Is it time to double down on influencer marketing?

There is no doubt that the global pandemic has impacted our marketing and growth plans. Indeed, it has forced a step-change in everything – from the way and how we work, to the where we work … so it is little wonder that marketers are feeling the strain.

Add to this the massive shifts around business accountability, increasing expectations of brand authenticity and respect for social license, and 2020-21 can easily be seen as a turning point for the often fraught relationship between brands and their audiences.

So what is the role of influencer marketing in the distinctly modern marketing mix? Ryan Skinner from Forrester offers some suggestions:

  • Social advertising: There appears to be a downward trend in social advertising – with spend dropping off by 10-20%
  • Influencer marketing as a growth opportunity: While social advertising is trending down, marketers are seeing the opportunity to expand their influencer-oriented activities, citing share of attention (more time on social – 63%), growing awareness and positive perception (of influencers)
  • Influencer content sentiment trends upwards: Only 20% of people indicated a negative attitude towards influencers. This receptivity creates an opportunity to communicate in a more one-to-one vs one-to-many scale to build awareness and reinforce brand-to-consumer relationship building.

What then, might be the way forward?

  • For those brands comfortable working with influencers:
    • Treat your approach to influencers as an opportunity to double down on long term brand messaging – built relationships and position for the future
    • Develop a growth plan connected to your influencers and your brand position
    • Experiment with influencers-as-a-channel – work closely with your influencers to build a content plan rather than just push content into a particular platform (eg TikTok or Instagram)
    • Move an additional 5% of your media spend towards influencers and double down on your experiments.
  • For those brands new to influencer marketing:
    • Shift 5-10% of your marketing budget to influencers. Understand that it will take time to learn how it can impact your activities and use the time and budget to build your expertise
    • Seek category and domain expertise alignment in your influencers and use your traditional marketing efforts to amplify the work of your influencers
    • Be creative – don’t just focus on transactional or bottom of the funnel marketing with your influencers. Find or create opportunities to communicate your brand values with and through your influencers.

The Marketing Therapist

It’s interesting when I think back on it.

Years before I became an all-in marketer I worked in publishing. I honed my craft (and it felt very much like a craft), learned about as many aspects of the industry as possible and revelled in the thought that I was part of a profession that reached back centuries. Of course, one of the things that I did was to actively disrupt the very publishing tradition that I loved. But that is another story.

One of the first books that was given to me by my boss was Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. It had been around for years, but I was assured it would play an important role in my professional life. And sure enough, my boss, the eagle-eyed publisher, Eve Ross, was right.

I started learning a different perspective immediately. I could read “influence” into many aspects of my work – from design and layout to the way I worked with authors. It changed small things about my ways of working and it changed my mindset in quite profound ways. And I still encourage my new team members to read it. I just ask them to read it with a creative mindset and thoughts on a future horizon (and how we will get there).

The infographic below captures some key insights that we can use to connect our work in marketing with the customer’s mindset. Some of the tactics are a little clunky, but with some creativity (and some A/B testing) you’ll find a happy medium.

What I have learned over the years is that psychology plays a major role in our lives – but also in our work. And if we think of ourselves as marketing therapists, you’ll go a long way to solving your customers and your clients challenges.

Now, just take a seat and tell me about your mother …

Peddling Influence in the Digital Age

There once was a time when we knew who to trust. We knew the organisations and people. We knew the media and channels. And we even knew the professionals. I can remember the awe and esteem my Nan bestowed on her slightly dodgy and doddery GP. His word was gold. So was media personality, John Laws.
But times change and so too does our sense of trust.
In a matter of a few decades, we have seen trust in our institutions, professions and media dissipate. We are more distrustful and even fearful of those people and institutions we once felt secure and supported by.
Interestingly, as these institutions faded, they were replaced with digital versions of themselves. Just look at the media. Brands. Government. Professions. But in the process of digitising, we have also shifted our trust to those organisations and companies which deliver these digital services. Think about Google. Apple. Microsoft. Even Facebook with whom we share our most personal of information.
In this shift to digital, we are all now more aware of the process of influence, building trust and activating networks. We are more aware because the tools to do so are in our own hands. We have “personal brands”, see ourselves as our own mini media networks, and wield our online influence remorselessly.
While many marketers and many individuals have embraced this approach – many still have not. And companies, businesses and governments continue to be left in the digital dust. But there are ways of understanding this new media landscape and the influencers which inhabit it.
David Armano has put together a neat diagram showing the three styles of influencers:
  • Cultural – celebrities and those who have sway over lifestyle decisions
  • Media – journalists and bloggers along with media companies who can still set trends and direct our attention around topics
  • Reputational – employees, thought leaders and subject matter experts.
Understanding where and how influence flows between these groups can help direct strategy, focus and attention. As well as budgets. Because let’s face it, it might be nice for some influencers to work for exposure, but if you want them to work hard for your messaging and your brand, the investment will be worth it.

