Marketing to so-called influencers is one of the hottest topics among CMOs today, with discussions around Klout and their proprietary algorithm for measuring "influence" leading the way. There is of course value to understanding the top-down influencers with huge followings or high Klout scores, but to date discussion is missing the big picture.
Most of those we recognize with high Klout scores, particularly those scoring above 70, are people with a large following on Twitter, often either a celebrity, reporter or tech-industry pundit like Robert Scoble (Klout score of 85). While "Scoblelizer" might post useful articles or industry-related thoughts that get retweeted hundreds or thousands of times, he is certainly not someone I or most people would trust for recommendations for purchases related to fashion, household products, restaurants, entertainment or most common purchases.
Most consumers' purchases are not influenced by someone who tweets frequently or scores high on Klout, but rather by a person's tight-knit group of family, friends and peers who share common interests and have earned trust regarding purchasing decisions. Just think back to your recent purchases. Everyone has a friend with great taste in music or movies, or a knack for finding deals on a great meal or the latest fashion. Understanding these connections will help unlock the real value of influencer marketing, allowing brands to identify their loyal advocates and engage with them in a scalable way to drive conversations online and off.
Of course, the definition of an influencer is something that has been the subject of heated debate. Malcolm Gladwell's widely acclaimed book "The Tipping Point" first drew attention to a set of uber-influencers who set major trends (like the Hush Puppies resurgence) in motion.But more-recent findings from Columbia researcher Duncan Watts refute the claim that a small subset of people drive larger purchasing patterns. Rather, it is the "pass-around power of everyday people" that really drives viral sharing. It is this latter definition that seems to be getting ignored more and more lately as companies strive to create scores to identify the uber-influencers.
Another critical aspect of influencer marketing that is also largely being ignored is the development of an ongoing relationship between a brand and its influential consumers. This relationship is one that must be earned and developed over time. Consumers must prove willing and successful in helping drive value for a brand -- whether that value comes from providing insight and ideas or successfully spreading the word about products. In return, the brand must have a way to identify those who create value for it, and have ways to retarget and communicate with them on an ongoing basis, building a deeper relationship.
Regardless of where you stand on the argument, it is clear that social networks are growing and that people are more eager to share than ever. This rise means that connecting with key consumers who influence their friends' social networks becomes more and more critical and feasible at scale. Marketers should all take a step back and ask some critical questions to determine what strategy will work best for them:
- Who or what is most likely to influence people to purchase your product or service? Is it a close friend, family member, product reviews, a niche blog or someone with a huge online following?
- Are you looking to drive mass impressions, or is it a vehicle for building ongoing relationships with a core set of consumers and driving deep engagements through them?
- Is the product you are selling likely to be one that will spread quickly and become a fad or one that will stand the test of time?
- Do you want people to simply share the messaging and products you develop through a status update, or help to determine the future direction of your brand?
Once you have a good idea of what type of influencers you are looking for, mapping out a strategy becomes a lot clearer. Sure, there are situations that dictate short-term solutions and mass outreach, but in most cases that just replicates existing marketing activities. Creating true influence as a brand means investing time in building deep relationships with consumers, and creating an extension of your brand nationally or globally. New technology is enhancing brands' ability to build these consumer networks, and marketers' success in the coming years will largely rely on a better understanding of how to cultivate true influence into advocacy.