Martech Conversations: Episode 4
The Invisible Influencers
Pravin Shekar: Good. Influencers which is what we were discussing earlier. And let's continue in the same vein.
Dorai Thodla: Sure.
Pravin Shekar: How would you like to start?
Dorai Thodla: Yeah, I think, you know, we talk about the term influencers there are, you know, opinion leaders, people, experts. Many of these can be generally people who listens, and other people listen to or look for advice, and are required to explicitly give advice, they say, “hey, take a look.” And you know, they may do this. I'll start with a story. But before I do that, I want to know, so we've been having this discussion for some time, right, made some assumptions about, you know, what will you do with these experts and influence leaders and all? And I want to know, let us start this thing about the end in mind, right? So, once you look at them, I mean why do you want the influencers? Why do you want to connect with them the opinion leaders? We will use the term influencers. What exactly do you want to do? Because it takes a long time for, you know, you may know them, but for them to get to know you, and then positively respond to you know, any of your messages and things like that, even invitation to speak and things like that takes time. So, why do you want to connect with these people?
Pravin Shekar: Right. So I'm responding as a marketer and as an entrepreneur here, Dorai. So if I want to know a little bit more or a lot more of a particular topic, I need to know who's already done quite a bit of work in this aspect, either creating, collating or curating relevant content specific to what I am looking for. And my primary purpose here is purely gathering the knowledge, absorbing it in terms of who are the right people to follow for this kind of a topic. So, let me give a practical example, we wanted to host a Global Referral Summit and we wanted to come up with a whole lot of influencers who talk and work in the word of mouth area, building referral engines, recommendation engines and word of mouth. So, we looked across and found out who has spoken, who has written, who has consistently contributed or covered or researched in that topic and then we brought it down to about 40, 50 people and then invited them over for a series of mini interviews, primarily for us to learn a lot more. There was no hard selling involved, there was no "Hey! Will you market it" involved. It is purely as a student and trying to interact and learn a lot more, Dorai. And that is how I would look at most of the influences here primarily to learn and through this osmosis, there is a transfer that happens, there is a transfer of some of my knowledge goes back to the key influencer or in certain cases I become a vehicle through which their message reaches the people that I am an influencer for or my small circle. As for example, down south the marketing and sales are used interchangeably and completely mixed. So the minute we talk about influencer, the mind automatically goes to influencer marketing, oh these days are paid, but that is not at all the primary purpose. To use a term I would call it the bastardization of the entire influencer part for certain ulterior motives. And even if we have to look at marketing, as a pure marketer, I would look at making positive change happen. And that is the intent of marketing. And from what you told in the earlier conversation that we had Dorai, that the influencers don't keep count, their job is they get a good night sleep if they have communicated that message to a whole lot. And have I received it? Have I got it through? And I'm also going to connect to something else you said, Dorai, that in 2006, you started blogging, and you were blogging consistently for quite some time until it broke off. But whatever you have contributed and the group that you have built up, you continue to influence, even though blog may not be your primary source of influencing now, you've shifted over to Twitter and the like. So starting with the end in mind, purely for relationship purely to see, hey, I have learned how else can I contribute through these summits and the interviews, I help in getting their message across to a lot of people. So, and during the course all the people who have interviewed and stayed in touch with Dorai. Understand what I am doing or what my business is, and therefore, a whole lot of referrals, recommendations keep coming in. "Hey! If it is this, you should talk to Pravin, if it is this, you should talk to Pravin." And that was never the motive at all. But purely through the relationship through continuous engagement, positive value adding engagement, we tend to stay top of mind. So does that answer your question?