Influencers and Social Recommendation

In a world where the impact of traditional advertising is shrinking and where the option to simply block ads from our internet use is an easy option, it is clear that marketers the world over are having to rethink the way that they do business. In fact, they’re having to rethink the way that they do everything.

Some are leaping onto the hackathon bandwagon. Some are becoming more social. Some agencies are diving head first into data. And some are imploding, sending shockwaves through the lives of the freelancer networks who rely on their steady patronage.

And while everything is changing, in many ways, it all remains the same. Back in 2009, I came up with a concept I called the Auchterlonie effect. It was the digital version of playground storytelling and the concept seemed to ring true. In order for a story to spread through a network (think a class of 12 year old boys, or a group of connected Twitter friends), there are certain conditions which need to be met. It is about building and spending your social capital within that network. It is about generosity, action and reputation.

Years later, and despite various efforts to map and score our “influence”, it still remains elusive. But we do know a little more about the conditions and the triggers. And this infographic from the Smiley360 folks helps connect some of the dots. It’s just that there are always new and emerging dots that we have to take into account.


Influence: Be the First to Give

In the digital world we are fascinated by influence. We want to know who has influence and we want to know who is influenced by whom. We strive for influence in our personal and professional lives and we reject the overt nature of influence that impacts us through advertising and messaging (even though it still affects us).

Robert Cialdini’s book on Influence is a must-read for marketers. His six principles of influence work together to connect intention and action and are vital to the success of any marketing activity. However, in digital and social marketing, the focus tends to rely on just two elements – social proof and liking. It’s partly why we often feel marketers and brands are “yelling” at us online. There is a simple antidote to this:

Be the first to give.

In this infographic from Everreach, summarising the six principles, they call out that proactive use of reciprocity as a “weapon of influence”. Working this way creates a faster and more immediate bond between brands and their customers. More importantly, it sets the scene for the remaining elements. So, next time – before you ask someone to buy, think about what it is that you can give.


Making Friends and Influencing People

Some light reading for your Easter weekend, this time courtesy of those clever folks at We Are Social Singapore. This easily digestible deck on social media debunks some of the many myths and provides “10 commendments” – things that you could do if you were so inclined. My favourite? “Be in it for the long term”. After all, after we get engaged, surely we expect a deeper commitment, right?

Influence: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Most of us are in love with the idea of influence. We love the idea that we are influencers or influential within our peer groups, we seek out the favour and attention of others who influence us, and we attempt to measure track and trace influence across different cultural, societal, economic and demographic groups. And yet this thing – influence – remains elusive.

Some time back, Malcolm Gladwell came up with an easy to understand model of influence. It seemed to resonate with many of us who are deeply immersed in the web and have seen, first hand, the apparent randomness of online sentiment and human digital behaviour. His book, The Tipping Point took its lead from Stanley Milgram’s principle that we are all only separated by six degrees – suggesting that within a network, the “hub” or “connector” plays a vital role in the transmission of information across that network.

I have always viewed this theory with scepticism – preferring the strength of weak ties model popularised by Duncan Watts. It’s a shame in a way, as the Gladwell model – the Tipping Point – is easily articulated and understood, while Watts’ approach is more complicated, random and difficult to apply in the real world. Yet, even a casual glance at the social media landscape will show you just how difficult it can be to boil “influence” down to a single factor or variable. Klout has tried it as have PeerIndex and Kred – and there are dozens more on the horizon offering different versions, metrics and tools that attempt to measure the chaos of our behaviours and patterns of indifference.

Ultimately, when it comes to influence, I keep returning to one important point –> it’s not about influence, it’s about trust. And until we, as business leaders, as marketers and as publishers of information and content, understand this, we will continue to dance around the real issue.

And what IS the real issue? Just take a look at this infographic from CrowdTap and read between the lines. Hint: it’s not about your brand.


Influence, Tools and Takeouts

In the social media world, a lot of time spent thinking about, writing about and attempting to develop this elusive thing called “influence”.

