Is there a single department, group, or entity charged with influencer management? Should there be?
In the golden age of branding, several guests at the party held sway: brand, PR, marketing, external relations (ER), research, and the agencies. On top of that, we had a few occasional attendees, such as consumer affairs, investor relations, and community relations.
Today, in the golden age of consumer empowerment, we have the same party guests, but their sway is being challenged in a very big way by an aggressive, sometimes rude and abrupt new guest at the party: the consumer influencer.
I'm talking about the loudmouths everyone hears and reacts to. These folks really move the needle when it comes to CGM (define) creation and spread. They write the power blogs, lead the communities, organize the forums, create the boards, upload the most viewed videos on YouTube, lead mini-revolutions on Facebook, and more.
They may have accrued influence over time or have situational influence (e.g., they were first to try and review the iPhone, hence setting off a broader chain reaction). That influence often spills from the online zone into the offline or vice versa. Indeed, today's über-influencers are largely platform agnostic, except they tend to have a more quantifiable digital trail of results online. Put another way, if you search their names, you'll find evidence of something they said.
But Who Owns Them?
Who owns the influencer? Is there a single department, group, or entity charged with influencer management? Should there be? Equally important, what are the risks of too many folks going after the same constituency?
Having been in the consumer expression business for the past six years, I see two developments: half the industry is putting up barriers around their party guest to guard others from stepping on their influencer turn; the other half is looking for ways around the barriers for their turn. Let's take a look at the guests:
|Group||Role Concerning Consumer Influencers|
|External relations||Make, shape, and catalyze the news.|
|Branding/advertising||Create free advertising, and shape the conversation.|
|Investor relations||Tip off financial analysts with deep perspective.|
|Quality group||Send early signals, and lead market thinking.|
|Ad agency||Act as a new media and messaging frontier.|
|PR firm||Manage events and other influencers.|
|Digital agency||Build the platforms that impact influencers.|
|Market research||Lead thinking on new segments.|
|Direct/database marketers||Create higher value segment or cohort against which to target.|
|Legal/HR||Are these influential consumers also my employees?|
|Publishers||Become aggregators of community, not just eyeballs.|
Where Will It Go?
With all the ambiguity, change is certain to come. We'll start to see an melting of the silos into more coherent, coordinated consumer-centered entities.
Here are a few predictions:
That's just the beginning. The good news is this uninvited guest is shaking up the party.
Who wants to hang out at a boring party?
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Pete Blackshaw, whose professional background encompasses public policy, interactive marketing, and brand management, is executive vice president of strategic services for Nielsen Online, a combination of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a firm Pete helped cofound, and Nielsen//NetRatings. One of Pete's key focuses is helping brands interpret, manage, and act on consumer-generated media (CGM). A former interactive marketing leader at P&G and founder of consumer feedback portal PlanetFeedback.com, Pete cofounded the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). He authors several blogs, including ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com, and is the author of an upcoming book from Random House, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World."
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