Dorai Thodla: Yeah, it's perfect. I mean, this is really good, because I think this is the right way to start. Because there are somebody connects with you, or send you a connect request on LinkedIn, you're worried that the next request is going to be pitching a product to you or something like that. So in fact, many of the LinkedIn you know, even the suggestions are this, that, hey, say up front, that, you know, I read your blog post, I read your book, I listen to your, you know, listen to you being interviewed in a podcast or your podcast, and I really liked this aspect. So I want to, you know, I can simply follow you and get the information, but I also want to interact with you, because I have certain interesting, you know, opinions about these kinds of things and, you know, some questions, and I noticed that you contribute a lot. And then that really helps, you know, so let us continue, the path that we saw. We're talking about a little bit in the previous episode is that writers are influencers, obviously. Because they've done an enormous amount of research. In fact, there are writers, there are people who researched material for writers who turned into writers later. And then they learnt all the methods by which writers gather information, and you yourself know, as a person who has written books, the amount of research you do and amount of material you discard, and filter on behalf of the user, and then present the most relevant, you know, information to them is, but what about all the other information that you collected, that is useful too, and it comes out in the, in some ways in, like, blogs or tweets, and that kind of stuff. And so they're like, they're in a wealth of information, because they soak themselves. You know, for a year or two, or whatever period, they spent, you know, writing the book, or the idea, you know, comes up some time, and then slowly grows, and you keep gathering information and all that sort of stuff. So we'll talk about the path to discovery, right. Writers, speakers, we talked about, because the invited speakers, especially, you know, Chief guest, or you know, keynote speakers, and even panelists, they're all invited, because they're experts in that space. VCs are and because they run companies and VCs are kind of an interesting twist, because in some ways, they are lagging indicators, but they've some way because of the risk, and all that sort of stuff that way. But some ways, they're leading indicators, some of the early stage investors like angels, and you know, preceded all them, they take a bet, some of them take a bet on the team, but some of them also take a bet on a space being developed, marketed like imagine, you know, people who invested in Facebook, when Facebook did not even have a business model, Facebook itself did not know the business model, right? Same thing with Google, it took a few years before they came up with the business model, but people still invested in them, right? Think about all of them, they you know, in some cases, the people, so investors have very interesting angles, because they talk to others, and they know where the industry is going. And so they project. And you know, this is a term that I got from Doug Engelbart saying that if you take a basic idea, there are different dimensions along which it can grow. Example, if you look at smartphones five years ago, okay, they're great means of communication and people effective to tech getting better. And they're the primary device with which people take pictures now. And then there's a whole host of new applications came in because, you know, these pictures can be edited, can be made better use of taking it to another place, and doing it and all that sort of stuff. And then the processing power, the memory, the storage and everything started becoming more and more, and then it started connecting to the cloud. So they see these dimensions and the people who do some of these research, they look at different angles and some of them may pay off and some other may not. But they look at different dimensions in which certain things will grow. And both positive and negative, for example, so now we are in the situation of the COVID. And there is this, you know, revolutionary RNA based. And but that is not something that came up in one year's time. And the research was going on much earlier, Gates Foundation and others have been investing in it. And it just turns out that all of a sudden, there's a problem that came up for which all the research some of the can be taken and applied, and then you can come up with this. So the influencers of early investors in very, very, you know, interesting technology. Then there are some non obvious ones, speakers, writers, bloggers, you know, tweeters, to some extent, they're all curators of all kinds, columnists there were faces, we see, you know, but there are people who sit on the panels of conferences, to select papers.
