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Bits & Pieces?

Bits & Pieces

I participated in a great #smmeasure (Social Media Measurement) Twitter chat yesterday. The topic was online influence and how to use it for social marketing purposes, a personal favorite. After the chat, several people asked me to define influence and explain how to find the right individuals. Since it seems that more than one person is interested in the topic, I decided to share my thoughts here.

First, what exactly is influence? Brian Solis has a great definition:

“Influence is the ability to cause desirable and measurable actions and outcomes.”

Sounds great right? Who wouldn’t want to cause desirable and measurable outcomes? In reality it is hard (should I say almost impossible, unless you use fMRI) to measure the changes one person triggers in the behaviors of others. Instead, online influence is almost always measured by impact, reach, visibility or authority.  However, online influence should not be confused with popularity. Influencers can be popular (e.g. Robert Scoble) and popular people can be influential (e.g. Kim Kardashian), yet not all celebrities are influencers.

How can influencers help with your social marketing goals?

They can help you increase awareness and/or share of voice, improve sentiment or increase positive sentiment, and sometimes they can even increase sales. Using influencers in campaigns leverages the power of third-party credibility in a very cost-effective way.

How do you find influencers?

First you need to define your audience and research which platforms they use. If your audience is teenagers, influential bloggers won’t help you achieve your objectives. If your audience is German businessmen, approaching  influential Xing users is a much better option than influential LinkedIn users.

After that, you need to define the topics and keywords within which you are looking for influencers. Is it a certain industry? A specific genre of music? Be as specific as possible.

The next step is to research the topic for volume. Some industries are much more social than others, thus they produce more activity. It is much easier to find individuals with high Klout or PeerIndex scores within the marketing industry than among mechanical engineers. The idea behind this step is to establish realistic expectations for the next step: using social/online influence tools.

With dozens of online influence measurement tools, how do you know which ones to use? Good question! And I don’t have a good answer because all tools are in their infancy stage (unfortunately). My solution is to use Klout and PeerIndex for multi-platforms rankings and then compare the results since they have different algorithms. If I am looking specifically at blogs, I’ll check Technorati. I look at TweetLevel (because it gives a trust score) and Twitalyzer, together with Klout and PeerIndex, when I am focusing specifically on Twitter.

Finding influencers is much more than relying on tools with obscure algorithms. You need to do some manual labour too. First, you should research each individual and see if the content he/she shares is relevant to your brand/product. Establish if they reach your audience in terms of demographics. Determine if you’d like these individuals associated with your brand/product. The process is the same as selecting a celebrity to endorse your brand.

What do you do after you discover the right influencers?

Engage with them. I know it is a cliché, but people say it for a reason. Build relationships with the individuals you want to reach. Comment on their blogs. RT their tweets. Ask them questions about things they find interesting. Send them articles they might find interesting. Help them before you ask for help. Give before you get.

After all this hard work, it is time to ask an influencer for whatever you want from him/her. That’s why you need an influencer, not just another friend. A few things to consider during this final step:

  1. Reach out to them using their preferred channel of communication. If they prefer e-mails then send an e-mail. If they prefer to be taken out for coffee then take them out for coffee at their favorite place.
  2. Focus on the influencer. What’s in it for him/her? How will your request help him/her? Will it be interesting to his/her audience.
  3. Personalize your request. Seriously! No one likes receiving mass e-mails that start with Dear Sir or Madam.
  4. Get straight to the point without long overtures. No one has time to read five pages. If someone is interested, he/she will contact you for more information.

What are your options if you don’t have time to build a relationship?

It happens. Actually that is the more likely scenario. So what do we do? Here are a few options: ask for an introduction from someone who knows the influencer well and/or optimize the request in a way that will really benefit the influencer.  If all else fails, give him/her a blank check. Not sure if that works, but you never know.

How do you find and approach influencers? What are your secrets?

P.S. I know this just scratches the surface. Let’s dig deeper and discuss more specific details in the comments.

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Last month bloggers, paparazzi and Hollywood-obsessed teenagers all wondered where Snooki’s Coach purse was when the Jersey Shore star appeared with a Gucci bag. Apparently Coach was sending her competitors’ items in efforts to protect its image. “Unbranding,” “preemptive product placement,” “negative product placement,” “celebrity undorsement” or whatever else you want to call it is the new marketing trend among luxury brands trying to disassociate themselves from undesirable celebrities. When “boring stars like Christina Hendricks don’t endorse your product, at least make sure that Gen Y’s out-of-control, narcissistic and always drunk role models like Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Polizzi (Snooki) don’t ruin the image of your brand.

The best part of this tactic: it is easy, you just give a celebrity the competitor’s product, and relatively inexpensive; compare the price of a few luxury bags to the $50 billion brands spend on corporate sponsorship and endorsement yearly.

I guess that in an age of celebrity obsession and constantly increasing celebrity influence we should have expected this to happen sooner or later.

Although some call this tactic of preemptive product placement brilliant and clever, I have a few questions for Coach and all other brands employing it, or considering it:

  1. How ethical do you think this tactic is? If Snooki isn’t good enough to wear your products in public, think how your own behavior reflects on your brand. Unethical marketing tactics mean unethical brands, which is not the smartest strategy when 84% of consumers want to see ethical behavior from brands. This is especially true for Millennials (the exact same people you are trying to turn into loyal customers) who pride ourselves on being the most civic-minded generation in US history.
  2. Did you really expect that this would go under the radar? In the age of WikiLeaks, when even Apple and Microsoft have hard time keeping secret documents and products away from the public, how can you expect that no one will cover this unethical tactic? Remember the whole transparency thing everyone is talking about?
  3. What would happen if you competitors employed the same tactic to sabotage you? Yes, I used sabotage because that is what preemptive product placement is.

Instead of wasting time on keeping Snooki away from your products, focus on providing utility and experience for your loyal customers,connecting with them in meaningful ways and building long-term relationships.

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