Are PR agencies telling their clients the truth about their ‘blogger influencers’?

I’m fascinated by the response I get when I talk to senior marketing folk within US corporates. I met with one last week – a >$10bn consumer goods co. – and after a while our conversation moved, inevitably, onto ‘blogger influencers’. Immediately the execs in the room distanced themselves from any interest in courting them. They said they’d implemented a policy of not working with ‘pay for play’ bloggers, that they agreed those people had no credibility with their audience, and certainly didn’t want to subscribe to any blogger database. I was pleased to hear it.

But I keep reading about the “growing success” of several of these ‘blogger influencer’ database companies – the ones that marry up ‘pay for play’ bloggers with vendors willing to commission them. I looked a little deeper the other day – looking at who those companies claim to be their clients. Their client lists showed few brand-name vendors but plenty of PR agencies. And there’s the distinction. Agencies are their market.

Brand-name vendors can immediately see through the folly of these database trolls. I’ve written several times on this. Any blogger signing up for ‘pay for play’ is signing away both their credibility and any previous influence. The fact that almost none overtly acknowledge their paid endorsement is proof that the bloggers realize this too. But most PR agencies don’t seem to care. They can tell their client they’re increasing their reach, that they’re trying new channels, that they’ve forged new relationships. In many cases I’m sure they’re not even telling their client they’re having to pay for each blogger’s posts.

Clients may not have asked their agencies these questions, or at least done so only superficially. I think those questions are being asked more forcefully now. And agencies will start to get uncomfortable without better answers than they currently have.

The unbelievable return of EAV (Equivalent Advertising Value) metrics to blogger outreach.

Has marketing forgotten what it learnt twenty years ago? In the 1990s I ran a PR network in Europe. Agencies looked a lot at measurement techniques for the media coverage they were achieving on behalf of their clients. For a short while the industry used an EAV (Equivalent Advertising Value) metric. Some clients liked it but it was always a house built on sand. What was the point of knowing that a particular press clipping on page 87 of a monthly magazine would have cost $190 were someone to have advertised in that spot? The client wasn’t advertising in that spot (for no doubt good reason), the magazine didn’t take ads on that page (so the EAV was an arbitrary value anyway), and the coverage was not exclusively focused on the client (as any ad would have been), so the comparison was impractical from every view. Clients soon saw through it and agencies dropped the metric. Why raise a claim that could be so casually, and easily, shot down. This issue sprang to mind when I was recently reviewing what’s being called ‘blog outreach software’.

I couldn’t be more critical of the current generation of blog outreach software. It’s nothing more than extremely low-end advertising. The bloggers being courted by these software providers are only interested because of the payments they’ll receive when mentioning particular products or services. If the bloggers have any current influence, and there’s no proof they have, that will be immediately lost once they start product placing within their posts. But the thing that most struck me when looking at this software were the metrics they were using to measure the validity of each blogger. ‘Potential impressions’ and ‘estimated impressions value’! Two entirely hypothetical metrics. Have people learn’t nothing in twenty years?

I well remember a marketing director in the 1990s tell a large group of employees that the ultra-expensive Formula 1 sponsorship deal he’d just signed (the firm’s logo was on a car’s wing mirrors) had a potential TV viewership of hundreds of millions of people. He justified the spend by multiplying the likely TV viewing numbers by the length in minutes of each televised race to arrive at that number. As if the tiny wing mirror logo (on two of the twenty cars) would be visible for even 1/100th of each broadcast! In reality it was more like 1/1000th.

So for blogger outreach, why measure each blogger by ‘potential impressions’ and ‘estimated impressions value’? Why is this any more credible in the era of bloggers than it was in the far more stable, and less busy, era of print titles? I look at the (mostly) agencies supposedly using this software and I wonder what story they’re telling their clients.

 

Reblog: New Study Shows LinkedIn is the Tool of Choice But Blogging Declines Among the Inc. 500

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 7.22.05 AMThere’s a new study from the Society of New Communications Research (SNCR) this week that looks pretty interesting. No surprise about the continued success of LinkedIn – much as we question the B2B impact of Facebook and Twitter, we’ve never had any doubts about LinkedIn. But these are the first figures we’ve seen to state that blogging among the largest U.S. companies is declining. And a 6% decline is significant. Maybe it’s just too time-consuming for almost immeasurable return?