Dorai Thodla: Right. So these are the kind of invisible, they don't speak, right, they are not the one who are organizing the panel, they are a bunch of experts saying that. So for me, if I want to look at a leading indicator, let us say, in a medical devices, or an IoT and artificial intelligence, what I look at is, I look at all the papers that are being submitted. And I also look at all the papers that are selected. And because it has to align with the theme of the conference, okay. And then what is it that they know, that we don't know, that made them select these papers, and then, you know, those papers become, you know, debit, get the visibility. And then there are a lot of papers. I mean, the part of it is like a very typical publishing process, like the Google search algorithm, PageRank kind of thing is that, if a paper is sighted a lot, and then they'll bring in those themes to talk about, you know, where it is going to go, the vibe, that research is going to go the next step to the research kind of thing. So researchers are influencers, and they surface in very interesting ways, and they are not your normal, you know, people that you can see them. In fact, I noticed that some of the best experts in fields there, they don't blog, they don't tweet, and if you look at the websites, they’re terrible, you know, from a design point of view, it's just a blank page in which they put text. But if you go there to the page, it's a list of papers they submitted, a list of research projects, they worked on, PhD, you know, research, they lead, you know, influence, lots of kinds of stuff. And, and then you look at in US there is this thing called National Science Foundation, National Science Foundation funded, it funds, research, Department of Defense funds research also. When you look at the research being funded in a certain space, you come to know this research belongs to the public, that means you can actually go take that information, and they have to submit a proposal and they can follow it up and all that, but there are different levels of funding that they get. And you look at those fundings. And that gives you a leading indicator of what are the areas in which there are problems that exist. And people are researching and so there are all these methods of finding. So now that I told you, these are all the methods by which you can find the tools are very simple, right, you can start with a very simple, some of them are visible in the web, because they show up some of them because they don't have a great PageRank, they may not come in the first result, they may be hiding in the hundredth page in which case you may not see. And you need to go figure out a way to unmute them kind of stuff. And so you do something very specific, what you do is called site searches. Like for example, if there is a conference, you know, pick a conference for medical, you know, or there is a conference for Data Science Conference. Now, open data science is a conference, O'Reilly runs a bunch of conferences. So if I go through the conference proceedings, sometimes their price, but the abstracts are available in all of them. So if I go to that site and look at the abstracts and start doing searches, deeper down, they don't surface in your normal Google search. And that is a way you can go and find the information. And then you find the authors, then you go and see these authors, how many times they are cited, on how much research they have influenced. And this way, you can go and find the gems that are hidden gems in the field. And then some of them interact. Some of them do not interact, not everybody writes books. But if there is a way you can know, if they're a college professor or something, you can request a call. Most of them are not even on LinkedIn, because everybody thinks LinkedIn is a business network. Initially LinkedIn, in fact, everybody thought it was an employment network. LinkedIn changed quite a bit since that time. They will definitely not be on Facebook, because it's a very different type of network. And many of them are actually popping up on Twitter, which is kind of interesting. But they also appear in many of these mailing lists. So they're very, very dedicated mailing lists, these are in subreddits in Reddit, for example. And these are things, they may sound geeky, but you know that the subreddit on stocks, you know, had a huge influence, right? In the last one or two weeks, you know, they were like, taking a lot of people, short sellers to cleaners, right.
Dorai Thodla: So there are a lot of sources which are public, but not so visible. And the more niche market, you go to, you know, the deeper you go to, the more you need to use these techniques to go and find them. And you can also do that. So normally what I do is, so we have built, kind of experimenting with a research tool called a topic tracker, and it's called the search assistant and influence finder and all that. And one thing we noticed is that let us say, I want to research on medical devices, okay, I want to go a little bit deeper and say, I can say continuous monitoring devices, you know, they are very special. There are certain technologies that are required, we can continuously monitor the temperature, glucose levels, you know, blood oxygen levels, all these kinds of things, we know why they are needed now we know all these kinds of things. And so we want to go and find out who are the influencers, who are the there are some manufacturers, you know, there are, you know, some research funded research inside the organizations, a lot of funded research outside, you know, because the government is very interested in doing this kind of stuff. So there are a whole bunch of government sites. And in the US, there is this, again, this Small Business Administration Grants, they give away like $5 million, $10 million grants, to small research for small businesses, for going and, you know, experimenting with some of these kinds of things. So first, you need to get a compilation of a lot of these in your niche, find out all the places where you are likely to find these people. So I would go and look for subreddit, you know, is there a channel or is there a special interest group. And where it may be very small, it won't be totally 10 people or 20 people initially kind of thing, but a lot of intense discussions, and then mailing lists, which are before all the social networks became popular kind of thing. So what I see as social networks is the tip of the iceberg. They're very surface level conversations, in case they're not bad. But that is what most people are