What Is The Role Of An Influencer In The API Industry?

I am spending two days this week with the Capital One DevExchange team outside of Washington DC, and they’ve provided me with a list of questions for one of our sessions, which they will be recording for internal use. To prepare, I wanted to work through my thoughts, and make sure each of these answers were on the tip of my tongue–here is one of those questions, along with my thoughts.

The idea of an influencer in the API space will mean many things to many different people. I have pretty strong opinions about what an influencer should do, and it is always something that should be as free of product pitches as it possibly can. Influencing someone in the API space should mean that you are not just influencing their decision to buy your product or service. That is sales, which has it’s place, but we are talking about influencing. I would also add that influencing SHOULD NOT be steeped in convincing folks regarding what they should invest in, at the technology purchasing level, all the way up to the venture capital level. The role of an influencer in the API industry should always be about education, awareness, and helping influence how average flks get everyday problems solved.

Being an influencer always begins with listening and learning. We are not broadcasting or pitching, we want to influence, so we need to have an idea about who we are influencing, and what will resonate and help them solve the problems they face. I do a significant portion of this by reading blogs, tuning into Twitter, and spending time on Github understanding what folks are building. Next, I engage in conversations with folks who are doing APIs, looking to understand APIs, and listening to what their challenges are, and what matters to them. At this stage I am not influencing anyone. I am being influenced. I’m absorbing what is going on, educating myself about what the problem set looks like, and better understanding my potential audience, when and if I get around to doing some of that influencing.

With a better understanding of an industry, a specific audience, and potentially the problems and challenges faced with doing APIs, I will usually step back from APIs entirely. I want to better understand the industry outside of just doing APIs. I want to understand the companies, organizations, instutions, and potentially government influence on what is happening. Everything that is already going on often weighs on doing APIs way more than the technology will ever by itself. I’m looking to understand the business and politics of operating in any sector before I will ever begin doing any sort of influencing within an industry, and to any specific audience. In technology circles, I find that many of us operate within silos, with our blinders on, and don’t always understand the scope of the problem we are looking to provide API solutions for. Stepping back is always healthy.

Once I’ve done my research, engaged in conversations with folks in an area I’m looking to influence, I’ll begin to write stories on the blog. This is all just exercising and training for the white papers, guides, workshops and talks I will be giving in any area I’m trying to influence. I will do this for months, repeating, reworking my ideas, and developing my understanding. The process usually brings more people out of the woodworks, opening up even more conversations, and influencing my industry, but also potentially adding to the number of folks I will be influencing. Slowly I will build the knowledge and awarness needed to truly be able to influence people in any industry, ensuring I have the platform of knowledge I will need, and grasp the scope of the challenges and problems we will be looking to deliver API solutions for.

The role of an API influencer is always a two-way street. You should be influenced just as much, or more than you are influencing. You should be working with influencers to understand your challenges. Tell us your stories, even if they are confidental. Help us understand your industries, and the unique problems and challenges that exist in there. Invest in us listening to your stories, and us telling your story on our blogs, and other longer form content. This is how we’ll help work through what is going on, and find the right path for your API journey. We can bring a lot of value to your API operations, and help you work through the challenges you face. This isn’t about content creation, or simply workshops, training, white papers, and public speaking. This is about influencing, and making an impact. You can’t do this without truly knowing what is going on, and being able to intelligently speak what is going on. This takes time, practice, investment, and actually giving a shit. It is something not everyone can pull off.