The influence ecosystem is not what it used to be. No longer can brands rely on slick marketing and a paid advertisement to drive business impact. With the proliferation of technology and segmentation of audiences and media, transactional communications is a thing of the past. Today more than ever before, brands must root themselves in deeply understanding audiences and their most trusted channels of influence in order to create lasting connections with those audiences to inspire action. With Five Questions with WE, see what the leading industry minds have to say on the future of influence.

Influence is what content motivates an audience to do.

- Tony Maciulis

Tony Maciulis

Digital Media Expert & Adjunct Professor

Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

Tony Maciulis is one of those people we assume has figured out how to secretly add more hours to their day. An award-winning and Emmy-nominated journalist, media executive, and content consultant, Tony’s diverse experience spans from broadcast news to syndication, and from emerging digital platforms to brand campaigns. He worked for a decade as Katie Couric's producer—both at the CBS Evening News and then on her daytime talk show. Until 2017, he was the Head of News Video at Yahoo, and has since worked on projects for major initiatives like Global Citizen, Stand Up to Cancer and Food Rescue U.S.  He is also an adjunct professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.

WE:  How do you define influence?
TM: Influence is what content motivates an audience to do – the action or belief it engenders. As an example, I was at VidCon in 2015, and I saw a person with blue hair. Then I saw a second person with blue hair, and then a third. Three’s a trend, so I walked up to one of them and asked, “Why does everyone have blue hair?” She explained to me that Tyler Oakley was there. I realized: That’s influence. Tyler Oakley has generated content that the audience has interacted with and said, “I like this guy. I like what he’s saying. I like what he stands for.” All these kids walking around with blue and turquoise hair were interacting at a much deeper level than simply watching a Tyler Oakley video. The influence is how he made them feel and how that feeling made them take an action.

WE: In today’s news environment, who holds the responsibility in defining the truth?
TM: Every single one of us. Every single consumer, creator, corporation and the government—all of us together. While we are seeing more voices, perspectives and stories bubble to the surface, the problem is we are relying on tech companies for our daily information. Tech companies weren’t inherently set up to be content creators. Algorithms are determining what you’re seeing, and you’re determining what you’re seeing by self-selecting topics of interest. We’ve gotten so far from the curation model and relied so much on algorithms that no person is serving as the arbiter of the most important stories in the world right now. I think we need to find a happy medium.

WE: What should brands consider in their influence strategy?
TM: Every screen is an available channel. Every app we engage with on our phones or tablets is ripe with opportunities for monetization.  Emerging lifestyle companies are finding ways to bring content to you that is optimized for monetization. Peloton, for example, hasn’t put just a bike in your home, they put a giant screen in your home. I think that’s brilliant.

WE: If you could be any fictional superhero, who would you be and why?
TM: Batman has a fabulous apartment, and nice clothes. Superman works as a journalist by day, so I kind of relate to him. But, ultimately, I’m much more interested in real life heroes. People like Sully Sullenberger, who successfully landed a plane in the Hudson River and saved the lives of all 155 people on board. I’ll never forget a quote he gave Katie Couric in his first big interview after the crash, “For 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education, and training. On January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.” I mean, that’s a rock star.

WE: What’s the best piece of career advice you wish you could give your younger self?
TM: I’ll flip the question and share a piece of advice actually given to my younger self, by a veteran news guy named Rick Kaplan. He told me, “Learn to take ‘yes’ for an answer.” In other words, don’t talk yourself out of a good situation. Take the “yes” and run with it.


Check out our series on purpose here