Digital MarketingSocial Media MarketingHow businesses can and should become influencers themselves

How businesses can and should become influencers themselves

Neal Schaffer flips the perspective on influencer marketing and discusses how your business can be an influencer

30-second summary:

  • Businesses aren’t using their social bubble to capitalize on their brand presence, this is indeed the most neglected discussion regarding influencer marketing
  • Influencer marketing is looked at as a cost center more than an ROI channel
  • Neal Schaffer, renowned industry figure and author of ‘The Age of Influence’ flips the perspective on influencer marketing and discusses how your business can be an influencer

Have you wondered how you can persuade more influencers to collaborate with your business? As more companies realize the potential that influencer marketing has for their business, they are investing more and seeking out more collaborations. Some influencers might respond to your company’s outreach, but many might not for various reasons.

Which brands are the ones that influencers want to work with? It’s not necessarily those who pay them the most money. After all, influencers want to build up a resume of the brands that they have worked with, and nothing attracts an influencer more than influence itself.

That’s right, influential brands will naturally find it much easier to engage with and collaborate with influencers when compared to a startup with no brand recognition.

That’s why I feel that one of the most neglected discussions regarding influencer marketing is about how businesses themselves can and should become more influential online. After all, when we hear the word “influencer marketing” our thoughts immediately turn to individuals on social media who have gathered an audience and present products or services to them. However, the original “influencer marketing” was actually more corporate: businesses hiring celebrities for big money for endorsements.

To further this idea of businesses as influencers, consider this: Search engine results have become so important to getting web traffic that Google has become the ultimate influencer. In my book, ‘The Age of Influence’, I dedicated an entire chapter to the importance of businesses serving as influencers, and how they could achieve this status. Although the book was written pre-pandemic, its advice on this topic is still timely. If anything, becoming a corporate influencer is even more important in the age of social distancing.

Why should a business become a social media influencer?

Most brands these days think of one thing when it comes to social media influencers: how to engage with them. For B2B brands, influencers tend to be thought leaders in their field, and many are also employees developed through an employee influencer program. With B2C brands, influencers typically have an appeal to their target audience. In both cases, one of the major reasons for choosing an influencer comes down to relevance.

1. Staying relevant is critical

During our turbulent times, the fight for relevance has never been more important. People are turning off the cable news channels and turning to the internet for news. Besides the “news sites,” these forums include social media. Traditional media, likewise, is distrusted. Remaining relevant increasingly requires a shift to social media and other online forums.

Here’s the thing with relevance: people tend to pick and choose what they consume. This is true whether they want to find out what happened around the world, or if a decision between one product or another needs to be made. By having relevant information available, your brand increases its chances of being discovered. Failure to be relevant often equals a failure to sell products and services.

2. Being relevant requires social media participation

Before social media became a dominant force in consumer sentiment, most online activities revolved around blogs and other types of forums. Blogging and forums aren’t dead, of course, but they now have competition. In particular, the vast majority of consumers regularly spend time on social media. As part of social media participation, they will read and otherwise consume content that is either branded or relevant to various brands.

What does this mean for brands? In short, it means that they must become active on social media. The need for this is easily summed up in the 90-9-1 rule. While this rule was developed some time ago to describe internet users, I believe it equally applies to social media users.

The 90-9-1 rule states that 90 percent of social media (internet) users are just lurkers: seeing what content is available, and either consuming, skimming, or ignoring what they see. Another nine percent interacts with content, but rarely or never produces significant content. Finally, only one percent of users create content regularly. This one percent of social media users become influencers by producing relevant content. That’s why every influencer is a content creator.

3. Being relevant requires building connections with customers

What happened the last time you were angry at a company? Did you call their customer service line and yell at the person who picked up the phone? How about participating in their customer service chat? Or maybe you aired your grievances online somewhere. Although Yelp is a less important website than it used to be, it has spawned the adjective “yelp-worthy.” This term, of course, refers to complaining about a business online. Complaints can be posted on review sites or social media.

Here’s the thing. With online forums, people typically only check when they actively want information about your company or its products. Social media complaints, on the other hand, show up on the feed of everyone who follows the complainer. This can be much more damaging than a bad Yelp review. Not only is the location more visible, but there’s a real person behind it.

On the opposite side of the equation, putting a human face on your business can be a major help. This is one reason why businesses use influencers: a human is recommending products. At the same time, being present on social media through a corporate network account communicates that you are there and approachable. Especially if you respond to customer inquiries on your wall, everyone can see that you do care about their concerns.

