How to Become an Industry Influencer in Your 20s

November 22, 2016, 12:00 AM UTC
One man reading the smart phone screen on the rooftop,background is Shanghai finance building
One man reading the smart phone screen on the rooftop,background is Shanghai finance building
Yaorusheng Getty Images

It is an all too familiar scene—a young, bright eyed 20-something runs around a networking event, frantically collecting business cards.

As a human behavior scientist and author of The 2 AM Principle, I have seen this scenario countless times. I have even been that 20-something. When I was in college, I dedicated countless hours learning how to meet people and develop sales and management skills.

In our 20s, we seek as many relationships as possible for either business or mentorship. Since you don’t know where your career might go and who you may need to know, meeting as many people as possible seems like a smart tactic.

However, as we go through our careers, our strategy for networking needs to change dramatically. How do you take your career to a place where people are lining up in front of you? The key is in two factors:

  1. Influence: Are you viewed as a leader?
  2. Reputation: Have you refined your ability to connect?

Develop a reputation as someone who possesses social value. You can do this through three ways:

  • Position: You are doing interesting work at a respected company.
  • Previous success: You may have sold a company in college or been the youngest recruit at your firm.
  • Thought leadership: You have dedicated the time to have a unique understanding of your industry.

Since you can’t change your past, and you are likely to stay in your current position for a while, the greatest impact you can have currently is in thought leadership.

You can become a thought leader by creating your own brand or status that is well-known and respected. This can take considerable time and is difficult to accomplish. No matter the method, the key is to have some way to promote your ideas. It may mean you create:

  • A podcast: Share industry news and insights or conduct interviews, which will give you an excuse to approach industry executives and develop friendships.
  • A blog: Similar to the podcast but lends itself to a wider variety of content and requires less initial investment.
  • A contributed article: Find someplace with your ideal audiences, develop a relationship with an editor and present a few articles on the topic. If they like your work, you will have a pre-existing audience without having to develop your own site or invest heavily into anything.
  • A newsletter: theSkimm became popular by curating the most important content for people everyday. Do the same. Take the most important industry news and information and provide people with a summary. That might mean a Twitter account that retweets articles or a newsletter that shares industry information.

Many people are stopped by how daunting thought leadership is, but don’t be afraid. There are two things you can do that will make it less intimidating.

  1. This isn’t forever.
    Pick a certain amount of posts, articles and podcasts to create, and if it isn’t getting engagement by a certain point, shut it down. People often get so intimidated that they quit before they start. Make it a small, temporary project.
  2. Start small and build.
    All of these options may seem appealing but identify which one has the least barrier to entry. Writing an article and posting it to Medium or curating a list and sharing it with your friends to start a newsletter program may take time but doesn’t require any knowledge that you don’t already have. Once you have some experience and traction, you can layer in more complex options. Your Medium article can become a post for Fortune. Your interview for Fortune can be recorded as a podcast. Content can evolve over time, so don’t feel pressured to go big right from the start.

When I built the Influencers, a private community of influential business executives, award-winning actors, famous musicians, Nobel Laureates, Olympians and members of royalty, it started small. Now, it has grown to more than 900 members from all around the world.

Whatever you choose to do, now is the time to get started.

Jon Levy is a behavior scientist best known for his work in influence, networking and adventure. He is founder of the Influencers Dinner and author of a new book called The 2 AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure, where he shares science and stories on how to live a fun and exciting life.