Keep in mind: influencers within a community differ than others. Here's what you must keep in mind before reaching out to influencers.
Understanding the difference between engaging the influencers and the masses can be a pretty tall task. A lot of companies want their social media marketing strategies to be quick and easy. Unfortunately, if they are quick and easy, they are likely to be less successful. Understanding how to engage with your audience takes time and research, because not all communities communicate in the same way, nor do they find value in the same types of content. Another piece of this elaborate puzzle is that the influencers of a community act and consume content differently than the members of the communities who don't wield as much influence.
Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff defined the six different types of actions people do in social media in their book "Groundswell." This is a great place to start off in when you are trying to comprehend what exactly the people you are trying to target are doing in social media. The "Groundswell" tool can give you a "good scent" of where to look for your audience; in general, are they joiners, reviewers, or spectators? There are other types as well, but in general, this tool helps you to understand the demographic as a whole (what are they most likely to be doing?). This tool doesn't address how to engage with the influencers.
Quick Wins vs. Lasting Effects
While appealing to the mass audience is the quickest way to have an effect on lifting brand awareness in a way that has a chance to go viral, those can be the tactics that are often the quickest to be forgotten. Unique coupons, funny videos, etc. are all ways to appeal to a community of engaged members in social media, but after three weeks, are they going to remember you? Are they going to recommend you again without the coupon, or without that funny video? Most likely the answer is no.
It all depends on your goals for your plans with social media marketing; not every tactic works the same way, nor do they have the same immediate impact. Coupons are fast and easy, but not that memorable. Videos are entertaining - for the moment - it's rare that videos are referred to three months after their rise to fame, accept of course in instances like the Diet Coke/Mentos fountain videos, and in that case, it wasn't either company who produced those videos.
This isn't to say the quick-win approach is wrong. Every approach has its place; some companies have no brand exposure at all, and a tactic that appeals to the masses is just what the company needs to jumpstart their marketing efforts. Certain social media marketing tactics naturally create buzz - it gets people talking and starts to get them engaged - the key is twofold to keeping this going.
That's where a lot of companies fail to strategize. Keeping up with the engagement of the audience can be time-consuming and resource-intensive and if you haven't planned ahead for that, you'll be wondering why you aren't getting more mileage out of the tactic you just implemented. No social media marketing tactic is "set it and forget it."
Engaging Influencers Leads to Long Time Value
If you have time and resources, engaging with influencers of your chosen social media community is a great way to build lasting, long-term value into your social media marketing plan. Influencers and evangelists don't just disappear overnight. These types of people in social media communities have cultivated their own sort of "mini-community" of people who look to them for answers, advice, and information about the very things they passionately share.
When trying to engage evangelists or influencers of a social media community, you must do your research. Why? Because you need to appeal to them in a different manner than you would your larger audience. You have to take into account how these people became the influencers they are. Have they spent countless hours in the community answering questions, do they post their photos up and write descriptions about how they created the shot, do they have a blog where they share the creations they make with your product or service? Influencers act differently than the masses, and part of your social media marketing strategy should be to find special ways to engage these people.
Keep in mind that it's essential to maintain transparency when engaging with influencers or evangelists. These people can "smell a rat," so to speak, from a mile away. You should understand what makes these influencers and evangelists so passionate about your brand, product, or service before you engage with them, and make your engagement with them special.
When you win over evangelists and influencers and engage them in a genuine way, you'll have a lasting relationship that mutually benefits both parties. Remembering that they are special and a bit different than "the masses" is key to all of this, so take the time to plan out a strategy that engages them in a special and unique way.
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Liana "Li" Evans is the author of the award winning social media marketing book, "Social Media Marketing: Engaging Strategies for Facebook, Twitter & Other Social Media" and she is the president and CEO of Da Li Social, as well as an adjunct professor for Rutgers University's Mini MBA Program. Liana has also been featured in the books "Online Marketing Heroes" and "Video Marketing An Hour a Day." As an established online marketing industry veteran with over 15 years of experience she's focused her unique skillset to specialize in integrated marketing and how companies can successfully strategize integrating all online marketing channels as well as offline traditional media. Her deep technical combined with a public relations background enables her to partner with clients for establishing successful online marketing campaigns that combine cross-channel tactics cohesively.
Li was the search engine optimization (SEO) and social media marketing architect for such companies as QVC and Comcast (Fancast) and has consulted with several other different sized companies such as AOL MovieFone. Her wealth of knowledge in dealing with large e-commerce and content sites allows her a wider perspective into what it takes to launch successful marketing campaigns in the online space.
IBM Social Analytics: The Science Behind Social Media Marketing
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