interested in this movie, what is the best camera, all that kind of stuff, and that that is one level of needs. But as you get to deeper needs, you know, you start looking at it. And the moment they start appearing in these networks, that's another indicator that they're now trying to retrieve for the market. Because why would you go to social media? Two reasons. You're not going there to find peers, because peers are found in your associations, right. So that is other one, what is the industry? So if I take so let I say, what is the market according to you, in a definition of a market, let's say I want to go to your market space, I want to be a big fish in a small pond kind of thing. So let us say pick from any particular area. What according to your say I want to go research this market space. What do you think consists of even what makes up that space? In pre-internet days, it was a magazine. They had an interesting thing that a magazine survives mostly by advertisements. Okay. And people don't advertise unless they have at least 5000 subscribers, talk about 80s, late 80s, early 90s kind of thing. And now of course, everything is different, right? When you live by subscribers, since subscriptions or advertisements, and they need to have in all the free magazines available at that point, I'm used to live on this thing, or they'll use it to get some small, very, you know, small amount of money for doing this kind of thing. And if there is a magazine in that space, then that is a space. Then it is big enough for you to go and at least there are some few competitors there. That means there are a few potential customers there. Somebody has already done research for you. You go into these magazines and especially the ones that are recently started and now if they are portals, the equivalent of it is portals, and go and start conversations with them and say, you know, why did you start this? You know, what is the need? And, you know, what and whom are you trying to sell? And who is your typical customer? Who is your user? And what is it, and they'll give newsletter to anybody, because electronic newsletters are free. No cost, nothing, just one click, and it'll go, but they will automatically get filtered out after some time. And if I subscribe with a lot of enthusiasm to something, but I don't ever read it, you can track it, and you can find out. So first you find these locations, like publications, or portals, or magazines, or conferences, or events, or groups, you know, in a society of competitive intelligence, there is one for special librarians, there is one for computers in libraries, these are all the spaces where you know, I have interest, because they're, you know, intelligence professionals. That means we're gathering information all the time, and an intelligence not in a, you know, intelligence in a very broad sense, you know, like, I want to know, what is happening in this field? What are the top five trends? And how is the economy going to be after COVID, if there is an after COVID? How is it? What are the industries that is going to bloom? Where are the job opportunities? What are the new skill sets required? Where will there be demand in early detection, and you know, devices, all that kind of stuff, you get all this. So you look at these leading indicators. And then you look for validation of these leading indicators. And the validation of leading indicators of pilots being done in large number of companies. And I think I mentioned this in one of our conversations is that, three years ago, I was looking at a blockchain. And then we were doing some research, because it's a friend of mine, who was trying to seed fund a company. And that was trying to do accelerators for blockchain, because it was very compute heavy at that point in time. And then we're looking at it and when will the need for this be, when will it arrive, so they can start building this kind of thing. Then when I went and looked around, all I could find was financial institutions. No cryptocurrencies. But of course, now, it's like, it's very different right now. It's, you know, the ledgers and you know, there are all these distributed ledgers. And there are other aspects of blockchain, which even governments are using, you know, they're thinking about experimenting, lots of interesting things. So, there will be some core technology initially, you can get excited and jump into the technology will be a little early, but we start watching who's using what aspects of the technologies are useful, what are not. And, you know, you can start with the Gardner’s and the foresters kind of thing because they're constantly talking to all the people, but they also have a kind of a, you know, to be mentioned in Gardner, you have to be of a certain state, right? Some two guys in a garage may not get covered in Gardner. So, either you have done something and got funded and become visible. So you unless like, being covered in New York Times or the Hindu or something like that, right. Some shorter magazine in some Adyar Times, may write about you. But you know, for Hindu to write, you have to go through a lot of, you to get to some level, right? Right, you get very local magazines, and, you know, on hyperlocal publications, what are the mentions, now, all these like, ‘cause they're shining stars in that region, right, they want to do local regional news kind of thing. So we talked about micro niche. And this is exactly the way you go and find out more, you kind of start digging deeper, you start with the very first top down. They more established ones will have things like ontologies, somebody would have predefined saying this is the structure, vocabulary, and all that kind of stuff, and all that sort of stuff. But the less established ones, where there is a lot of still skirmishes going on people trying to establish themselves as the leader. And, you know, they come and argue in panels and, you know, make cases and of course, nowadays nobody argues, everybody's polite. No, there is no firefighting, or like, you know, no big debates kind of thing. But right now, a lot of interesting things that are going on some very heavy Twitter threads. And so this is where they help. Twitter is becoming the kind of a new search engine for finding these things because you can find the vocabulary. If there is nothing happening on Twitter, I would not, you know, I would not even pay attention to it right now. Previously, it used to be RSS feeds and blogs. But RSS feeds for some reason or the other, you know, have not taken off and many of them discontinued their this thing.