Some people have it, many people want it and it seems, we all want to know how to measure it. But, of course, this “influence” is really about an individual’s ability online to:

  • Create a topic of conversation
  • Get others to talk about a topic of conversation
  • Generate click throughs on a topic

Does this really equate to “influence”? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Regardless, a number of companies have been developing ranking and measurement systems that assess your online influence. They take into account a variety of factors – counting your number of followers on Twitter, your “friends” on Facebook and even connections on LinkedIn. Their systems analyse your online activities, arriving at a “score” which you can proudly place on your website or blog.

But the real question is not “what is your score?” – but “what is theirs?”. Which of these tools are worth spending some with? Which yield the most useful information from a business and individual level?

The RabbitAgency has put together a great newsletter teasing out some of the differences between the major players. It turns the microscope around and assesses Klout, PeerIndex and Kred, leaving you with plenty of food for thought.

The Rabbit Feed on social media influence

Your Friends Suck

We often talk about social networks operating in a bi- or multi-directional way. The conversations flow from one point to another and ever-onwards.

But the same can be said of reputation.The same can be said of “influence”. After all, the people that we associate with – the people that we know and that we trust impact the way that other people see us. And those people also influence us.

Here, for example, is my Klout “influence matrix”. Now, I don’t think Klout is the be-all and end-all of measurement by any stretch of the imagination, but it provides us a glimpse into the world of mass-digital-data that sits just below the so-called level playing field of the social web.


What this shows, is at this point in time, indications are that I am influenced by David Armano, Mack Collier, Craig Wilson, Heather Snodgrass and Mark Pollard. But the same can be said of those who I, in turn, “influence”: Kate Kendall, Rob Campbell, Jye Smith, Trent Collins and Matt Moore.

Now, I am quite happy to write about these smart folks because at some level, they reflect well on me. They are smart, focused, professional people. But I would not have included their names, links and pictures in this post if I did not respect them. It is precisely because we can now see your visible networks, that we are able to make an assessment of what YOU are like, how professional YOU are and how likely YOU are to work well in a business context. And this is not just about HR or marketing. It impacts every aspect of your business. It impacts every relationship.

So now you really need to ask yourself – do your friends suck? And just what are you going to do about it?

Where Are You on the Trust Barometer?

Whenever the social media conversation shifts to “influence” – who has it, how you can get it and what it’s worth, you know we’re talking trust. After all, what we perceive as “influence” is simply a combination of trust and relevance – a heady mix of the right audience, a trusted shepherd and a call to action.

Don’t believe me?

Nicholas Christakis has an interesting post on the power of twitter and its ability to influence a large following. As he explains, Alyssa Milano with her celebrity and her 1.3 million strong Twitter following would normally be considered “influential”. But when she tweeted out a link to the Amazon page of a book called Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks & How They Shape Our Lives, the roar of social media silence was deafening.  There was not ONE clickthrough. Not one sale.

It seems – finally – that we are seeing the reality of trust and the power of relevance. That’s why I am particularly interested in this report from Edelman Australia – the 2011 Australian Edelman Trust Barometer.

Launched today (see the Tweetstream), this is the third survey to be carried out in Australia, but we are already seeing some interesting trending:

  • Coming out of the GFC, we saw an upswing in trust in government (54%) and businesses (52%)
  • Trust in NGOs (65%) is the highest of any Australian institution, with the Media well down at 32%

The full report is embedded below and can be downloaded from Slideshare. It makes for interesting reading.

But what does this mean for brands and marketers?

As one of the launch panellists, Vanessa Hall, pointed out, trust is created through the interplay of the message or story the brand wants to tell, the expectations of your customers/stakeholders and the promise that exists between the two (my interpretation here). This is where the challenge comes – after all, our customers are rarely interested in the brand story, and their interpretation of your brand promise is often different from where you (on the client or agency side) tend to see it.

And with social media, individuals are now well equipped to engage with brands in a public (and searchable) sphere. Positive and negative brand experiences can be published, shared and amplified around the world in minutes – and this makes “trust” all the more important. As the report points out, “Trust is a protective agent …”. And yes, it can lead to tangible sales.

But, we need to consider the following trends:

  • Aligning our business purpose with a greater good (CSR is a good start)
  • Strong support for NGOs (consider partnering with an NGO to build your trust profile)
  • Multiple voices in multiple channels (while CEOs have increased level of trust and respect, use expert voices across your business and in multiple channels to build a network of influence)

Perhaps, most importantly, you need to think about all this in relation to YOUR business. Where do you sit on the trust barometer? And how are you going to improve?