Here’s the original. Well worth a closer look.

http://news.sncr.org/news.php?include=145547

 

New Influencer50 White Paper: ‘Where’s the evidence for investing in B2B ‘social influencers’?’

HomepageBanner.WP#19Influencer50 has issued the latest in its series of White Papers this week, WP#19, ‘Where’s the evidence for investing in B2B ‘social influencers’?’. It asks why Heads of Marketing in B2B organisations are still believing that social media outreach will reach those people most influencing their sales prospects, when there’s little to no supporting evidence.

It quotes recent research from the American Marketing Association, Neilsen Online, ad agency RSW/US and Influencer50 itself to question the logic of assuming ‘social influencers’ are a legitimate target audience. It may not be what many of those in marketing roles want to hear right now – but it’s a compelling argument.

Available for download at: http://influencer50.com/library/white-papers/

 

Are vendors even looking for the connection between ‘social’ and ‘influence’?

In preparation for an upcoming White Paper this week I’ve been speaking with three B2B marketing directors, two based in the U.S., the third in mainland Europe. I’ve been asking why they continue to invest in social outreach when there’s so little evidence that B2B buyers are being influenced by social media.

The first is a VP, Marketing for a mid-size web hosting provider in North Carolina. “It’s less a case of proving our social outreach is working, and more a case that we’ve proved previous approaches don’t! So we’re allowing ourselves a longer period to figure this one out. We can’t claim to have mapped that link (between social outreach and increasing sales) yet. Fortunately we’re not yet being expected to.”

The second, a group marketing director at a PAAS (platform-as-a-service) vendor based in Texas, adds, “I’ve recently inherited the existing group budget allocation so we’re just seeing how that performs before pulling anything. We’re aiming for better awareness through our social outreach – I don’t think we’re expecting a direct link to sales this year.”

The third is a CMO for a billion-dollar-plus revenue business outsourcing provider. “We’re investing in marketing for the long-term. You can’t expect to see a sales blip short-term. We’re about three years into our social outreach, and we’re changing the mix each year so it’s difficult to compare success rates. I think it will work out and help our sales prospects – but I wouldn’t like to put a timescale on showing that.”

This just further confuses me why some B2B companies are investing in ‘social influencers’ – when there’s no proven connection between ‘social’ and ‘influence’. At least, not to the bottom-line. Don’t tell me they don’t care about that.

How will the ‘social influence platforms’ justify their business after this week’s Buyersphere 2015 report?

B2B Marketing mag, BaseOne, Buyersphere Report 2015,, Influencer Marketing, Influencer50, The Buyerside Journey.comI’m looking forward to seeing if, and how, the Twitter-trawling ‘social influence platforms’ react to this week’s Buyersphere 2015 report from B2B Marketing & BaseOne. I wrote about it yesterday.

The standout finding was that 50% of all B2B purchasing decision-makers didn’t use social media at all to shape their buying decisions and that just 5% of the >200 respondents said they referred to Twitter at any stage for help in their decision-making process. This was the second-lowest score, just edging out the 4% who used Pinterest.

So when agencies trawl Twitter for the noisiest people on particular subjects, and then sell that information to vendors / brands claiming them to be the key market influencers, perhaps the vendors will start to think again. How can they still back up that claim?

http://www.b2bmarketing.net/resources/buyersphere-report-2015

 

Seeing trends in our ‘Influencer Marketing & Influencer Relations’ LinkedIn Group

IMIR logoIt’s always interesting to look back and review the make-up of those applying to join the Influencer Marketing & Influencer Relations LinkedIn Group. With LinkedIn as a platform going from strength to strength, and each year reinforcing its role as the go-to place for online B2B communities, I think reviewing the types of role of those applying is more relevant than ever.

For the second year running there have been more individuals from agencies applying than from in-house roles at vendors. In 2010 the ratio was 69% from vendors, 31% from agencies. In 2012 it was 57% vendors, 43% agencies. Reviewing 2014 it was 41% vendors, 59% agencies. Since our LinkedIn Group is designed for vendor roles only, we’ve once more declined far more applicants than those we’ve accepted. What’s new is the make-up of those from agencies.

