Communications
Engagement

How to Leverage the Power of Internal Influencers

Caitlin Kirwan

Internal Comms & Engagement Expert

31 Jan 2024

internal influencers.

With influencer marketing more popular than ever, internal communicators are thinking more strategically about how to leverage the power of their ‘internal influencers’.

 

The global market value of influencer marketing has more than tripled since 2019, hitting 21.1 billion US dollars in 2023. While approaches toward working with internal brand advocates and employee champions are well understood, strategies to leverage the power of peer-nominated internal influencers are still a little hazy. 

This blog post explains what an ‘internal influencer’ actually is, and then explores three practical steps to help you harness their power. 

What are internal influencers?  

An internal influencer is somebody within an organization who is able to shape, or influence, the opinions and behaviors of other employees. They are generally well-respected by their peers, are unafraid to speak up, and can have more power to sway the beliefs of their colleagues than senior management. 

The opinions of your internal influencers really matter, as their influence is not always positive. An unhappy or disengaged internal influencer can have a hugely negative impact on overall employee engagement by damaging trust in leadership and spreading cynical opinions about the organization.  

So why are these individuals so powerful?

While other important employee groups – like comms champions or project ambassadors – are often self-nominated and highly engaged, influencers are informally nominated by their peers and seen as independent and trustworthy. 

They have their ears to the ground and strong voices that can really help, or hinder, organizations in driving engagement with key change programs or campaigns.

Whether you’re launching a new intranet, increasing awareness of a new benefit, or encouraging participation in an employee survey, internal influencers are the people on the front line who are far more effective at spreading the word than any company-wide campaign.

3 steps to effectively harness internal influencers

These three steps will help you to leverage the power of the internal influencers in your organization as a force for good!

1. Identify your influencers 

The first step is to identify the most influential individuals within your organization, outside of the leadership team. The aim isn’t to create influencers, but instead to find the people who have the power to spark movements and drive change across the workforce. 

One of the best ways to identify these influential individuals is by using snowball sampling, which is based on purposive sampling and involves participants referring or nominating individuals within their networks. Sharing a simple survey with employees to ask whose advice and opinions they most trust and respect (other than leadership) will highlight the influential people across the organization whose names come up again and again.

2. Engage and involve your influencers 

Once you have a better idea of who your internal influencers are, the next step is to engage them by getting them involved and united behind a common cause. 

This is the stage when you can start to build your influencer network by inviting these individuals to share their opinions and contribute to the planning stages of important campaigns. It’s all about creating an open and collaborative culture where your internal influencers can share their knowledge about what will be most beneficial and impactful for employees.
Involving internal influencers with change programs or campaigns at an early stage gives them an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way, leading to a more positive attitude toward the program or campaign. 

3. Empower your influencers to spread the word

The final step is to empower your internal influencers to spread the word with their colleagues outside of the newly created network. Encouraging these individuals to share their experiences with colleagues will ultimately help achieve greater widespread engagement.

Perhaps one of your internal influencers suggested a fundamental change to a new benefits platform, or perhaps they helped negotiate the roll-out timelines for a new piece of software. They may have played an important role in working alongside the HR team to finalize the details of a new flexible working policy or held the casting vote on your intranet’s new name. 

Whatever their involvement, the third and final step is all about empowering these influential individuals to take their experience back to the masses and create positive engagement with the program or campaign.  

Internal influencers in the wild

Feeling inspired to learn more about how internal influencers can make a difference to your organization? Check out our recent blog post on internal communication within airlines to read about how Sue Dorrington, Head of Internal Communication at British Airways, uses local employee-led networks as a key part of her communication strategy. 

 

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