Navigating the social influencer landscape for effective marketing
With over 92% of global consumers trusting peer recommendations over other forms of advertising, brands without a thoughtful and systematic approach to social influencer engagement are at a disadvantage. As social media and user-generated content render influencers ever more visible and accessible, companies must figure out how to identify key influencers and effectively engage with them through win/win propositions.
Defining the social influencer landscape
A social influencer is an individual who shares content and opinions with their audience through social channels. While this description applies to most online consumers, companies seeking to engage influencers typically focuses on top influencers and peer influencers. Top influencers are well known across industries and include renowned journalists from mainstream media. They are typically managed through formal one-on-one relationships by PR teams. Peer influencers are individuals with a strong voice and a large, but niche, network who are looked to by others for information, opinions, and recommendations. Everyone else encompasses the remaining audience companies target through social marketing; their networks are smaller and their reach is most likely limited to family, friends, friends of friends, and colleagues.
Peer influencers are the type that marketing teams increasingly seek to engage. While peer influencers always have been instrumental in amplifying marketing messages and moving consumers along the customer journey, they were neither very visible nor easily accessible to companies before the proliferation of social media and user-generated content. Today, peer influencers are online running blogs cross-linked to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and/or other social media services. Their motivations and sway over their audience can be analyzed, understood, and leveraged. Generally, they are motivated by providing valuable information to their audience and being seen as experts and therefore create unique content or commentary that demonstrates thought leadership related to a particular industry or brand. Through these efforts, they build niche (and often large) audiences that trust their content and opinions. Their value to a brand is in increasing both awareness and consideration among this audience.
In the fashion retail industry, for example, Anna Wintour is a top influencer and an icon courted by global brands who hope she will spread news of their products through Vogue. At the peer influencer level, fashion bloggers like The Budget Babe feature daily outfits and inspire audiences ranging from dozens of friends to thousands of followers.
Peer influencers exist at both the industry and brand level. An industry peer influencer is an aficionado on a particular industry, while a brand peer influencer is a recognized expert of a specific brand. Both types are valuable for a company to recognize, depending on the specific objective. For example, a peer influencer that provides thought leadership around the smartphone industry can help a company like Microsoft reach audiences the brand may not otherwise touch. On the other hand, a brand influencer, like a self-declared expert on the Windows Phone, can help Microsoft increase consideration amongst potential buyers by sharing the latest information about the brand. Companies need to recognize the different motivations driving industry vs. brand influencers and adapt their influencer engagement strategies accordingly.
Identifying peer influencers
As companies look to engage peer influencers, they must develop a structured approach for identifying those who are critical to their objectives. In identifying peer influencers, three criteria must be considered:
- Context: A peer influencer should already be talking about the brand, product, or industry.
- Reach: Both industry and brand peer influencers should have a large or rapidly growing following (relative to the overall size of the industry or brand audience).
- Ability to Cause Action: Most importantly, a peer influencer must be a respected individual looking to help and educate their audience. Thus, when a peer influencer makes a recommendation to his or her audience, it is likely to inform their decision-making and purchase process.
Companies must recognize that the classification of social influencers is not static. A peer influencer who becomes a widely recognized individual and moves beyond sharing personal thoughts can move up the ranks. For example, Seth Godin started as a blogger with a niche audience, rapidly grew his audience and partnerships, and is now a top mainstream influencer. Companies who pay attention to the rise and recognition of peer influencers will be more successful at engaging them appropriately.
Identifying the right peer influencers goes far beyond ranking individuals by a Klout score or similar metrics. Targeting influencers requires a deep understanding of the motivation behind peer influencers’ actions. Even more, it is key to ensure that business objectives align with the objectives of peer influencers in order to effectively engage and leverage them. Companies should aim to establish a two-way relationship with influencers, where companies can help peer influencers reach their goal of educating and engaging their own audience, while influencers can help companies amplify their message and increase consideration amongst target customers.