Earlier this week, my friend Toby Bloomberg tagged me into a conversation on LinkedIn about evaluating influencers for branded content programs, spurred by a Medium post that argued influencers don’t really have influence.
My comment got too long. What a surprise! Not. So I am posting it on the blog in its entirety. For context:
Influencers have influence. Ultimately, influencers are your customers. They buy (or don’t) your products and services, and they talk to each other. Some influence a few, some influence many. But there is always value in customer -centric marketing.
The issue here is that we collectively have done a few things that contribute to the perception that influencers don’t have influence. I could write a book on this, and perhaps I should, in between trying to re-establish my consulting practice once again after 7 years inside.
First, we talk about one group, influencers, which is misleading. There are really multiple subgroups, each of which has different characteristics, and should be folded into the marketing plan with different strategies and tactics. Microinfluencers are your customers who individually do not have tons of followers, but in aggregate can create a volume of earned media. Mid-tier content creators/bloggers are also your customers, but they have built a larger following on a blog or social platform, and can be tapped into as content producers for both the endorsement value and their distribution channels. Celebrity influencers are much more about their scale, and somewhat less about their role as your actual customer.
Second, we need to activate these different types of influencers in ways that match their reach, influence and status as your customer. The same strategies don’t work across the board. We should start with our business objective, tap into the influencer population that will best help achieve that objective and the define a measurement strategy matched to the program. We also need to communicate those objectives and expectations clearly to the influencers we work with. It is OKAY to ask someone you are compensating to deliver a certain result. Our clients ask it of us. We should ask it of the people we work with. Not necessarily with crowdsourced strategies tapping into hundreds of microinfluencers, but certainly for content programs with mid-tier folks and celebrities. You cannot get mad at non-delivery if you don’t set an expectation.
Third, we need to ground our content programs in relationships with our influencers. After all, they are our customers. There are no shortcuts to relationships. There is no tool, no database, no algorithm that can substitute for the relationship. Use automated tools to get started, to manage content production, to monitor and measure results, to understand the performance of your influencers. But don’t expect that you can define a target audience, search a database for influencers that match the target, or whose audience does, or both, hire them to do something without the due diligence of getting to know them, and then hope for the best. If you know the influencers, you’ll know whether and where they have influence.
Finally, the original article was interesting in that it conflated two related but different marketing strategies, influencer marketing and thought leadership, in an attempt to make the case for thought leadership over influencer marketing. You can certainly tap into a customer (influencer) population as part of a thought leadership strategy, but by and large, thought leadership is about conveying ideas and building an expert reputation for the individuals and their organization, as a conduit to sales. Expertise does matter, and we may reach out to other experts in our field, with greater or lesser degrees of influence, to support and distribute our idea, but it is not the expertise of the customers. It is that of the brand and its representatives that is the focus.
Each strategy, influencer marketing and thought leadership, has its place in the marketing mix, and we don’t have to pick between them.
Agree with my ideas, but not sure how to get started? I can help with everything from strategy development and content creation to influencer, digital and social marketing, performance audits and presentation decks. Even better, the first hour is free. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to book your free consultation. I’ll give you some thought starters during our conversation, and we can go from there.