If you were tasked with creating a following for your company, how would you go about it?
With most projects, I'd say you start by understanding the definition of success, perhaps asking questions like: Whom do we want to "follow" us? How will we know they're "helping" us? What's the budget? What is the first milestone and when do we need to hit it? (These are variants of "what are we trying to accomplish, and how will we know when we get there?")
But that doesn't really create a following as much as it creates a marketing outcome at a given point in time. Once the effort stops, will the following live on or does it just fade away?
I think a follower is someone who prioritizes the one thing over others in a meaningful way (i.e. I'll spend less (time, money, focus, whatever) on Y because I care about X and want to put my limited energy there).
If you are looking to get a following, your intention is not to do great things, but for others to applaud your doing of great things. Your intention is flawed. You might be successful in the short term, but you will be found out eventually.
If you're a company trying to create a following in DC, you go to the Capitol with hat (read: wallet) in hand to find someone to convince of your view/need based on what that politician wants to accomplish and how you can "help" them. Your goal is one of three things - policy advocacy (help change the rules in our favor); economic advocacy (help fund our efforts); PR advocacy (help us look good).
In all these cases, the company's currency is whatever is valued by their advocates - nothing more. Once that currency stops flowing, chances are the advocacy stops flowing as well.
There's a word for that - it's called a transaction. Ethics aside, you purchased an outcome - plain and simple.
Being followed is the same as being cool - by definition, when you seek it, or seek to emulate others who have "it" your effort is fruitless. If you are true to yourself, take pride in what you do, and take actions staying true to your integrity, you are cool.
Rarely do people or companies that have a true following begin with the goal of creating one. Their relentless passion is focused on whatever greatness is their raison d'être. It's not to say that you shouldn't be savvy about managing your political risk or ensuring market or political advocacy, but if you do it without a genuine passion for that which is you, you are at risk. As Seth Godin put it, you still need to create advocates, and "coordinating a tribe ... requires patience, consistency and a focus on long-term relationships and life time value."
A political example of this comes from one of our failed politicians - Al Gore - he achieved a following for the environment by doing what he believed in and putting all his effort into telling the story that he needed to tell. He was smart not to take the bait and run for office again - doing that would be akin to Ali actually throwing that last punch when Foreman was already going down in Kinshasa. It would have been inelegant, and offended the aesthetic (or coolness) of that moment. It was at that point that I respected Gore.
If a corporation wishes to create public advocacy for their cause in the form of a following (i.e. make politicians want to help them be successful), they have to counterintuitively avoid it - something very few CEOs have the cojones to do...