The Brand-Influencer Relationship
Unlike before, when social media marketing success meant the number of ‘followers’ or ‘fans’ amassed, today’s marketers know that influencers are imperative to a brand’s success online. According to a study by Meteor Solutions, 30% or more of a website’s actions are determined by influencers. These influencers, who are thought leaders and industry experts, can have significant impact on a brand’s reputation and even affect bottom line sales. A smart marketer, who knows the power of influencer marketing, is investing considerable time in finding these brand advocates, engaging with them and establishing a strong brand-influencer relationship. Why are online influencers so important to a brand?
- Consumers, who heavily rely on word-of-mouth recommendations, do not always believe everything a brand says; the influencers have an important role to play in such cases.
- Online campaigns and marketing messages promoted by influencers have better chances at success than those that aren’t.
- According to a 2010 Forrester study, Mass Influencers were responsible for 80% of the influence impressions and posts about products and services in social channels.
- These brand advocates help spread the word about a brand’s site, products, services, and promotions and spur their followers into action.
- When it comes to Online Reputation Management, the influencers play a major role in how your audience views your brand.
A recent study by Vocus shows that influencers with a tighter connection were more important to the respondents than those who simply had a horde of fans and followers with little or no connection. The study, which presented respondents with a question about hypothetical influencers, concludes that influence is directly related to the quality of connection to a given network.
- Identifying Influencers
The above study clearly establishes the difference between popularity and influence. Influencers are not determined by the multitude of followers they have; they usually have a dedicated audience who follow these experts because of similar interests and because they are credible in their fields. However, finding the influencers and developing meaningful relationships with them requires some research and listening. While some influencers are famous in their respective industry circles, there are others, who although lesser known, are just as powerful among their followers. According to Brain Solis, “the true movers and shakers of the online marketing universe are less visible than you’d think. They show up when the timing is right, reach out to their medium-sized but strong network, and let the message take its course.” In an overcrowded digital space, what can brands do to identify and pick out true influencers?
- The Following vs. Followers Ratio:
This is one of the most basic ways of determining if an individual is a true influencer. It is not uncommon to find people following or friending someone only because they were followed in the first place. The true influencer is followed by at least twice the number of people he follows, and in some cases, a lot more than that. Ashton Kutcher, with his +8,570,000 followers is a highly influential voice in the social media space. The actor, who goes by the @aplusk Twitter handle, is worth $140 million; this means every time Kutcher endorses a brand online, there are greater chances of people actually listening and contemplating a purchase.
- The Question of Credibility:
Before going to the next step of engaging with the influencers, online marketers need to first establish the credibility of these people who will go on to become the voice of the brand. Finding answers to these questions is a good start; a) Are they considered to be experts in their field? b) How often are these people getting retweeted? and c) Are they truly engaged? It is important that your potential influencers post frequently and are reasonably active on social media. The content posted by these brand advocates, no matter how compelling, will have little impact if the messages are few and far in between.
- Using Social Media Monitoring Tools:
Using comprehensive social media monitoring tools like Brand Monitor™ is an effective and time-saving technique to identify and learn more about potential influencers. It is impractical to manually check the number of fans or followers each person has and determine if that person qualifies as an ‘influencer’. Media monitoring tools simplify this process by determining the influencer score. Once the influencers have been identified, marketers can then proceed to engage with them and convert them into brand advocates.
- The Following vs. Followers Ratio:
- Taking it to the Next Level
After establishing who the influencers are, the next step involves creating meaningful connections with them. For companies looking to improve their brand image and increase visibility online, engaging with these ‘power users’ is definitely a step in the right direction. Taking the influencer-brand relationship to the next level involves some vital, though easy-to-implement, steps:
- Plan Your Engagement Strategy:
In order to build a lasting relationship with your influencers, it is essential to plan your engagement strategy first. Overwhelming these brand advocates with one too many tweets or marketing messages without giving them the option of knowing your company and understanding what your brand does may only dissuade them from connecting further. As a brand, a well thought-out engagement plan will also give a clearer idea of what it is that you wish to achieve from this relationship. Here are the two important stages of the planning process; a) the listening stage: using social media monitoring tools, brands can listen to what the influencers have to say before attempting to engage with them. As an online marketer, you could study what hashtags they use and use them in your posts in order to show-up on their radar b) the courtship stage: this involves commenting on their blog posts, retweeting interesting content, and joining in their conversations on social media channels. This is a good way to move the discussion forward.
