Oprah Winfrey, like Midas, has the golden touch. Whatever she touches—that is, whatever she recommends, supports, endorses—turns to gold. However, unlike Midas, whose golden gift was from the gods and soon ruined his life, Oprah’s golden touch has been carefully crafted over many years and remains an influential force, both offline and online.
Oprah’s influence is fuelled by her media empire’s focus on Communication, Conversation, Transparency, and Branding. Taken together, these forces form public trust and therefore influence.
Thankfully, we don’t need a multi-million dollar media empire to become influential; we simply need to activate and harness the same forces that Oprah harnesses.
By influential, I am not suggesting we become master manipulators. No way, jose! Rather, I believe we should engage people and help them make informed choices. We influence the best when we share and connect our passions and expertise with others.
When Oprah Winfrey endorsed Amazon’s e-book reader, Kindle, the technology press went ga-ga, cautiously hoping that the “Oprah effect,” which has sent obscure novels soaring to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list, would send sales of the e-book reader skyrocketing. Since 1996, Oprah’s Book Club has helped many a tome (and many an author) reach the top of bestseller lists.
While the verdict is still out on the Kindle / Oprah bump, the fact that her endorsement sent shockwaves through the industry and precipitated media attention and speculation illustrates her influential power.
But what makes Oprah Oprah? What makes her so influential?
1. Communication (connect x 1)
Oprah is a born communicator, a talent she has fully utilized. Whether you like her or not, it is clear Oprah can communicate and connect with her audience.
How are you communicating and connecting with your audience? Do you engage your audience, your clientele, or do you pass the opportunity by at any chance?
We do not have to be professional speakers to be communicators. All we really need is the desire to share our passions and expertise in order to connect with others and fulfill their particular needs.
2. Conversation (connect x 2)
The Social Web enables conversation. It is now a 2-way street between content creator and content consumer, between product maker and product user, and on and on it goes.
How are you conversing with your audience? Are you reaching out to your audience where they assemble, especially online? Are you cultivating the 2-way street of conversation?
We have Web 2.0 tools at our disposal. Blogs, for example, are perfect for engaging an audience and starting a conversation, thus building connections and community.
Oprah is transparent about her life almost to a fault. We know about her childhood rape, her struggles with weight gain, her relationships, and her personal ups and down.
By being so transparent, which is in fact another way of being honest, Oprah reveals her vulnerabilities and thus opens a door for which her audience can enter. She reveals herself in order that her audience can step inside her world and experience her travails, hopes and dreams.
How are you being transparent?
Now, I am not suggesting we air our dirty laundry or toss out the skeletons in our closets for our clients to view.
But in our professional lives, while serving patrons or researchers, working with our clients, are we being transparent, are we being honest with out audience? Are we inviting them into our working world in an effort to share our experiences with them?
Here’s an example illustrating what I mean: I once had a peculiar experience when I visited a rare books library. I was a complete amateur in rare books, not knowing a single thing. I asked the librarian behind the desk that I wanted to know how old books had been bound in the past. It was part of a research project. “What do you mean by ‘old books’?” he asked sarcastically. “There is nothing here but ‘old books.’”
I felt irritated, dismayed, and worse, unwelcome. I don’t know if this librarian was attempting some kind humorous joke or simply acting like an intellectual snob. Regardless, I never returned to that library after that incident.
Are we being honest and transparent, and are we inviting people to share in our experiences?
Oprah maintains a strong and consistent branding across all her media, from her television show to her magazine (guess who’s on the cover each month) to her website.
Because proper branding allows Oprah to stand out from the rest of the crowd.
It is unnecessary to say Oprah Winfrey anymore. One need only say Oprah, and that’s enough. She is easily recognizable, and her audience knows her and easily distinguishes her from other popular TV talk show hosts. The letter “O” and “HARPO” (that’s Oprah spelled backwards), for example, are powerful branding images.
What kind of brand are you building? Does it reflect your professional values, your institutional values, your department values? It is easily recognizable? How are you imparting it to your audience? Does your branding help distinguish you from others?
However you decide to brand yourself, your product or service, or whether you are building a brand for your department, insure that it clearly identifies you and distinguishes you from others.
The end result of practicing the previous four items is influence. Influence is based on trust, which is built on open communication (respect), conversation (2-way exchange), and transparency (honesty), with the final touch, branding (personal identification), acting as the seal of approval.
The road to becoming influential, that is, engaging, sharing and connecting with your clients, is a process of communication, conversation, transparency, and branding.
In a Web 2.0 online world, this is Influence 2.0.