It doesn’t matter what community we survey or what school district we are partnering with, we’ve learned a simple fact: in any community, there are people of influence.
Recent research shows that a small number of people have a great deal of influence over what others think and others behave. In thinking about your own community, this can even be taken a step further. These people also have a great deal of influence over how others vote.
Ed Keller, author of "The Influentials," states it clearly: “One American in 10 tells the other nine how to vote, where to eat and what to buy.” He then goes on to document the impact this small number of people have on the perceptions of others.
Malcolm Gladwell has also identified a similar group of people, but he calls them “connectors." “Sprinkled among every walk of life are a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances,” he writes.
This group of people, regardless of how large your community or school district is, can be your allies in a successful school initiative. It’s not difficult to find out who these people are. In fact, you could probably take a moment right now and jot down a name or two, but we recommend a more research based and measured approach.
There are a number of characteristics that this unique group of people shares. They tend to be involved in community activism, they often volunteer, they have leadership skills and embrace technology, they tend to be well informed about issues that matter to them and enjoy being part of community groups.
In a nutshell, they can be your project’s biggest advocates … or its biggest opponents. They’re a group that should not be discounted, because they research their opinions, they know the facts and they share their knowledge. These are the people to identify, inform and, ultimately, advocate their support for your school project.
It’s important not to confuse these great people with the squeaky wheels that also exist in every community. “Squeaky wheels” tend to show up at board meetings, are vocal in their concerns and are tenacious in their beliefs. What separates them is their lack of influence and interest in sharing their beliefs with others.
A true influencer, according to research, is much more likely to talk to 10 of their friends about an important issue than speak out at a public meeting. This is precisely why measuring their perceptions, educating them (as well as the community as a whole) and garnering their support for any school initiative is so important. Ed Keller notes that his Influentials are 56 percent more likely than the general population and 30 percent more likely than the general population to try and influence public policy with their opinions. They are also more likely to vote in a local election than the average citizen, a key point that shouldn’t be overlooked.
School Perceptions has worked on more than 600 school projects in communities of all sizes, from districts with 250 students in one school to multi-school districts with thousands of students. We’ve seen the important role these influencers play in a community and are happy to work with our clients in offering strategies to engage them. Give us a call at 262.644.4300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org