One of the sessions I delivered at The Special Event Show in Phoenix last week was on Social Influence Marketing. It was a topic that I really feel quite passionate about for two reasons: When used strategically and ethically it can be a very effective marketing tool and Influence is often misunderstood and misused.
Social Influence Marketing is the act of focusing your marketing efforts and budget on specific individuals who hold influence within your target market community instead of your target market as a whole. The key reasons why it has become the focus of many marketing conversations are:
Traditional marketing is not as effective as it once was – We’re quite familiar with Influence Marketing offline. When we introduce a new product, have a new member join our team or have some exciting news to share, we often look to influencers like the media to help spread our word for us. Many event companies also use endorsements to help sell their wares. But we’re learning that these forms of marketing are not resonating with consumers as much as they once did.
Conversations online about products & services are exponentially increasing – Small businesses find it difficult to keep track of let alone help to shape these conversations online. Lack of resources, time and budget are the realities of many event businesses. Focusing marketing on a small group of individuals who can help to shape perceptions online can be an effective strategy.
Some people will be energized by our business more than others – It’s not realistic for businesses to treat every customer the same. Some customers are a good fit, some aren’t. Some will be evangelists and some will become detractors. Spending time and money on those who will never be a good fit for our businesses doesn’t make sense.
Some people hold greater influence within communities than others – Since the dawn of man there have been leaders and followers. In fact, Seth Godin says: “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate. … Tribes need leadership. Sometimes one person leads, sometimes more. People want connection and growth and something new. They want change. … You can’t have a tribe without a leader – and you can’t be a leader without a tribe.” In this new age of social connectivity, the development of tribes and leadership haven’t changed, but where they are occurring has. There are some people online who are at the centre of communities, with their finger on the pulse of what’s happening and these people, by way of earned trust, credibility, expertise, reach and the strength of their relationships can help to shape perceptions of others. The key is to find them and energize them about your brand so they will help spread the love.
The top Social Influence Marketing myths:
Myth 1 . Influence is synonymous with popularity
Influence is not the number of friends and followers you have, it’s not the number of blogs you author, nor is it the number of retweets you get. These factors may contribute to influence, but they’re not one in the same. No, influence is defined as “the act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command”. Effect is the key word. The ability to cause others to take action.
There is no single tool that will tell you who holds influence within a certain community, although there are plenty that claim to. Influence is social behaviour and can’t be defined by actions. Tools like Klout can measure the size of your social graph, the number of RTs you get, who RTs you, etc. But they can’t understand the intent behind these actions. This is key to understand.
Although many of the tools can help you understand elements of someone’s potential influence, finding an influencer is based on fact + intuition. When you’re looking for influencers, think CREST:
CREDIBILITY – How credible are they within the community.
REACH – What is the size of their direct & indirect social graph: 1) The number of connections they have + 2) The number of connections their connections have + 3) The number of connections their connection’s connections have.
EXPERTISE – Have they demonstrated subject matter expertise.
STRENGTH – What is the strength of their connections. Remember, there are plenty of people with large social graphs that don’t invest on building relationships. These people are popular, but may not be influential.
TRUST – How trusted are they within the community.
Every business is different. You need to sit down as a business to determine which CREST attributes are the most important to you and how you will weight each criteria. This way, when you search for influencers you can determine who rates the highest based on the things most important to you.
Myth 3 . Paying influencers is the best way to engage them
I’m not a big fan of a transactional relationship between company and influencer. Paying influencers for endorsements changes the dynamics of the relationship and can also be unethical (see ethics below). I much prefer to see companies engage raving fans who also hold influence…people who have interacted with the brand, love the brand and can’t wait to tell others about it. Passion has stronger legs than compensation.
Myth 4 . Influencers make products, services, brands buzz-worthy
Influencers don’t create buzz. Great products, services and brands and the ideas behind them make people excited enough to talk about them. If you don’t have a brand that creates evangelists, put Influence Marketing on the back burner and focus on building models, processes, training, hiring and experiences that energize customers.
Myth 5 . Social Influence Marketing is evil
Social influence marketing without ethics is like a screwdriver in the hands of a robber. A screwdriver can be a great tool for many, but put it in the wrong hands and you have a weapon. The same can be said about Social Influence Marketing.
Businesses who go into SIM with ill intent: to persuade, to be sly, to fool, to lie, etc, have given it a bad rap. Ethics play a very important role – something the FTC will agree with. The FTC has very strict guidelines on how businesses and influencers can and can’t act. It’s critical that event organizers and businesses familiarize themselves with these guidelines and educate anyone they plan to hire about them as well.
The top 4 things to keep in mind:
TRUTH – If you have been compensated in any way to provide an endorsement, you must be truthful about your experience.
PROOF – If, for example, you hired an influencer to try out a weight loss product and they lost 15 lbs. You must be able to prove (with research) that these are typical results. If not, you must disclose that they are not and what typical results are.
TRIAL – You must try a product in order to recommend or endorse it.
DISCLOSURE – If you are in any way compensated by the person you are writing a review or endorsement for, you must clearly disclose that relationship. This could include being invited to attend an event and not having to pay your entrance fee, being sent a product to try without paying for it, receiving a coupon or free product for your time, etc. Jeff Hurt of Velvet Chainsaw also wrote a great post about this last year.
Here’s a copy of my The Special Event Show presentation.