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How to Influence the Influencers: Ask for Their Advice

Here at Little Bird, we help you discover the most respected and influential people and organizations online in any field, but what do you do once you’ve found them? We’ve talked about how our advanced tools like Hot News, Compare and Search are powerful ways to leverage great content and connections—but one of my favorite bloggers wrote this morning about something even simpler:

“The best way to build a strategic relationship with someone far more powerful than you,” self-optimization writer Eric Barker says, “[is] merely to ask their advice.”

Eric summarizes academic research each day on his blog and email newsletter Barking Up the Wrong Tree. According to Little Bird’s data, he’s won the attention of leading experts in Neuroscience like Scientific American’s Bora Zivkovic and microexpression analysis trainer Dr. David Matsumoto, leading experts in Learning like George Lucas’s Edutopia and science writer Annie Murphy Paul and even venture capital leaders like Angellist’s Naval Ravikant and Valley startup expert Chris Yeh. Barker’s editorial powers are widely respected.

His email today was super relevant to Little Bird users.

Here’s what he highlights from a recent book by Wharton School Professor Adam Grant called Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success

“New research shows that advice seeking is a surprisingly effective strategy for exercising influence when we lack authority. In one experiment, researcher Katie Liljenquist had people negotiate the possible sale of commercial property. When the sellers focused on their goal of getting the highest possible price, only 8 percent reached a successful agreement. When the sellers asked the buyers for advice on how to meet their goals, 42 percent reached a successful agreement.

Asking for advice encouraged greater cooperation and information sharing, turning a potentially contentious negotiation into a win-win deal. Studies demonstrate that across the manufacturing, financial services, insurance, and pharmaceuticals industries, seeking advice is among the most effective ways to influence peers, superiors, and subordinates. Advice seeking tends to be significantly more persuasive than the taker’s preferred tactics of pressuring subordinates and ingratiating superiors. Advice seeking is also consistently more influential than the matcher’s default approach of trading favors.”

Sounds like a great way to build your relationships with the world’s leading experts and influencers you discover using Little Bird. Reach out and ask them for advice!

The best part of all this? You’re going to get some great advice, too.

If you like Grant’s take on things, he’s interviewed in Scientific American too. Investor Brad Feld shared that interview early this morning and it was the hottest link of the day among leaders in Venture Capital. Notably, Grant isn’t followed much on Twitter by VCs—Feld doesn’t follow him yet. Of the top 500 VCs we mapped using Little Bird, only the philosopher investor Eghosa Omoigui and James Cham of Trinity Ventures follow the super-smart Adam Grant so far. I guess that means if you’re a VC, you could be one of the first to develop a relationship with him online. Perhaps you could begin by asking for his advice.

  • Chris Yeh

    1) I’m a huge fan of Eric Barker. The amount of work he puts into his posts is daunting, but it makes them incredibly information rich. He’s one of the best people writing on the web. Follow him!

    2) I’m also a huge fan of Little Bird. I’m constantly advising startups to find and engage with influencers, and Little Bird makes it much easier to do so. Any social agency that doesn’t have a Little Bird account should be charged with dereliction of duty.

    3) Asking for advice has always been a great technique for entrepreneurs. I tell people all the time, “If you want money, ask for advice. If you want advice, ask for money.” The catch is, you actually have to listen to the advice!

    4) Just followed Adam Grant! If he’s good enough for Eghosa and James Cham, I want to follow him too.

    • Marshall Kirkpatrick

      Thanks Chris! And thanks for sharing your advice with me after you posted this comment – I should have followed up before now. I like that line “Any social agency that doesn’t have a Little Bird account should be charged with dereliction of duty.” You said it, not me! ;) Thanks again for your support, it’s nice to reconnect.

  • aboer

    I like this piece as far as it goes. (love Little Bird). It never hurts to ask for help. But asking for advice is also about the least invasive and least risk prone way I can think of to work with influencers. Very unlikely to lead to trouble, but I think it also implies that a more aggressive approach might be misconstrued or backfire.

    For most influencers to pay attention to their (many) supplicants, there has to be some kind of quid pro quo.

    The best incentive for influencers is more influence. If influencers feel like they are likely to grow their own audience by working with you, then they are very likely to pay attention to you. If you aren’t likely to help them, then an effective incentive can be money. And this is where brands need to be careful.

    At my firm, Movable Media we go a step well beyond asking for advice, and engage these influencers to create authoritative content for our clients. It works extremely well and has never backfired.

    But we never try to buy influence. Buying influence is, in fact, the exact definition of bribery.

    (I feel like this last sentence should be widely quoted but, you know, it hasn’t taken off. Maybe it is too obvious.)

    This is where the blogger outreach industry has gone wrong – they focus on an influence based transaction instead of an audience based transaction.

    In other words, brands should be able to reward influencers for moving their audience to content they create on a branded site, but they should never ask the influencers to write about the product or services the brand is offering.