Throughout this week, a time we should have been in Austin, we’ve instead been sharing a “SxSW 2020 Replacement Series” of Q&A features with riveting insight into a wide range of important topics that would have been discussed… had SxSW not been cancelled. Some of these industries include the advertising, media, technological and retail industries (to name a few). James Gregson, Head of Lego Social Studio, kicked us off by shedding light on topics, such as the importance of purposeful, experiential and organic marketing strategies. Next, was Tiffany Curry, Lead of the Strategy and Brand Partnerships team in the midwest for DoubleVerify, who shared her perspective on topics, such as how priorities shift in times of uncertainty and the power that data holds. In our third installment, Kerry Flynn, Media Reporter for CNN Business, shared her exclusive take on the future of content creation and consumption, as well as the role that community and authenticity play in brand marketing.
And it doesn’t stop stop there. We next connected with Ian Schafer, the CEO and Co-Founder of Kindred, who was all set to talk about influence and the influencer model. Here is what Schafer would have brought to SxSW this year.
The State of Influence
For Schafer’s originally-planned SxSW panel, he was going to be joined by Alphonzo Terrell of Twitter and the Cassandra Report’s Melanie Shreffler to talk about the current and future state of influence. Given both, his experience as the founder of a digital marketing agency as well as the founder of Kindred 2020 (which we’ll talk about shortly), Schafer’s perspective on the role of influence is especially meaningful.
“I was planning on asking our panel how influencers can add value in society, but also planned to talk about how we redefine what an ‘influencer’ really means,” he told us.
Going into SxSW, Schafer knew a few points he wanted his panel to help land, however, he was ready to leave a lot of the discussion up in the air, to be inspired by the perspectives and viewpoints of others. One focal point they would not ignore: Schafer believes that a central tenet of influence is authenticity. But the power that influencers have over the decisions that we make, the philosophies that we choose to adopt and the ways in which we live our lives is certainly not a new concept.
“We are all influenced by somebody,” Schafer said. “We all opt in to be influenced by people, whether that is the cast of the ‘Real Housewives,’ TikTok people or academics. The notion of influence is one that has been around forever, but once you give it a proper name and a capital letter to the front and an ‘r’ on the end, it now becomes a type of person.”
So what makes an influencer actually influential? The common characteristics found within influencers across different genres are not only authenticity, but a natural and organic development based on acquired and honed expertise. There are no short cuts or artificial equations that can turn someone into an influencer, or make that individual successful in helping to drive brand conversion or click a “buy now” button.
The Path to Success
“You can’t just wake up one morning and say you want to be a travel influencer and then try to reverse-engineer a career,” Schafer says. “You’d then end up taking steps that are caricatures of the necessary steps someone else might take to become a movie star. That is neither authentic nor is it that interesting. I like seeing people who are making things for people to react to, and that is how they make their money. Either directly or indirectly.”
The valuable takeaway that someone in the panel’s audience might have had is that influence is the result, the byproduct, and the benefit that those who master a talent or craft receive. Hard work, having a unique voice or perspective, and putting something out in the world for people to consume is what gives influencers credibility.
“There is no business in being famous. There is business in being talented.”
In a world where many people crave the spotlight and compete with each other to see how much viral recognition they can get in one night or on one post, the long-term path to success and work that goes into honing in on and perfecting your craft is often overlooked. So the next time your kid tells you that they want to be a YouTube celebrity, heed Schafer’s advice and tell them the “Pablo Picasso story.”
“If someone walked up to Pablo Picasso and said ‘Can you draw me something on this cocktail napkin,’ he draws something for them, but before handing it over, he and asks for $20,000. ‘But it only took you 10 seconds to draw that,’ they protest. But then Picasso says, ‘No, drawing this took me 50 years to make perfect.”
In the fall of 2018, Schafer, after leaving the agency world, had an idea. If people, companies, charitable organizations and influencers and could work together to make smarter decisions, it would yield better social outcomes AND business outcomes. At Kindred 2020, which will be held in San Diego this September, over 2,000 business, nonprofit and cultural leaders will come together in a unique event to take action and transform their careers, communities, companies, and partnerships for a world that is demanding more accountability and responsibility.
Kindred 2020 was initially scheduled to take place in May, but as global news and the spread of COVID-19 became a real threat within the United States, Schafer and team made an easy decision, but one with significant logistical ramifications: to delay. Making such a decision meant the potential drop-off of committed attendees and speakers, but just one week after rescheduling, over 70% of the speakers have already reaffirmed their commitment. The decision also helped Schafer understand the significance and impact that the domino effect of SxSW’s cancellation has on the community and industries.
“When you think about the supply chain, if the event doesn’t happen, hotels don’t get filled, workers don’t get paid, restaurants don’t cater, others lose their jobs… It makes you realize and appreciate that we really are all connected. Like the blanket in I Heart Huckabees.”
“We Will Come Out of This Better”
So here we all are, navigating the world in this strange time of uncertainty. Current events are causing confusion, instability and even panic, but it is also forcing fast adaptation. But Schafer (like the James Gregson, Tiffany Curry and Kerry Flynn throughout our series), is hopeful that we will come out of this stronger and more knowledgeable. This optimism is something that carries through in Kindred’s mission.
“We will come out of these times with enhanced and more valuable decision-making skills,” he predicts. “We will come out of this better because, frankly, we are have no choice, especially with the sense of urgency that we are all feeling in one way or another. We are all in this together”
One way in which we are connecting and working together is seen through the power of social media and community-building in a time of social distancing. According to Schafer, recent events have him revisiting the possibility that digital communities can bring people together. It is times like these that we can take a step back and appreciate the platforms that we have available to us for connecting with our loved ones, friends, neighbors. For filling the void of authentic, human contact and touch that we are all lacking and longing for at the moment.
“From a business standpoint, we are going to learn so much about ourselves, humanity, companies as we go through this together than we would have had it not happened. That’s not to say that we should be glad it’s happening, but we will also learn from this… what not to do as much as what to do. We’re going to learn a lot about the ways in which we can work together because we’re being forced to. We learn more from our failure than our successes. Anyone who has ever worked at an agency knows that you learn more from the pitches that you lose than the ones you win.”
Bringing people together to learn from one another and create a force force positive synergism… once the craziness around this virus is contained, it kind of sounds like a good idea for an event, doesn’t it?
“Fortunately there are a lot of good, smart people in a number of facets of society, and business, who can help make this situation better for people and emerge from it even stronger,” Schafer said. “That’s what we talk about at Kindred: How do we get more people to make better decisions?”
All of these industry leaders have given us incredible visibility and insight into what could have and what should have been at this year’s SxSW festival and conference. And, wow, do we feel sorry for missing out on the opportunity to have great discussions with incredible people all in the same place, at the same time. But even though we couldn’t all meet up in Austin, we are grateful to have been able to piece together what they had planned on bringing to the stage and, most importantly, share it with all of you.