Understanding Digital Influence and How to Engage

With the rise of social media, word-of-mouth marketing is becoming a more tangible form of consumer influence. You see brands aplenty experimenting and tapping the digital space for “influencers” of all kinds. And they are out there in strong force. Often they are the niche groups of social elites that publish content on a countless level. Their passion for products is fueled by a desire to not only command the particular niche, but be looked upon as someone “influential.”

I speak of digital influencers. These content-creating mavens cover a range of topics in every product space imaginable. They are the social elites who live in a variety of circles (blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.), who cover everything from tech, food, parental guidance, education, gaming, art, sports, lifestyle, military, auto…the categories don’t end. Think of anything that comes to mind, chances are, that particular category exists.

The social elites have used the digital web to create a prowess that brands now scratch and crawl their competitors to seek after when looking for someone to talk about their product. And these influencers are prepared to make themselves readily available in exchange for cash, trips, free products, and so on. But their social circles, often quite large, have brands finding it worth the investment. Often their circles have outgrown “digital friendship” and now demand dollars, sometimes several, for placement on their owned properties.

It sounds intimidating, but in all honesty it’s not. The idea behind this engagement for a brand is to exercise with caution. Businesses often don’t understand digital influence and walk into planning blindly. When defining a strategy, a good place to start is by going back to the basics. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is influence and what makes someone influential?
  • Who is influential in social networks and why?
  • How can I recognize influence or the capacity to influence?
  • What effect does digital word-of-mouth have on my business?
  • How can I measure successful engagement with influential consumers?

It’s not rocket science; it’s actually something quite simple, yet marketers often overthink how digital influence works. They often answer these questions with the wrong goals in mind, and chances are, will most likely boil an influencer down to “who can sell the most of my product” to their circles. Certainly not a bad thought, but it’s a goal that these “influencers” will never directly affect. The idea is to think of these influencers as representatives of your brand, its personality, its values, its integrity, and build on each of an influencer’s connected value to her listeners. Thinking of engagement in that respect will often make the outcome more genuine, rather than a short, discreet blog post that will quickly pass and make room for the next brand in line for that influencer scratching at the door for a taste.

How Do I Engage?

So with that thought, it’s crucial to take action in the following manner and listening to the proper answers you give to the questions above will help you with the next step, developing an influence plan.

And in six simple steps, it works like this:

  1. Benchmark. Understand where you are today. This is key in trying to first develop your plan. Not knowing the space or what your specialty is or where you stand against your competitors will put you in a deeper hole before you even start.
  2. Audience. Decide whom you are trying to reach. Make it a point to think outside the box on this sometimes. If your specialty is unique, and your audience is small, you need to go beyond the friendly confines of your brand’s personalities and think of “who can I extend the message to and still connect that to some sort of direct influence?”
  3. Strategy. Devise a strategy that connects the dots between you, connected consumers, and their communities. Think of your message, cultivate an idea, and consider audiences who are not only at your brand’s core.
  4. Influencer identification. Identify individuals who match up with “what you are looking to gain.” This can be a difficult step in the process and whether you are doing your own search, or engaging with a third party for assistance with this step, think of these three words, “reach, relevance, message resonation.”
  5. Campaign. Execute your campaign in real time and observe what is working and not working, then optimize throughout. As a marketer, whether you are soliciting third-party help or reaching out yourself or with your own team, always watch the campaign in real time. Influencer campaigns are always flexible and can be changed on the fly at any given moment; don’t think or believe it’s a “set it and forget it” strategy. Be proactive and make sure you are always watching.
  6. Measurement. Measure your campaign using proper KPIs. This is where marketers can get quite lost, but understanding the end goal and what you need to fulfill to please your VPs and above before you get started will save you worry in the end. Monitor all of your campaign’s activities, behaviors, and understand what worked and didn’t work. Don’t be afraid to hear bad news; you are guaranteed at some point in any influencer campaign that something won’t work, that’s why you are always watching and able to make changes, as in step five above. Brand managers are always up to the task to show the “good stuff”; don’t be afraid to show off the “bad stuff” as well. You’ll learn from it in the end and make the necessary changes to never worry about it again.

Influence image on home page via Shutterstock.

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