If there’s one quality that Amanda Russell clearly possesses it’s unquenchable ambition. Entrepreneur, marketer, professor: these are just a few of the hats she wears. Now, with the publication of her book, “The Influencer Code: How to Unlock the Power of Influencer Marketing,” this past August, she is now officially a published author, as well.
Undeniably driven and active, it’s no surprise that she used to be a competitive distance runner. Not only did her athletic ability secure the Canadian native a spot at the 2008 Beijing Olympic trials, it also afforded her a full scholarship to the University of Richmond, where she studied business and marketing. At 21, a devastating injury upended her life, forcing her to relearn how to walk. Her running career was over, but she retained her drive.
“If I couldn’t go to what I felt was the pinnacle of the athletic world, then I wanted to go to the pinnacle of the corporate world,” Russell said. She set her sights on three big marketing firms in New York.
Fresh out of college and with limited experience, Russell had a lot of work ahead of her. The fact that she was not a United States citizen further complicated matters. She knew she would have to make an impression, so she had an idea.
“I sent each of the three firms a pair of Nike training shoes in a box with this personal letter about how I had all this work ethic and dedication that I could now give their company because I could no longer run,” Russell said. “And that opened the door, that got their attention.”
That strategy, which she acknowledged was an example of influencer marketing, worked. She took a position at her top choice firm. Eventually, she returned to business school to obtain her MBA.
“I had this thesis that you could have the best product or service or idea in the world, but if you don’t have an audience that both cares and trusts you, it doesn’t matter,” she said.
She soon developed a loyal audience of over 80,000 subscribers to her wellness brand, Fit, Strong, and Sexy, a digital community that provides exclusive content to help women live active, healthy lives.
Russell is now an established expert in influencer marketing. She advises heavyweight companies such as Lamborghini and Lionsgate. She teaches the topic at UCLA and the University of Texas in Austin. Her book aims to dispel common misconceptions about influencer marketing.
“In order to understand influencer marketing, we must first understand the term ‘influence,'” Russell said. She describes influence as “the ability to move or cause a desired action to your desired audience.”
So what are some takeaways from Russell’s book? For starters, influencer marketing and social media are not the same thing. It is not enough to simply post content or cultivate a strong social media presence. Influencers must persuade their audience to take a specific action. “Social media is a communication channel, it’s not an influencer,” she said.
Secondly, “influence is not universal,” according to Russell. “If you are a doctor and you give medical advice, then you’re very influential in that category, to every patient that you have,” she explained. “But does that mean that your patients are going to follow your home decorating advice?”
Thirdly, audience size and influence are not the same thing. You can have a large audience viewing your content, but what truly matters is your ability to persuade that audience to take a certain intended action.
Ultimately, Russell hopes “The Influencer Code” can serve as “a paradigm shift on how to think about achieving bottom-line brand goals, whether that brand is yourself, a Fortune 500 company or a startup.”
“We’re all walking brands, whether we acknowledge it or not,” she said. “So what do we want to achieve?”