Word-of-mouth is one of the strongest forms of marketing. Consumers trust other consumers, particularly those who have demonstrated passion and expertise in a particular niche. Social media networks have evolved into platforms that foster a deeper level of engagement between like-minded consumers to the point where anyone can develop influence that was formerly reserved only for the press, advertisers, and market analysts. If a brand is serious about actively engaging with its core audience, then social media influencers need to be embraced as part of its holistic marketing strategy.
Engaging with your most passionate influencers is no longer a recommendation, it's a must. Rather than passively waiting for a conversation around your brand to take shape, be proactive by reaching out to new and existing influencers and invite them to a digital community for your brand where you can dictate and manage your brand's social conversation. Once they've joined the community, you can sustain influencer engagement by providing them relevant branded content, which you can encourage them to share back onto social, amplifying your message across their networks.
Benefits of Engaging Influencers
Display advertising and email campaigns can be huge marketing expenses, and the success rate and ROI of mobile advertising is still up for debate. On the other hand, word-of-mouth marketing campaigns are generally inexpensive. They don't require media buys, cost next to nothing to implement, and offer invaluable insight into your target market on social. Careful analysis of comments, shares, and sentiment surrounding a word-of-mouth campaign will help you understand public perception of your brand, and will allow you to evaluate the success of your current marketing efforts.
A well-designed social media marketing campaign can also take relatively little effort. Once implemented, and with the right planning, only a few hours of maintenance weekly is necessary. Increased exposure, site traffic, market insight, and brand loyalty are only a handful of the direct benefits of an effective social media marketing campaign. Furthermore, once you've developed a positive relationship with your influencers, they will manage the heavy lifting of disseminating your brand content to their social networks.
How to Identify Influencers
First, it helps to understand the term "influencer." Influencers can be an inside source of information and tips for customers and businesses. They share content, deals, reviews, or general information to their followers. Beyond Facebook and Twitter, social media influencers can be found on niche blogs, message boards, and public forums. To get the most return on investment, the influencers you target should be verified as vocal and engaging users who are viewed as thought-leaders within your target audience. There are plenty of Twitter users with 10,000 followers, but if 90 percent of them have no interest in your brand, then they may not be your ideal candidates.
Follow industry blogs, sift through the comments sections for active users, and do your due diligence on social media platforms to seek out potential influencers. Monitor who shares trending hashtags in your market and seek out users discussing your competitors. Klout or Kred scores can also help shed light on who the biggest influencers in your market may be, while Compete and Alexa can offer insight into potential influencers' blog traffic.
Social Media Influencers Engage Directly With Your Customers
Regardless of the size of your brand or company, social media provides you with immediate access to millions of potential new customers or clients. Social media influencers have gained enough of a following so that their opinions matter to followers of their space. They can deliver an informed opinion and communicate brand messages to a large, trusted audience. When you properly engage social media influencers, they can help build positive brand awareness, validate your company to their followers, and amplify your marketing efforts.
How to Engage Influencers for Support
Internet contests, sweepstakes, and giveaways are some of the best ways to engage with your followers and influencers. They are low-cost strategies that increase exposure for your brand and give influencers something to share with their audience. Creating a trackable hashtag will allow you to easily gauge the frequency and volume of content sharing. These contests can provide insight into your market and help your brand develop new leads for the sales funnel.
Gamification can also be a valuable tactic to encourage influencer content sharing. Create a system for influencers to earn leaderboard points and rewards, so that sharing isn't solely compensation-based. This will drive a little healthy competition among your influencers to demonstrate thought leadership by scoring the top spot. Tacit rewards for sharing leaders, like gift bags, coupons, or features on your site to give them exposure, can also be excellent sharing incentives.
What This All Means
Advertising saw its biggest success in the 20th century, but now that consumers have access to an almost infinite amount of information, advertising is not as trusted as it once was. Consumers are moving away from manufactured brand messages and looking for peer recommendations.
We are operating in a new paradigm where perception of your brand in the market is driven by a small portion of your customers. This vocal percentage of your audience, while small, is hugely influential on your collective mass audience. Let's face it, the stories they share have more credibility among their communities than your advertisements ever could. That's the ever-increasing power of influencers on social, and it exists for any brand willing to invest time and energy into growing and maintaining these positive influencer relationships.
Image on home page via Shutterstock.
This article was originally published August 13, 2013.
Meet Your Favorite ClickZ Contributors
Many of ClickZ's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Jeremy Hull, Lisa Raehsler, Andrew Goodman, Bryan Eisenberg, Mathew Sweezey, Aaron Kahlow, Stephanie Miller, Simms Jenkins, Jeanne S. Jennings, Dave Hendricks and more!
Russ Fradin is the co-founder of Dynamic Signal and a digital media industry veteran with more than 15 years' experience in the online marketing world. Russ co-founded and was CEO of Adify (acquired by Cox for $300 million in May 2008) and co-founded SocialShield. He was also SVP of BD at Wine.com, EVP of Corporate Development at comScore (NASDAQ:SCOR) and was among the first employees at Flycast (acquired by CMGi for $2.3 billion in January 2000). Russ is also an active angel investor in the digital world and is on a number of boards. Russ holds a BS in Economics from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
March 19, 2014