Summer 2021 | Publication

Super Influencers: Winning The Thought Leaders Who Drive Policy

Introduction

A small group of disproportionately impactful thought leaders – Super Influencers – drives legislative and regulatory outcomes.  These remarkable individuals operate from positions outside of government to guide the thinking of policy makers on specific issues.  To prevail in the intense policy competition that impacts every major industry, companies, trade associations, and issue groups must identify and understand their sector-specific Super Influencers.

Baron’s Influencer Analytics has equipped members of the Fortune 50, business coalitions, and large privately held firms to identify and engage Super Influencers.  Based on this experience – which includes collecting more than 100,000 verified reference citations and reviewing hundreds of opinion leaders – Baron has distilled critical insights for designing and executing influencer campaigns.  As described in Bloomberg Businessweek and Chief Executive, Baron’s Influencer Analytics reveals the individuals “who exert influence” and have “a profound impact, particularly on some of the most contentious issues.”1

The Problem: Determining Genuine Influence

Opinion leader outreach campaigns often mistake prominence for influence.  The conventional understanding of influence typically relies entirely on anecdotal information.  Moreover, self-labeled “experts” understand the value of projecting the appearance of influence.  Counterintuitively, true Super Influencers often impact policy without obvious indications of doing so.  Super Influencers serve as the “original content creators” upon whom the policy-making process relies.  Baron’s Influencer Analytics reveals the authentic source of opinion-shaping information.

The Opportunity: Efficient and Effective Engagement

By revealing actual influence through a data-driven process, Baron equips clients to deploy unusually cost-effective and high-impact campaigns.  Identifying Super Influencers enables dedicated and consistent outreach that maximizes efficiency. 

This approach empowers: 

– C-suites to deploy compelling thought leadership 

– Government relations teams to target resources effectively 

– Communications teams to focus PR efforts 

– Trade associations to support members with critical insights 

Methodology: Identifying Who Influences the Influencers

Baron’s methodology is rooted in the collection and review of thousands of datapoints from a defined universe of policy makers on a particular subject.  Baron’s proprietary algorithms clean the data to capture true influence and account for anomalies.

Insights: Super Influencer Categories

Baron has observed that across policy areas and industries, Super Influencers conform to three distinct archetypes: 

The Constructive Iconoclast

Super Influencers in this category are unconventional enough to break through the crowded commentary space, yet possess the credentials and relationships that keep them in the elite orbit.  The “hipster antitrust” community provides an example: the intellectual movement rose to prominence by harshly criticizing the traditional understanding of antitrust enforcement.  Key figures in the movement – through elite institutions and connections – however, were able to serve in and significantly influence the Biden Administration. 

The Technician

Technical expertise serves as a key pathway to Super Influencer status.  Super Influencers, typically, have non-political credentials – for example, a medical degree – that distinguish them from others within the Beltway.  Technicians provide specific data-driven information through an accessible platform, making themselves an important resource for policy makers, staffers, and electoral campaigns.

The Narrator

These Super Influencers cover underappreciated subjects in a highly polished manner, harkening back to pre-Internet reporting.  For example, the reporters in this group treat journalism as a venerated craft, not a vehicle for advocacy.  Their in-depth investigations often yield findings contrary to established thinking, and they present findings in a compelling way. 

One key characteristic defines all categories of Super Influencers: a focus on niche topics and communities.  General political commentators rarely achieve Super Influencer status.  Therefore, no Super Influencers are universally relevant across all policy spheres.

Case Studies

A company with annual revenues of more than $100 billion in a highly regulated sector confronts long-term political obstacles.  Baron applies Influencer Analytics, manually collecting thousands of citations about the issue of interest from 80 publications, 40 institutions, and 250 political, business, media, and cultural leaders.  The result: Baron discovers the directly relevant Super Influencers who play an outsized role in shaping the public policy consensus. 

A Fortune 50 company seeks to understand a predatory competitor’s public affairs activity.  Baron is commissioned to identify top influencers in the sector through Influencer Analytics.  The project involves gathering thousands of citations, conducting link analysis, and identifying important nodes of influence, many of whom were previously unknown or underappreciated.  Baron designs actionable blueprints to engage opponents, shift neutrals, and elevate supporters and advises the client through strategic decision making. 

A coalition of leading business executives seeks to identify and understand the genuine influencers on a particular issue.  Baron defines a pool of more than 500 possible opinion leaders and selects more than 30 to study.  Baron collects thousands of citations and, using proprietary Influencer Analytics algorithms, identifies top nodes of influence.  Baron manually verifies citations for accuracy, and creatively applies custom distortion controls.  Finally, Baron crafts approaches for the client to engage with the identified influencers.

Baron collects thousands of citations made by staffers and advisors in the Biden presidential campaign.  Baron’s analysis finds an emerging “battle between the legacy Democratic Party and the reformist Left.”A month later, The New York Times described how “moderates and progressives[’] … deep differences will now present a significant challenge for the president-elect.”  Baron conducted similar analysis of the Trump Administration in 2017 and 2020, comparing key differences between the years.

For a detailed briefing on Baron’s capabilities, please contact Jeremy Furchtgott, Baron’s Influencer Analytics practice lead, at [email protected] 


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Endnotes

1 Peter Coy, “The 10 People Most Likely to Influence the Economic Policy of a President Biden,” Bloomberg Businessweek, October 29, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-29/the-10-people-most-likely-to-influence-a-president-biden; and Jonathan M. Baron, “A Look at the Top Biden Economic Influencers,” Chief Executive, November 12, 2020, https://chiefexecutive.net/a-look-at-the-top-biden-economic-influencers.
2  Baron Public Affairs, “Biden Influencers,” Fall 2020, https://baronpa.com/library/biden-influencers.
3  Astead W. Herndon and Adam Nagourney, “An Early Test for Biden: Managing a Divided Democratic Party,” The New York Times, November 9, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/09/us/politics/democratic-party-joe-biden.html.