I recently found myself in a roomful of Brand marketers, Agencies and Boutique consultancies discussing the growing authority of influencers. As social media has amped and marketing eyes a mixshift of investments to new media and Word of Mouth, the importance and debate around the role of Influencers has exploded.
Just last week, Ad Age reported on research by PQ media that Word of Mouth Marketing crossed $1B in 2006…up from $76M 5 years earlier, in route to $3.7B by 2011.
…in 2006, according to an independent research report on the field that will be unveiled during a session at the annual Word Of Mouth Marketing Association conference in Las Vegas today. The analysis, believed to be first in-depth look at word of mouth, reports that spending on the emerging discipline has increased from $76 million in 2001 to $981 million in 2006 and is expected to grow to approximately $3.7 billion by 2011.
These influencer conversations generally fall into a couple of buckets:
- Data and examples designed to convince you that Influencers matter
- How to find and "activate" them in the brand conversation
- How to measure
I find myself invited to participate in a lot of these discussions as I have pretty strong views on the topic after 5 years of building one of the largest Influencer programs (www.microsoft.com/mvp). Probably more important than the strong views, is the practical lessons learned from operationalizing a global program designed to find, thank and engage influencers both online and offline. Like most things, the best way to learn about something is to go and personally engage in it. I estimate that I’ve talked to over 3000 influencers of our brands from over 50 countries during the past few years.
So, back to the conversation at the conference…As we sat in the room having the discussion, several people used the term "Influencer Marketing." Each time I heard it, I cringed. Something about this phrase seemed wrong. In the moment, I couldn’t articulate why this phrase dug so deep, but by my afternoon presentation I had to discuss this topic. I like to keep the following core assumption in mind: Influencers don’t do what they do in order to help you (the brand)…they do what they do to help other users. Forgetting this core point is probably the fastest path to a failed influencer initiative. The term "Influencer Marketing" to me feels like it is attempting to get a direct response from an influencer. Find the right people, tell them about "A" and they will go tell everyone about "A." In my experience, it just doesn’t work this way. There are a few "influencers" with whom this works - but they rarely influence much or sustain over the long term - they may just be loud. Perhaps my issue with this is that most marketing feels very one way. If you really want to get influencers talking, it’s about a two way, trust based conversation.
Wrong model (marketing dream): I tell you about "A," you tell everyone you know about "A"
Right model: I tell you about "A," you tell me about "A1, B and C." I listen, I make some changes or I don’t make changes but I tell you why. This creates outbound conversation - but it’s a by-product of a relationship, not a channel for push communications.
In truth there probably isn’t anything wrong with the term itself. There are influencers and brands will invariably market to them - and that’s not evil. What might be "evil" is thinking there is a shortcut here - forgetting that this really only works when social media is creating a conversation between a brand and the users…and remember, "listening is not just waiting for your turn to talk!"
And finally, the right model makes another strong point - that the conversation isn’t just between your influencers and the marketing department - it’s the influencers and your company - cross functions.
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