Three years ago they were mainly from PR agencies, two years ago they were overtaken by those from generic or integrated marketing agencies. The first six months of 2014 saw the largest category being marketing tech agencies – those providing blackbox solutions rather than consultancy or services. Think of them as very broadly the descendants of Klout. But halfway through last year began a new trend. A phenomenal number of applicants from small startups offering brokering services between brands and ‘pay for play’ bloggers and tweeters. Looking at the photos of these applicants, these people are very young, I’d guess well under 25. Their startups look unfunded and they’re from all over the world, Asia in particular. Our LI Group isn’t for these people so we have to decline their entry. But it clearly shows where the most movement in this sector currently is.

‘Pay for play’ bloggers now becoming synonymous with Influencer Marketing?

Link

Blogger tit-for-tat reveals ugly side of Influencer MarketingShocking to see unscrupulous ‘pay for play’ bloggers now synonymous with Influencer Marketing. It wont surprise anyone to see this kind of behavior going on but it’s a million miles from my original vision for the phrase. Further proof the topic desperately needs rescuing.

http://enterpriseinnovation.net/article/blogger-tit-tat-reveals-ugly-side-influencer-marketing-1396979543

 

Why would you be tempted to sign up to a ‘blogger influencer network’?

Would love someone from the vendor side to explain to me why they’d be tempted to sign up to a ‘blogger influencer network’. I can understand them being misled by the title into thinking they’d be connecting with real influencers, but outside of those people, and once they’d realised that wasn’t the case, why would a vendor contact one of these database hawkers? Their databases don’t hold influencers, they hold the names of tweeters and bloggers who, in exchange for payment, are willing to write promotional guff while not declaring it to whatever readership they have. How ‘inauthentic’ can you get?

So someone tell me what’s the attraction?

What’s wrong with the current state of Influencer Marketing?

A starting point is that it needs to get back to having the prospective buyer at its center, not the vendor’s marketing dept., or worse still, the vendor’s PR agency. Five years ago it was of clear benefit to the salesforce, helping them better understand who was most influencing their sales targets. Marketing depts. took it on because they could see it at last being the glue ensuring sales & marketing alignment.

Then social media, which plays a very different role for marketers than it does for buyers, took hold. Marketers saw that through social media, influencers could simply become an additional database at which to aim their promotional messages. Which then led to a series of problems.

1. The term ‘influencers’ was given to any tweeter or blogger with even the smallest of networks

2. Systems like Klout emerged that allowed these tweeters to big themselves up – wasting a lot of people’s time in the process.

3. Marketers – desperate for metrics to show their bosses – could now show impressive graphs of outreach, retweets, likes and more.

4. New marketing tech firms emerged looking to sell the identities of these tweeters & bloggers to brands desperate for new outreach channels.

What this has created is a new marketplace for those acting as middlemen providing access for brands to ‘pay-for-play’ bloggers. Of course, the two sides are sold very different stories. The bloggers are told to endorse the paying brand as surreptitiously as they can, knowing that the more they can smuggle in brand references the more likely they are to earn repeat business. The brands are told that these bloggers & tweeters have been individually selected for their authenticity, sensitivity and audience. And that all their bloggers operate a full disclosure policy to their audience. When the brand notices that the blogger hasn’t disclosed their association they’re told this was a one-off mistake. And far from being individually selected, the middlemen are playing a numbers game. They aggressively advertise for increasing number of willing bloggers, just as low-end taxi companies promise endless numbers of would-be car drivers the best-paid job of their lives. For their part, the bloggers & tweeters game their own numbers – audience numbers, Klout scores, subject coverage, etc. in order to out-compete their rivals for any type of payment.

But these are very far away from being influencers. The problem is that it’s not in any of these circle’s interest to admit that. Brands want to be able to show they’re reaching real influencers, the bloggers & tweeters want to appear as attractive as possible to attract the money, and the middleman broker agencies (for which there’s absolutely no barrier to entry!) want to promise brands access to the largest possible database of would-be promoters. It’s an ‘emperor’s new clothes’ scenario. And it wont stop until the vendors’ salespeople remind their marketing dept. of what they expect from their influencer outreach. Legitimate sales prospects!