreds of emails a day, conference calls at all times of day and night, and lots of new opportunities and recognition.

But I had also been dabbling in some entrepreneurial side businesses and, once I my kid’s college tuition was paid for, I decided it was time to re-invent myself and venture out on my own as a business owner, consultant, and college educator.

I will never forget the eerie thing that happened the morning of my first day out on my own. The frenzy was over. No emails. No calls. No meetings in Paris. No communication of any kind.

I was experiencing the Veil Of Silence!

A new equity of online influence

In my company, I was well-known and respected. But now that I was starting over, nobody knew me. Nobody knew — or cared — that I was a big deal just 24 hours ago. On my first day as an entrepreneur, I was the go-to guy for nothing.

True story. When I started my new consulting business, my first two customers were a college kid trying to start a local catering business and a real estate agent. My first professional speaking gig was before the Lions Club in Farragut, Tennessee. The fried chicken served at lunch was delicious by the way.

I had gone from being a person who was wined and dined atop skyscrapers in Shanghai to a fumbling entrepreneur building an entirely new reputation, and an entirely new brand, from scratch. Talk about a humbling experience.

But in less than five years, I built a brand reputation that opened up consulting assignments with some of the biggest companies in the world, including Cisco, Johnson & Johnson, and The U.K. government. I wrote best-selling (really) business books. I was in a position to give speeches at convention halls filled with thousands of people. I’ve lectured at some of the world’s top universities and was even a guest speaker at a European “think tank” that had attracted famous authors and diplomats like Nelson Mandela.

The new path to power

My path to re-invention was filled with mistakes and bad habits that I carried over from the old corporate world.

And this is what I had to learn the hard way: There is an entirely new paradigm of power in the online world … or what I call the new “equity of influence.” Here’s what I mean. In the carbon-based world of a traditional corporate office job, these are some of the things that help create power and influence:

  • Job title
  • Salary
  • Achievements
  • Number of direct reports
  • Control of scarce resources
  • Where you went to college
  • Executive relationships/sponsorship
  • Awards and certificates
  • Size of office

… there have even been studies that show how tall you are, how good-looking you are, and how you dress contribute to personal power in the “real world!”

But on the Internet, none of this matters. Nobody cares what your title is. Have you ever tried to tell somebody on the Internet what to do?

Nobody can really tell how tall you are, how rich you are, or what family you married into. It just doesn’t matter any more.

In fact, there is only one thing that counts today, only one source of power and influence when it comes to the online world. And it is this.

To be known.

The imperative of being known

I was recently invited to be a speaker at the next Social Media Marketing World. I’ve collaborated with Phil Mershon from SME for five years now and I count him as a friend. Yet, in our conversation he admitted that he had no idea where I had worked for most of my life, what I did, or what I had achieved before I was a blogger.

When you get down to it, the only reason I am a speaker at this event, or any event, is because I am known. And, if I ever faded away for awhile, I probably would not be invited again.

So where am I going with this? Being known has everything to do with your success, too.

Where do you want to go with your career and your life? What’s next? Do you want to …

  • Write a book
  • Establish a speaking career
  • Become a consultant
  • Be named to a prestigious board
  • Stay relevant in your field for many years
  • Build a helpful personal network
  • Be recognized by your industry peers
  • Obtain a teaching position at a university some day
  • Be seen as a leader in my industry
  • Put yourself in a position for a promotion outside your current company

I often have people ask me how they get to this next level in their career and in the process of helping these people, I kept finding myself providing the same advice over and over: “Well, to achieve that, you have to be … known.”

One of the favorite quotes that I used in my book The Content Code was from the international pop star Taylor Swift:

“Today, artists get record deals because they have fans – not the other way around.”

You may not think of yourself as the type of person who needs to attract “fans,” but I think the general idea here is relevant to nearly any career path today. Nobody is going to hold your hand and help you up that ladder any more. You need to be accountable for your own success, recognition, and brand.

Your dream “record deal” might be a promotion, a contract to write a book, or an invitation to speak at an industry event. It is very unlikely that will happen unless you’re known, unless you have built up your very best Digital Self.

This is a fascinating topic and the primary discussion point of our new Marketing Companion podcast episode. Tom Webster and I start with a humorous bit about the Marketing Olympics and proceed to a spellbinding account of what it takes to be known today. You won’t want to miss this:

If you can’t access the edition above, click on this link to listen to Episode 83

Please support our extraordinary sponsors. Our content is free because of their generosity.

Many thanks to our friend Scott Monty for the awesome show intro. Be sure to check out his amazing newsletter The Full Monty and his new podcast available here:,

BuzzSumoBuzzSumo is the world’s best way to discover, analyze and amplify your content. Run over to BuzzSumo today for a 14 day free trial. Beyond data, BuzzSumo offers priceless insights into content discovery, monitoring, influencers and outreach, content research and planning, and competitor research. Find out why so many Marketing Companion fans are now hooked on Buzzsumo. Check out BuzzSumo’s powerful technology to look at the hottest content trends down to the hour!

