There’s been a lot of talk about influencers and how decisions are really made within the blogosphere. Finding influencers on the web has greatly changed how word of mouth campaigns are implemented over the past decade and now marketers are really interested in shaping our peers’ decision on buying their product. From an elementary standpoint, I wrote a series of posts designed to help pinpoint how people can seek out influencers on the web. But while that is more of an introductory look at how marketers can do some research in finding those influencers, the next step is to understand what you can do to affect their decisions and possibly get them to make an acquisition.
Finding influencers involves a bit more detailed work
It’s one thing to influence someone to check out your product, but do not be mistaken to think that it will directly result in an actual transaction taking place. Of course, if you choose the right person of influence, they might, in turn, decide to tell their friends and family about their experience (pleasant or not) and that will probably result in some sort of transaction. This is in line with what influence monitoring service Klout is doing with their “Klout Perks”. Companies that wish to get the word out in the social media realm and reach out to influencers work with Klout to find the right people. Specific individuals are supposed to get notified and then once they accept, they are given the “perk” – free flight on Virgin America, shoes from Heyday, an Audi A8 kit, tickets to a NCAA basketball tournament, etc. And while I’ve been privy to several of these perks, one thing marketers should know about doing a Klout perk is to make sure that your package and details are good enough to attract the influencer’s attention. There have been good perks, in my opinion, like how Virgin America did their Toronto route and there are others that failed, like FOX’s Lonestar campaign. Simply throwing out things to influencers will not give them enough information/motivation to make the next step – sharing their experience. Give them some sort of story or background info so that they can make their own leap without wondering why they should be interested.
The one metric that people hope to measure is “has this led to people buying my product?” and my answer here is “not sure”. Why? Because until you ask them in a survey (and assume that they’ll tell you), there’s no way to know whether that publicity got you more sales. However, if that influencer has blogged, tweeted repeatedly, posted a YouTube video or interviewed your CEO on a podcast, then I would say that it probably had a good chance of a purchase – the bigger the influencer, the better your chances. But don’t assume that using a single measurement system like PeerIndex, Klout, Hubspot or even Technorati is a clear indication of someone’s influence – because it’s not. A person’s influence online may not be through their blog or through just their YouTube channel or even Twitter. In fact, it’s not consolidated into one single entity. It’s everything that they do…you’ll need to find a foothold onto someone’s social personality and explore it to determine where their true strengths lie – aggregate all their social profiles and determine whether you think that they are the best, not because they have a higher Klout score than the next person. But do not shrug off the measurement score as well – these things should be used in tandem with all the other social profiles to advise you of their influence.
Numbers are the permanent status symbol on the web
One of the clearest measurable signs of someone’s status in the social web is the numbers that they have racked up. It seems that for businesses, the quantity is a telltale sign of someone’s substance and significance. Look at your social media strategy and gaze at what one of your influencer’s social graph is like. If you look at the number of followers that they have on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or even in their RSS feed, does that make them better or worse than anyone else who might have lesser numbers? Probably not…in fact, just look at Ashton Kutcher. Does the fact he has over 6 million followers on Twitter make him any more influential than before he spent all the time bolstering his numbers? No. Why? Because he was still influential as a celebrity. The focus should not be on the numbers that they have accumulated, but rather the relevant content that they have produced. Is there substantive content that will show you why that person can be considered an influencer or are you selecting them based on their numbers?
So who do we really need to listen to?
The research site, eMarketer, published a new report last week citing the real influencers that helped generate more sales. They cite the GlobalWebIndex “Annual Report 2011” that shows a shift in consumer behavior on social media. The landscape has changed over time where the focus should be more on how to distribute the content than actually creating it. Of course one of the key things about seeking out influence is not the medium that information is sent, but rather the human element of it all. eMarketer reports that Internet users worldwide reported a “nearly 50% increase in their trust of social network contacts giving them product recommendations” as opposed to “21% increase for microblog contacts”. With the evolutions of communication, the eMarketer report shoes that the traditional forms of marketing and source of content (television, newspaper and radio) have drastically shrunk in what people cite as sources for finding influencers. This decrease in the use of traditional forms of content sharing shows that people are interested in sharing their knowledge to a more global community and that there can be more engagement and two-way dialogue than there could be before.
eMarketer continues to delve more into the trust issue by citing Edelman’s “Trust Barometer” report (2011) that says that the common person is not really more trusted than actual subject matter experts. In fact, the study highlights that those who have spent their careers researching and understanding the industry are more trusted than your neighbor or some “Average Joe” off the street. What this means for marketers is that to really influence your customers into buying your product, your strategy must involve being in the same social web space as your customers and reach out to them using trusted sources like an expert in consumer electronics, healthcare, automobiles, etc – whatever your involved in. The research provided by Edelman in the eMarketer report is not so surprising because for real trust about a product, I’m going to want to hear from someone who knows the ins-and-outs of what I’m planning on buying.
Take for example the iPad 2 that Apple just announced. I could surely ask a friend who knows next to nothing about consumer electronics what he thinks about the iPad 2 OR I could listen to someone from gadget blogs, GDGT or Engadget. If I absolutely had to talk to someone about it, according to the study, my best bet for credible information about a company or product would probably be with talking to Leo Laporte or Jeremy Toeman – both of whom have spent considerable time understanding consumer electronics. My friend’s sister who only thinks about the iPad as a gadget to play Angry Birds on is probably not someone who would readily be consulted about purchasing the product.
The decision wheels keep on spinning
And so we now know that social media and professionals are becoming a major consultation for purchasing decisions, the question that you must ask your marketing team is whether or not they’re pursuing folks that their customers would listen to. Who are you influencers and how did you determine who they would be?
Let the confusion continue.
Photo credit: marxus / sxc.hu