Old School Influence in the Digital Age

In my last column, I introduced the idea of long-tail influencers. To recap, we must recognise that the opportunity to influence consumers is not simply through mainstream media outlets or celebrities, but instead through the long tail of consumers that drive influence in the intimate circles around them.

In this column, I’ll talk in more detail about how to make that long-tail influence a reality in your daily marketing challenges.

Old School Truth

I encourage you to take a 14-minute coffee break to watch this short film, “Influencers“. It’s a beautifully filmed documentary in New York City talking about the phenomenon of influencers and the essence of what makes them influential.

This film reminds us that being influential can lift you to the mainstream, but being mainstream doesn’t define the influencer. Influencers will always be defined by a different way of thinking and expressing, often in a creative or inventive way. Most importantly, they are respected and trusted for their opinions. These are old school influencer values, tried and true.

Fast-forward to today and really only one thing has changed in this game – everyone that used to be on the sidelines now has an influential voice. It’s like going to a party where everyone is the DJ. Popular opinion still floats to the top, but our ability to feel influence happening in a digital world is much more tangible. We can see when an idea is trending in our local social network. There’s a frequency of repeated themes as you hear about it from your friends, family, and associates. You can sense when these trends hit you as a consumer and you have a choice to, for the lack of a better word, like or not like what you see.

New School Mindset

For marketers, this new school of influence is a big opportunity if you know how to use it.

We are no longer one-dimensional listeners attached to one-dimensional channels. As social media continues to shift towards digital platforms, we express and consume information in many different directions. As a result, influence is driven within trusted circles of friends across multiple categories of interest. For example, one of my friends is a fashion designer who influences me on music, and another friend is a musician that influences me on gourmet cooking.

If we can improve the way we identify these multifaceted social media consumers, we can activate more intimate circles of influence down the long tail.

Let’s look at three ways to get started:

1. Actions speak louder than words. Every time a consumer posts something in social media, there’s a data opportunity to learn about their social makeup. It’s important that we shift the way we identify consumers in social media by looking at their actions, rather than their listed demographics and consumption habits found in media kits.

For example, if you run a search on the keyword “influencers” in Twitter or Facebook, you’ll likely find many posts from people sharing the video I referenced earlier. Under our new framework, this list of people is a starting point for finding potential influencers in the creative or marketing industry. While the demographic assumption may not be 100 percent accurate, we trust more in the absolute action that they’ve spread some influence in this category. With a bit of filtering you could refine this list to a core set of people you’re interested in talking to.

2. Connections speak louder than words. Another data opportunity you can’t ignore is a person’s connection map in social media. These connections often say more about who the person is than the actions or words you see on their profiles.

For instance, if you were looking for potential influencers in men’s fashion you could look for people who are commonly connected to Twitter accounts @GQfashion and @Ted_Baker. This would be a list of people who clearly have interest in men’s clothing but may not be talking about it all the time. Again, with a bit of filtering you could refine this list to a set of users that can drive pockets of influence in this category.

3. Win buy-in. Don’t buy yourself in. Brands continue to make the same mistake in assuming that their brand is top-of-mind amongst influencers in their category. Often times this leads to brands launching influencer engagements in social media that are very one-directional, such as community sponsorships or product demos.

To activate influence, you need to create an environment that nurtures the passions valued by your brand and shared by the consumers. This common passions platform, when executed correctly, can pay huge dividends down the long tail of influence.

A great example of a successful passions platform was the Red Bull Flugtag in Hong Kong.

By offering a venue for consumers to create and share an exhilarating experience that’s in line with Red Bull’s brand beliefs, an energetic wave was sent down the long tail of potential Red Bull influencers. Sports and energy drinks are not a popular beverage category in Hong Kong, but this event gathered interest from a much wider base than sports enthusiasts and Red Bull drinkers. It didn’t take long before everyone in Hong Kong seemed to know about the event, and with the support of only a few funny media placements, it’s clear that awareness was primarily driven by influence along the long tail.

Next Steps

Let’s be clear that understanding and identifying long-tail influencers is just the starting point. There still remains a huge challenge in listening and developing a communication plan to win their engagement. Unfortunately, that’s not something I can answer for you in a column, aside from suggesting you think a bit wider than your product (like Red Bull). Just remember that long-tail influencers leave a footprint of data to help you find them – by what they say, what they do, and who they connect with in networks.

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