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Next week in NYC, Influencer Conference kicks off, and it will be the fourth iteration of an event that started in 2010. InfluencerCon is a culturally, ethnically and ideologically diverse gathering of tastemakers in the arts, entrepreneurship (primarily innovative platforms), philanthropy and technology who come together to share their inspiration, ideas & best practices.

This year’s speakers include:

Last minute prep is underway, but event founder Phil McKenzie managed to find the time to answer a few questions about the event and influencer culture at large.

Over the years, what have you noticed about influencer culture and its evolving impact on business?

PLMpic500Business is still struggling to understand influence because they don’t see it as a culture but instead still cling to the idea that influence is a function of celebrity. And I don’t mean celebrity merely in a Hollywood sense of the word: It can include our fascination with self professed “gurus”.  Influence, the kind that matters, is a culture and that culture shares certain values that keeps it strong. If you don’t understand the culture, you won’t understand the impact that values have within that culture.

I would like to see more of a focus on a values-based influencer program, which would mean we’re taking a longer tail approach to strategy rather than a shorter term focus which is chasing the next “hot thing”. We have an incredible opportunity to align the interests of business with the interests and values of culture that can have substantial benefits over the long term.  People are hungry for connections and relationships that encompass their values. You feel it everywhere you go.

One of the interesting things you note: ” Influencers are not “ahead of the curve” but instead create new paths that shape the future across industries and disciplines.”  This confounds the accepted notion that influencers are people gifted with some kind of foresight.  How did you come to this conclusion?

I think we have a future-fixated business world which is somewhat understandable as businesses must conduct, forecast, and allocate budgets often a year in advance. Culture, however, does not operate in the same way because it doesn’t have the same end goal. Influencers are usually working and/or playing in the worlds that they truly love, they are driven by their genuine interest and passions so they are seeking the best path to actualize their vision. That happens in the present, in the world we are living in right now. It does not happen in the future. It’s only through hindsight, we can say “that was ahead of the curve”. It does not appear that way as it is happening. I think we need to have a bit of predictive accountability. We should go back and examine some of these big strategic future forecast and see how much of it actually happened. In 1984, we all thought we would be in flying cars and skateboards that hover but our current reality is much more mundane.

You want to build relationships, which require an openness and vulnerability you don’t often see in corporations but is essential to building the type of creative rapport needed to build amazing things.

–Phil McKenzie, InfluencerCon Founder

Have you noticed an evolution in the ways that brands approach leveraging influencer culture?  Are they getting “better” at it?

I think rather than brands getting better at leveraging influencer culture, some Influencers have gotten better at leveraging brands. I often reflect on the saying, “In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king”. I think brands are the blind and they occasionally find a “one eyed” man to lead them around with mixed results. If brands want to “get this right” they have to change their value system to align with the value system of influencer culture. They have to take more risks, get comfortable with being wrong, get comfortable with criticism and get comfortable with a long term conversation. You want to build relationships, which require an openness and vulnerability you don’t often see in corporations but is essential to building the type of creative rapport needed to build amazing things. You can always sign celebrities to endorsement deals but we’re talking about something richer.

Are there particular sessions that you’re really looking forward to seeing?

We are hosting two conversations, one on mindfulness and creativity and the other on the rise of feminine values in each of our cities. I am really excited about these talks because I believe these are the big, overarching ideas we need to wrestle with. I am curious to see how each city, with its own culture and natural biases will approach these topics.

More info on InfluencerCon is here.  For the New York City event, which runs Wednesday-Friday, November 6-8, REGISTER HERE.

Posted by Rob Fields