Do social marketers understand real-world influencers?

I read somewhere a few weeks back that 30-42% of all current staff positions in B2B marketing depts. were now focused on ‘social’ roles. These either featured ‘social’ in their title or the person’s performance success in that role was largely being measured through social metrics.

Whether or not that figure is accurate – it struck me as particularly high considering the continued emphasis on direct mail, in-person events, sponsorships etc. – it got me to thinking what ramifications this will leave for real-world ‘influencer marketing’ as I see it.

I see a widening disconnect between those who really try to understand the customer’s decision-making process, often people with previous direct sales experience, or at least experience in handling real-world customers, and those attracted to and increasingly filling in-house ‘social’ marketing roles.

I remember once interviewing a candidate for a client’s social marketing role who saw her entire job function as ‘thinking up fun ideas to tweet’. While that person may not represent the typical social marketer, she does undoubtedly represent one type. And the problem is that it’s that type that produces results which can look good on a monthly performance graph. You can picture the Powerpoint now tracking increasing numbers of retweets, likes, followers, etc against ever-lower cost of delivery.

Some of our clients shy away from pursuing relationships with certain types of influencer – even though they may undoubtedly be important to their prospects – solely because any results would likely be difficult to measure month by month. Forget that such relationships are necessary, common sense, mutually beneficial and more, they can’t be tracked on a continually upward-slope graph. So such relationships are abandoned before they’ve even begun.

As the number of in-house social marketers increase, and as their careers are based on their ability to continually generate impressive-looking graphs, I wonder what the future is for those employees initiating and maintaining longer-term proactive relationships with those influencers who unquestionably impact a vendor’s customers and prospects. It’s an expensive, non-guaranteed, non-linear process – but to generate sales it’s undoubtedly necessary. And every day being eroded by social’s promise of immediate gratification.

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