Ivory Scrabble tiles spelling out Influencer against light blue background

How Learning Influencers Advance Your Company's Skill Development

February 18, 2022 Learning and Development
Sarah Fister Gale headshot
By Sarah Fister Gale

A new generation of social media influencers is emerging — and the platform of choice is your corporate learning environment.

While subject matter experts have been a key part of corporate learning for some time, the idea of a learning influencer is a relatively new one that has risen in prominence thanks to integrated social media features that encourage learners to “like and share” content, participate in Q&As, collaborate with other learners and follow people whose opinions they value.

These engagement tools give subject matter experts a megaphone to promote the content they find engaging and motivate colleagues to follow their lead. That makes them an important asset in the ongoing growth and transformation of the organization.

Influencers Make Learning Personal

Learning influencers can be a powerful tool for creating a learning culture. They tend to have more sway than corporate L&D leaders because their intentions for promoting a course are personal, said Kelly Palmer, chief learning and talent officer for Degreed, a California-based corporate learning software firm. In other words, they promote training programs because they enjoyed them, and their comments focus on the value they derive from them.

“It gives credibility to a piece of content, and it helps to create conversations around learning,” Palmer said.

That drives a learning culture. It also gives internal experts another way to inspire their teams and show what they're working on, said Tiffany Poeppelman, director of business leadership at LinkedIn. “It makes learning more engaging,” she said.

At LinkedIn, influencers have become a core component of the learning culture. Along with the use of social features to talk about training, influencers often discuss their learning experiences at company events and during team meetings. Some even reference their favorite courses in email signatures, Poeppelman said.

They also use Office Hours, a platform where experts can host live discussions and Q&As on topics of interest. Anyone can tune in live or listen to the recordings. Poeppelman noted that when experts host these events, viewers are twice as likely to complete the related course.

“It personalizes the learning experience, which inspires others,” she said.

Related Article: Why Now's the Time to Integrate Learning Into Your Digital Workplace

How to Find Influencers

Learning influencers rarely just emerge organically in a company, though. Gina Jeneroux, chief learning officer at BMO Financial Group, said they need encouragement and support. And now is the perfect time to do it.

“As we pivot to a digital workplace, we are looking for ways to bring people together as they develop their skills,” Jeneroux said.

To do that, her team looks in departments across the company for learning influencers who are excited about learning and eager to help others advance their careers. “We want to amplify their voices, so they can engage with a larger audience,” she said.

Jeneroux's team finds these experts by looking at who is sampling new courses, who seeks content outside their core job requirements, and who uses learning platform features to talk about their training and support other learners.

This detective work has turned up a number of surprising influencer candidates. For example, she recently found a customer service rep who was taking foundational math and data science courses to expand their skillset. “It's not part of their job," Jeneroux said. "They are just curious about it."

Related Article: Find Your Learning and Development Influencers

Developing Influencers' Voices

When BMO Financial Group finds these employees, Jeneroux encourages them to talk about their development journey because they demonstrate a passion for learning that might inspire others. She also shares their stories, with permission, on the company’s social media feeds and through staff communications. 

And whenever her team launches a new skill-building program or content series, they reach out to influencers and encourage them to try the content and act as ambassadors if they find it valuable.

“When you tap into the authentic enthusiasm of these learners, it can help you create a better company,” Jeneroux said.

Jeneroux encourages learning leaders interested in jumpstarting their own influencer culture to look for people who are naturally excited about what they're learning — and then give them a bigger platform.

“When someone next to you says, ‘This is an awesome program, you should check it out,’ it creates a very different vibe,” she said. That's the kind of enthusiasm that generates excitement for learning.

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