Dorai Thodla: So, you don't go to one place and go to different places to collect this information. So the tools are the same, the tools are web scrapers, there is something called robotic process automation tools, there are some open source tools, there are some heavily priced tools, which let you dig deeper, then there are these many of these large source of information like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, all of them, they also give you an API that is a programming interface, right, people can go and program, you know, and gather the information this is like valid legal way, you know, they give you a certain amount of searches free, requests, and then you have a paid version kind of stuff. And when you're prototyping, you can do a lot of searches fairly free. Google search engine also there is a API that you can take it and then use it same thing with Bing and others. So, these are the tools at a broad level, at a narrow level, these tools will also bring in a lot of noise. So, along with the signal somewhere there is weak signal there and a lot of noise. So there is a next generation is a lot of filtering tools. So, you apply your own filters, what you do is you find the authorities in a field, which are in and they can, you can easily see them not because of just followers kind of stuff because of the weight given to what they say. And I also notice that when I actually put a commentary on articles that somebody else has written, let's say on AI or something like that, I get a certain number of views, likes. LinkedIn does a great job of even parsing is where people look, what are the job positions, job titles, and all that very, very useful information. And that is the one of the reasons why I keep posting on LinkedIn. But I noticed that whenever I put something that is very personal experience, like for example, you talk to your client, and they have this very specific marketing problem, which cannot be solved by any conventional tools that we know and you brainstorm to solve it and you abstract that information, because there will be confidentiality on the method that you use to do and share that you will suddenly see that you are like, you know, things will go into 1000s or know, once I think about Anna incubator, I posted something and tell about, within a few days, but 5000 views of that, because then you know that. So, one is that you find the sources, you find your filters to separate in the you know, as much as possible the noise and get few faint signals, then you look for validation of the signals, because you also find out from there, you can find other influencers, other you know, experts in that space, then you start looking at, then you do a few tests, you float, some tweets, some post in that space and see whether, you know, it catches. Because if you comment on a tweet posted by an expert, and if, you know that you can retweet with your own comment, right, which like some of sometimes I don't have anything to add. So I just wanted, you know, my readers or followers to see this. So I just retweeted, but sometimes I also put a couple of comments on this kind of thing. And then when you see the who are the ones go, you know watching it, and what is the velocity with which that information is propagating? So, that is the dynamics. So in the case of experts, the velocity of propagation is very high. The information that they put, like, for example, I have these people, in the case of startups, it is Paul Graham, right. It is Steve Blank, you know, these are the traditional leaders who have been like, done a lot like, you know, Steve Blank, you know, manage so many help so many startups, he will himself was an eight different startups. Several of them failed. And several of them succeeded, you know. Reed Hoffman, you know, LinkedIn, then you know, he was the early investor in Facebook. And you know, so when you start looking at these people who are early investors in these companies that became very successful, and then there are these authorities that are there and they don't they don't know more they tweet for money or you know, they don't tweet for, you know, with a lot of agendas, right. Sometimes they tweet to help the companies that you know, they're mentoring or supporting kind of stuff, right? They're very, very, you know, you can clearly find out, like, if we look at 1000 tweets and analyze it, you will figure out which ones have agendas behind them, and which ones do not have agendas, because they are genuinely concerned about a lot of things