- Building a Relationship:
Once the foundation has been laid, brands can safely proceed to strengthen and cement this relationship. Most social media gurus agree that the nothing works as well as pampering the influencers and making them feel special. According to BzzAgent’s ‘Field Guide to Brand Advocates‘ report, 58% influencers said that it was important to them that they are viewed as good brand advocates, while 49% felt the need to be recognized for their efforts by the brands. In our opinion, the secret to a strong and successful brand-influencer relationship begins with a) something as simple as saying a ‘thank you’ when they share your content or mention your brand on a networking channel and b) is strengthened further by treating them to special offers on the brand’s yet-to-be-launched products that are usually available to a select few.
- What You Need To Avoid:
There could be several reasons that could cause an easily-avoidable crack in the brand-influencer relationship. While some marketers turn-off influencers by too much sales talk and self promotion, there are others who solely focus on the A-listers, while ignoring the second-tier bloggers after a while. Although one of the main reasons why brands seek out and connect with these power-users involves promoting their products and services, it is a good idea to let them establish a comfortable relationship with your brand first. Also, when it comes to connecting with brand advocates, what marketers also need to keep in mind is that instead of targeting a few top influencers, it would be wise to connect with a greater number of second-tier bloggers for better reach. The chances of the latter having more time to engage with your brand are a lot higher than the time-strapped A-listers who may restrict themselves to a select few.
- Plan Your Engagement Strategy:
- What Influencers Can Mean for Your Brand
Influencers can be that much needed shot-in-the-arm for brands looking to improve their image, gain visibility and revive sales. What an influencer says about your brand can greatly impact how your brand is perceived in industry circles and among fans. Considering the power of word-of-mouth marketing, brands need to understand that roping in influencers to promote their products and services ensures better prospect of success. Our research on how influencers can impact a brand unearthed some interesting case studies:
- Driving Traffic the Ford Way:
Many brands today, especially automakers, prefer approaching influential Twitter users instead of celebrities to promote their products online and drive traffic to their websites. Ford, for instance, decided that these power users were more influential and visible than celebrities. Also, the fact that people trusted the voice of regular people like themselves prompted the automaker to engage with 100 social media influencers to endorse their Fiesta subcompact. The Fiesta Movement campaign, which involved the influencers first test-driving, and then posting reviews online, generated over seven million views on YouTube and four million mentions on Twitter. It drove 130,000 consumers to its website and 83% were previously non-Ford owners. And of course, the affordability factor certainly tilts the scale in favor of the influencers.
- How Marmite ‘Spread’ the Word:
When Unilever decided to launch the ‘extra-mature’ version of its iconic Marmite spread, the company identified and engaged with a group of ‘superfans’ called ‘the Marmarati‘. Unilever’s idea of involving these influencers to spread the word across various social media channels before launching Marmite XO paid off. Within no time, the word about the company’s newest product was out, with brand advocates talking about it on blogs, Twitter and Facebook. In the 12 months following its launch, MXO delivered £1 million in sales. Most importantly, the Marmarati remain an engaged group of brand advocates.
- Raising Brand Awareness:
Pepsi was one of the first few brands to use social media to raise brand awareness. When the company decided to overhaul its entire brand, including the logo, PepsiCo adopted a slightly non-traditional approach. Instead of sending out a press release, PepsiCo roped in some ‘select bloggers’ and delivered a bunch of cans showing the way its design had evolved since its launch. These influencers then blogged about the new design, increasing brand awareness in the process. The real-time nature of social media and the fact that these brand advocates in turn influenced their followers to be more receptive to the change worked brilliantly for the beverage company.
- Driving Traffic the Ford Way:
Social media marketing is no longer restricted to simply getting onto a popular networking site and straight-away promoting brands. Today’s marketers are paying close attention to and engaging with social media influencers with great enthusiasm because of their industry expertise and wide reach. Also, brands believe that engaging with influencers is an effective way of maximizing the value of their investment in social media. While identifying the influencers can sometimes be challenging, for most marketers the greater challenge lies in engaging with and retaining these power users. In our opinion, the key to a long term brand-customer relationship lies in understanding what drives these influencers and trying to get on their radar before making your move. When they have heard about your brand and know what your area of expertise is, they will eventually be interested in what you have to say.
While the benefits of engaging with these power users include everything from increasing sales to spreading marketing messages, brands also need to know that these influencers can greatly contribute to controlling a PR crisis. Influencers have a loyal group of fans and followers who immensely value what they have to say.
The online marketing world is constantly evolving, making the process of reaching and selling to customers more challenging than before. The change in customers’ buying behavior and the frequent mushrooming of networking sites mean marketers are under constant pressure to find new ways of disseminating information. For these marketers, influencer marketing is a highly efficient and relatively inexpensive way to strengthen their foothold and standout in an overcrowded and dynamic online marketplace.