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Affinio is now offering a FREE eBook co-authored with Mark Schaefer called How to Identify, Understand and Grow Your Ideal Content Audience. Check it out, as well as their new free audience Discovery tool. Affinio is an advanced marketing intelligence platform that leverages the interest graph to understand today’s consumers. Affinio believes that if we can understand individuals at a deeper and richer level, then we can fundamentally change the way people relate to one another. By understanding the interests and cultural DNA of key audience segments, marketers are empowered to take an audience-first approach to making meaningful connections with ideal consumers. Find out how at

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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  • Claytonjay101

    Thank you for your story Mark, it gives the rest of us inspiration to go through something similar. From what I’ve seen online, so much of influence seems to not just be based on knowledge but emotional intelligence or EQ (Gary Vee term). Turns out that social media means you are supposed to be social. Be the person that other people want to follow, interact or have a conversation with.

    I went through a similar experience when I left my job (although I was at a much smaller company and have far less experience). The following Monday after I was officially done, everything stopped. I used to be on the phone constantly, work on bids, help with pricing quotes, come up with and execute sales strategies, answer tons of emails and try to constantly be better than the competitors. Reality hit and weirdly I started to miss my phone ringing every 15 minutes. I thought having a less hectic day would be nice but I was having withdrawals.

    It took some time to really understand that now, success depends on me instead of what my team and I do. It can be incredibly daunting. Scary. Overwhelming. But there is nothing more invigorating than trying to start something from scratch. How will you ever know unless you try it? Go out and make it happen because regret is poison! And I don’t really like apples.

  • Wow, great story. It was really unnerving for me to go through that Veil of Silence. BTW, EQ is not a Gary V term. It came from a seminal book by Daniel Goleman called Emotional Intelligence. Highly recommend it. Thanks for the great anecdote!

  • Heyyy there Mark! Now this is an inspirational story for sure. I especially love how you drive home that its not all about the college degrees and etc that you have under your belt. This is coming from someone with a Masters, BS Degree, Multiple Tech Certifications and more.

    As you stated, I have yet to come across a client or student for that matter that have invested in any of my offerings ask me about my credentials. Because… in the online space….none of that matters to people for the most part.

    I am seriously now more committed than ever to building an influential brand that truly serves my audience and attracts the RIGHT people and eventually brings in more opportunities for my brand. Will it take time… absolutely, but I am in it to win it.

    Great post as always >>> sharing as we speak.

    Cheers and have a great day!

  • You will love the new book I am writing : )

  • Hi Mark,

    For a short time I bought into the concept and idea of targeted niching, but what I’ve discovered is that you can’t totally leave out the idea of attracting and building the biggest, most relevant audience along the way.

    You’re spot on… I have many military awards and honors, I have degrees and awards at both the undergrad and graduate level, I have had a lot of success and even more failures, but if the audience isn’t there as an entrepreneur it won’t matter what I did in the past and it sure what matter what I’m doing in the present or future.

    The thing is after 7 businesses in twelve years, I’ve been richly blessed and this year I’m seeing an incredible amount of growth as awareness around me and my brand riches new heights.

    I appreciate your insights and transparency Mark, and that you openly share your story to relate to each of us!

    Have an awesome week!!!

    ~ Don Purdum

  • Woo hoo! Can’t wait to hear more about it.

  • Awesome story Don. You hit on a key point here. Micro-niching doesn’t work unless the audience is big enough to make a difference — whatever that difference is (awareness, sales, book sales, etc). Superb comment.

  • Claytonjay101

    I did not know that, I had only heard about it from Gary Vee. I’ll make sure to check out Mr. Goleman.

  • This is good stuff Mark. About a year ago I realized I had to make a name for myself apart from the organizations I worked with. It sucks. I’m very comfortable working in the background promoting other people and organizations, but I don’t like being in the spotlight myself. I have avoided it for a while, but realize if I want to keep a roof over my head and food on the table, I have to actually avoid being comfortable. That’s unless of course I want to keep sponsoring others dreams and not my own.

    Good stuff, thanks Mark.

  • Classic book.

  • Larry, this is an amazing little quote. I think I might like to use this in my new book. Can you drop me a line through email so I can get your details? [email protected]

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  • Pam Roach, PR Strategist

    Great article. So true. I experienced the same thing. A star in my face-to-face business world, but online, nobody cared. What a reality check! I’m still trying to finding my groove. However, I’ve learned that online, value is the only thing that matters. Give people value (solve their problems), and you’re online reputation will surely grow.

  • Well said, Pam.

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