The panel on Managing Influencers at the Austin Game Developers Conference yesterday got me thinking about a frequently ignored aspect of the K12 publishing world – building and nurturing communities of key influencers around education products.
In education influencers are the people who speak at regional trade shows, who write blogs and podcasts, who participate in on-line forums, and who serve on state and national committees. We often rely on our Sales Reps and the Curriculum Consultants to handle this aspect of the business. But managing influencers is very different than maitaining good relationships with key customers and it is fundamentally a post sales responsibility.
“Managing key customers” is a transactional view – it is about the next sale. Reps will tell you that relationships are the key – and they are – but they are based on transactions. Influencers want a different kind of recognition – they want to be respected for their ideas not for their wallets. This means they need a different approach. As one of the speakers put it – “Marketing brings customers in – Community Management keeps them there.”
What lessons from the on-line Community Managers in the game world could we benefit from in education?
1. Assign influencer management to customer support not marketing or sales.
2. Treat this as a high level hire not entry level. The people managing influencers need to be able to go toe to toe with them. Ex- Principals, Lead Teachers, Department Chairs would all be good candidates.
3. Make sure the program is tightly in sync with Customer Support and Marketing – no surprises either way should be the mantra. When things go wrong you want your Community Managers to be able to quickly tap the influencers for feedback.
4. Listen more than you talk to them. And when you do talk make sure it is a conversation not a sales pitch.
5. Don’t over use them – you can burn influencers out by bombarding them with information and requests.
6. Support their credibility – don’t ask them to only talk about your products or only say good things about them.