4. Being relevant makes your brand an important industry voice

You’re probably thinking “isn’t it a conflict of interest when a brand speaks about industry issues?” Well, no. In fact, brands are expected to keep abreast of their industries. That’s how innovation happens. This brings me to my next point: Your company needs to become an important voice in your industry. There are two major ways to do this: provide a non-branded forum for industry issues, and branded content. We’ll talk about branded content later.

With non-branded (or brand agnostic) forums, you let people from outside your company drive the discussion. For instance, a baby care brand might put up a destination forum for new mothers. Here, moms talk about the right diapers and formula, but also about how to comfort a crying baby. Consumers will hear from others about their favorite products and best tips. Over time, your brand can evolve into the forum favorite without being the only item discussed. A great example of this is Johnson & Johnson acquiring BabyCenter.com way back in 2001, recognizing it as the leading web destination for expecting parents where conversations about their products were already taking place.

5. Being relevant helps you get wholesale customers

Finally, businesses should become relevant, and therefore influencers, because it helps gain more customers at the wholesale level. It also helps with price and terms negotiations. Remember, people can’t buy your stuff as easily if it isn’t carried by other merchants. Far fewer people will purchase something directly through your website than the ones who buy from a third party.

Think about it this way. As customers start talking about your products, more people will want to buy them. The possibility of having people come to a retail store and purchasing that product, then perhaps getting a few other things, is attractive to merchants. That’s true whether the merchant is online, bricks and mortar, or both. When supply gets tighter in relationship to demand, you can get better deals from wholesalers. And in return, the retailer makes more money too. Everyone wins.

How your business can become an influencer

With all these benefits of being an influencer, it’s easy to wonder how a business can become influential. Saying you want to become relevant is only the beginning. To succeed, you must have a plan.

1. Don’t stop with content

The biggest mistake that brands make is to simply publish content, and then step away. Although content alone can help your brand broadcast its corporate news, promotions, or product releases, there’s a lot more required to be successful. People listen to other people. And although they might “follow” your organic content or consume paid social, this is a very superficial level of interest.

2. Build a community around your brand

By far the easiest way to become an influencer, rather than a simple content publisher, is to build a community around your brand. To do this, interact with users of your target social media platforms. Most influencers have only one primary network where they exercise influence, but businesses can have a few. Pick the ones which are most relevant to your target audience and brand image.

Then, spend time on those social networks. This means commenting on other people’s postings. For instance, if someone is angry that their order took three weeks to ship (and you said 10 days), respond with an apology. If a user posts about how handsome their boyfriend looks wearing your brand of suit, like it. And so forth. The idea here is to make your brand into a living, reachable entity that people can trust.

Engage as a business like you would as a person.

3. Climb the influencer ladder

Once your brand has a significant community that trusts what it says, it’s time to increase the level of influence. The best way of explaining this is – climbing a ladder. As anyone familiar with influencer marketing knows, there are different “levels” of influencer based on how many followers they have. At the same time, as influencer count grows the rate of engagement goes down.

To climb the influencer ladder, your goal is to expand your community and keep it engaged. Doing this requires an analysis of your competition. For most businesses, this will be a mixture of trade competitors and individuals who influence within the same niche. With individuals, you can form alliances and ask them to help you. However, even when you do this it’s important to see what they do well and emulate it as appropriate.

As you can see, it is highly beneficial for a business to become an influencer. Becoming an influencer involves building a community around your brand, and it increases your revenue over time. More than that, though, having influencer status means that your brand is recognized as an “authority” in the field. This can help significantly when there are institutional changes and product launches.

Finally, the more influence your business has, the easier it will be to work with influencers. While this is only one fringe benefit of building influence, it can have a significant impact on your influencer marketing ROI.

Even though brands have undoubtedly more resources to invest in, it is average people with passion and unique experience who have become more influential in social media. While a brand might not ever become an “influencer” in the way we consider it today, they can still reap benefits by investing more in building their own influence.


Neal Schaffer is an authority on helping innovative businesses digitally transform their sales and marketing. Founder of the digital marketing consultancy PDCA Social, Neal is currently a Fractional CMO for several companies and also teaches executives digital marketing at Rutgers Business School and the Irish Management Institute. He is also the author of four sales and marketing books, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley) and the recently published The Age of Influence (HarperCollins Leadership), a ground-breaking book redefining digital influence. Download a free preview of the Age of Influencer here.

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