that are happening in the space kind of thing. So for each one of these spaces, you know, who are they like, you need to start with about 10 of them. And then, and Twitter gives you an API that lets you go and find the list, which I mentioned, I think earlier, right, whom do they follow, and from there, you will find, sometimes they follow friends, right, but we can separate it out. And that the way you do is topic alignment see that, okay, is the person being followed, because he also blogs on this topic or he also preached on this topic, or they follow because each one of them, you know, companies they invest in, they want to just keep track of them, either way you get the information. So you have to make sure that you can't blindly take all the follower list and follow them too. So but the tools are there. And they're all automated tools. And if it's not, if you don't find an automated that tons of automated tools, but if you don't find them too expensive, almost all the companies I deal with, are in idea to prototype to getting their first customers reach, they can't afford even a $10 per month for anything. So for them, we give these do-it-yourself tools. And we'll say, okay, you do these five steps, and you get the information, here is a simple way to automate it. What they have is time I said, Okay, hire an intern, teach them some Python programming or something like that. But now I think most of the college students, and right ask them to write a few scripts and extract this information, give it to you, and you take a look at it. And you can start from there. So that is.
Pravin Shekar: Beautiful, Dorai. Today's talk, well, I've become a student here. And I've been busy taking notes. Because the key part that I have learned is invisible influencers. We get so enamored by the pomp and show and glamour, that we don't look behind this glamour veil. So well invisible influences definitely agenda, is there an agenda or not? How do you find the vocabulary? And where do you find it leading on to one of the parameters being the velocity of propagation of the message all leads to not just finding the right influencer, and then looking at engaging and connecting and working with them. So well, it's been a great half an hour Dorai. And I'm looking forward to continue our Martech conversations, again, on the same lines, but delving a lot more into connections and tools and additional technologies.
Dorai Thodla: Yeah. So next time, I'll actually start giving you some demos of this and actually do so that you know, people will put it right now it's kind of very abstract kind of thing. So we'll pick one or two topics. And then they say, for this topic, can we find influencers? You know, And so I'll end with a short story. You are the proponent of outlier marketing. Yes. So I said, Okay, I need to help Pravin, let me find out all this. He keeps talking about outlier marketing. It's a vague concept for me. So let me find out what it is leveled and searched on Twitter. And then I found like three tweets. And two of them are from you, some two years ago, something like that. Then I said, I have to tell this to Pravin. And then I said then, okay, there must be some, you know, synonyms for Outlier marketing. So let me find out what are the other kinds of things and all that. So when I'm researching technology in education, I start with something like elements of learning. And then suddenly, I found this wonderful authors, two books, they talk on the basic elements of teaching and basic elements of learning. And I said, when you start about building technology for education, you start with, hey, you know, what is learning? And you start with something like this, because there is also now when you say, learning and typing on Google, and you did mostly machine learning, what happened to the human learning part? So I said, Okay, how do you find this kind of thing and then there's a lot of information that you sometimes in on unintended consequences, know, if you type something, sometimes the wrong query, and then you suddenly find, so you be on the lookout. And so my one final thing is, when you go to your Google search, go to your setting, and set the results to 100 not 20 by default, so whenever you do a search, at least look through the first quickly scan through the first 100 results. Of course 95 of them will be not relevant to what you search for. But, you know, there will be five to 10 gems that you will be able to find.
Pravin Shekar: Lovely, Dorai. Awesome. Thank you.
Dorai Thodla: Thank you, Bye.