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Influencer Marketing: An Introduction

By Tim Hughes | @Timothy_Hughes

Selling has not changed, since I started 25 years ago. What has changed is the ability to use new technologies that help us sell. For example, social media listening, LinkedIn and enterprise social networks.

When I was at school, there was one BBC microcomputer, three TV channels and the PC had not been invented. Today, when we want to buy a new product or service, we don’t need to call a supplier. We search on Google, ask friends, colleagues and influencers. We go to chat rooms, and use social media to do our research.

That means that by the time somebody comes to purchase something, they probably know more than the sales person. In fact, they may have already made a purchase decision. 25 years ago, customers got 80% of product data from the supplier, now it’s 20%.

Social selling is the ability to use social media to supplement a salesperson.

What is influencer marketing?

The primary objective of an effective marketing department is marketplace visibility. The team needs to build awareness for a product, company, or other positive change.

But, often, awareness isn’t enough. How can marketing move beyond mere visibility to engage customers, generate leads, or encourage purchase behaviour? One tactic for generating influence is to “borrow” it from those experts or individuals who already have the ability to persuade or move customers to take action.

Successful influencer marketing isn’t just about paying boldfaced names or social media stars. It has its own nuances. 

People love to have a third-party view on any discussion, especially if that person is independent. In the past, people turned to companies such as Gartner and Forester but in the “new world” of social, a new independent person has emerged that has a view point. The blogger.

Bloggers, generally, are not connected to any major product or brand and are therefore seen as trusted advisers.

Influencer marketing is about getting influencers to say “nice” things about your brand.

Below you can see there are different types of influencers, such as journalists and analysts, and each company may have different individuals that face off to these people. For example, PR. Bloggers, may have less influence, but may have a higher level of trust.

The diagram below explains the difference between Influencer Relationship Marketing (IRM) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM).

Below is a diagram from Forrester which explains the different Marketing techniques and the level of trust that your customers have in it. As the level of trust goes up, the more a company or brand loses control.

For example, marketing from your marketing department, is highly controlled. You choose the wording and the messaging. Customers will usually say “they would say that wouldn’t they” and it is seen by customers as biased.

As you move up the graph, you lose control of what is said, but you gain trust.

The next level of marketing you should introduce is to get your channel to market for you. Again, the charge of “they would say that” can be levelled against you, but often these partners will own customer relationships at individual accounts. For example, they may be trusted advisors at a customer or account level.

Getting advocates to speak on your behalf

Customer advocates are a key component to the marketing mix. Often the people that will speak for you can turn and speak against. But if run properly, these individuals can be harnessed to provide input into product development and innovation as well as saying nice things about you.

I know a person who is a MicroScooter product advocate and he is proud of the product and the changes he has enabled. He tells me about it all the time and now I am telling you. That, is great marketing.

Influencer Marketing is a natural extension of traditional marketing efforts. According to Demand Gen Report’s 2014 Content Preferences Survey, 72% of respondents turned to peers for relevant content when researching Business to Business (B2B) purchasing decisions.

According to Marketing Automation Company, Marketo, one third of B2B organisations currently have a digital influencer marketing program.

To quote Influence Marketing company Onalytica “Influence can be defined as the capacity of an individual, organisation or publication to impact upon the actions, views or opinions of others over whom they do not hold power. Influence is topical – that is to say, the amount of influence a stakeholder has will vary by subject matter, whether this be smartphones, fashion or finance.

For example, an article in the Financial Times (FT) about the performance of a major public company is likely to have a larger impact upon the firm’s corporate reputation and stock price than a similar piece by a private blogger. However, the FT probably has less influence than many blogs when it comes to subjects such as climate change or wildlife.”

Don’t forget offline influencers

People need to understand that in many cases there will be influencers in the online world, but there are also influencers in the offline world too. 

Many journalists for example, work in the offline world. Their work is published in newspapers and so they have far less interest, if any in online.

As part of any influence marketing program, I recommend you look at both aspects, as often there is little or no overlap.

Is influencer marketing for you?

Influencer marketing is certainly one of the tactics that a company should have in its marketing mix.

I’ve seen examples where this can certainly “short cut” certain activities, but it can backfire.

To quote Julie Ogilvie, Research Director at SiriusDecisions and presenter of the Influencer Program of the Year Awards, “B2B organisations need to create better alignment in order to make conversations and engagement consistent and thorough,” and followed up by saying “Companies are thinking about how to leverage influencers, and areas like content marketing are the major causes for this demand.”

Any tips for people thinking on embarking on an influencer program?

Influencing the influencers is critical to success. This does not mean approaching an influencer and trying to sell to them. There needs to be a reason why you approach an influencer, the influencers need to respect you and you must demonstrate value.

I’ve heard of companies that have dispatched a salesperson with a “standard” white paper. It didn’t work. Your risk is that the influencer can then blog about it negatively. Refer back to the point on Trust vs. Control before.

Examples of brands that have approached me:

  1. One brand sent something to my home address, there were no instructions with it. Make sure you contact the influencer in advance and ask their permission.  There needs to be clarity as to what the objectives are (document them).
  2. An IT supplier contacted me to buy tweets. The whole objective of the relationship is adding value.  Buying tweets, does not. We turned the work down.  Microsoft, for example approached me and we wrote and published two blogs to support a webinar they were running.  Clear objectives, clear brief and the blog was educational and added to the debate.
  3. Different types of influencers: When drawing up your list of influencers it is important to understand, which type you want. There are influencers out there who are in day jobs, that do social media on the side and you can probably get them to do some work for free.  There are bloggers like the ones at Digital Leadership Associates that are consultants and expect to be paid for their efforts.  Don’t be surprised if you are required to pay somebody to use their influence.
  4. There are also influencers who are influencers because they buy followers and likes. Check people’s followers using a tool like “FollowerWonk” which checks for fake followers. This is often a sign that somebody has purchased followers. Also, check people’s twitter streams.  It is very easy to see which networks are engaged (there are lots of likes and retweets) and those people that buy likes.  Influencer marketing is about engagement or network and not having a bunch of contacts or a social media profile that nobody is listening to.
  5. Money isn’t everything. I took part in an influencer marketing event where 30 of the UKs top social media people were put up in a hotel for a night. The event was over two days, the value I got was, 29 other social media contacts and it’s where I met my future business partner.
  6. One of the key things about that influencer event mentioned in 5. was that it was run by an influencer, somebody we all respect. Often to maintain control, companies appoint their own influencers, because they are a VP or some other high-ranking role.  I recall working for one company where the “influencer” had no following on Twitter and had never Tweeted, but they were a VP.


Digital Leadership Associates: We are Global Social Media Management Consultancy. We do three things:
Social Media StrategySocial Selling and Social Media Management. Drop us an email or call one of our founders on 00 44 7823 534 557 and let’s talk about how we can make an impact on your organisation.

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