How Marketers Use Online Influencers to Boost Branding Efforts

Brands Like Kodak Are Taking a Targeted Social-Media Approach

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NEW YORK ( -- When Kodak wanted to increase participation in its "Time to Smile" branding effort, which launched this past summer, the marketer recently looked to influential bloggers, Twitterers and Facebookaholics to move the needle for its push. But with so many voices buzzing on the web these days, how can a marketer be sure it has found the right group of "influencers" to help it get the word out?

Tapping the power of an influential consumer has long been a practice of marketers. Once, that simply meant looking for the coolest kid on the playground or in the mall or in the club that everyone else was trying to emulate. But with the explosion of the blogosphere, it's no longer just the cool kids that are tagged as influencers; everyone and their mother -- mommy bloggers are now some of the biggest influencers in the consumer space -- can be needle movers.

The upside of that for marketers is a bigger pool to choose from, but the downside is identifying the right one. Cue the agencies and their social-media platforms, which they claim can identify the perfect blogger or Twitterer for any campaign.

Kodak, with the help of one of its PR shops, WPP's Ogilvy Public Relations, which recently launched its influencer relationship management platform called Insider Circle, identified 10 bloggers they deemed influential within the markets they were looking to target. John Bell, managing director 360 Digital Influence at Ogilvy PR, said the influencers range from parent bloggers to photography enthusiasts. Mr. Bell said using bloggers helps stimulate authentic word of mouth that's relevant to the consumer and brand, and builds long-term relationships with these influencers

"We call it social influencer relationship management," he said. "We provide them with new content and values they can pass along to their readers to get them involved in the program."

Some of the bloggers are soliciting their readers to participate in a contest asking readers to post photos with a story explaining why they are smiling. The blogger decides which story is best and will give a new Kodak HD camera to the winner. "We're giving some bloggers access to people at Kodak for stories they'll post on their blogs," Mr. Bell said. The bloggers disclose their relationship with Kodak to their readers.

Just about every agency has a similar platform that uses varying metrics to determine whether a blogger or someone's Twitter feed is right for a marketer. In this case, Kodak and Ogilvy were looking for blogs that had topical relevance, significant reach, a high number of links pointing to their posts and high levels of back-and-forth conversations within their platforms. Depending on what the marketer is looking to accomplish, marketer and agency may also look to see if the bloggers are conversation starters, how trusted and engaged they are, how often their posts get mentioned by others and if they're authoritative.

Chris Perry, exec VP digital strategy and operations at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Weber Shandwick, said choosing a blogger is more art than science. "We don't create a threshold saying you need 5,000 followers on Twitter, but given that it's digital you do get a better read on how you measure influence," he said. "But it could be someone who is just so vocal on a particular subject or category that they are being referenced by other bloggers and media. They may not have a lot of followers but they have a certain point of view that's being noticed, picked up and heard."

Underwriters Laboratories reached out to mommy bloggers to help push its 'UL Keeping the Holiday Safe and Bright' campaign..
Underwriters Laboratories reached out to mommy bloggers to help push its 'UL Keeping the Holiday Safe and Bright' campaign..
Sara Greenstein, CMO of Underwriters Laboratories, said the 150-year-old independent product-safety company reached out to mommy bloggers to help push its "UL Keeping the Holiday Safe and Bright" campaign. The effort isn't pushing any specific UL products but is looking to educate consumers on who the company is and create a community of influencers and consumers that share stories on "how they make their holidays safe and bright," Ms. Greenstein.

With the aid of Publicis Groupe's MS&L Worldwide, UL has identified five "relevant" mommy bloggers it is providing a constant feed to of new safety tips they can share with their networks. These five bloggers have generated about 25 blog posts regarding the campaign.

"They are providing us reach," Ms. Greenstein said. "This segment interacts a lot and they trust each other. These bloggers are opening the door for us to enter into that dialogue, discussion and engagement and giving us a certain level of credibility."

Weber Shandwick's Mr. Perry said the marketer that uses this type of influencer program as a one-off is foolish and missing the long-term benefits. Engaging influencers on a sustained basis by bringing them into the franchise, exposing them to executives and giving them sneak peeks at products can make them lifelong advocates for the brand, he said.

"If you're a brand marketer looking at this as a creative way of just getting that one-time transaction done," he said, "you're not recognizing the power of social media and how consumers are playing in the marketing space."

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