A worthwhile read from Samantha Wright in South Africa on one way in which influencers differ from traditional PR targets. Thanks to BizCommunity for this.
Thanks to Marcy Massura of MSL for this. Once more, it’s stuck on the assumption that ‘influencers’ by default means ‘social influencers’ but it still makes some worthwhile points.
I certainly don’t always agree with Lithium’s take on identifying & working with influencers, but fair play to them, this blog from Rob Tarkoff posted to SocialTimes makes sense to me.
Fairly interesting post here from Pam Neely. Contains some hard-to-argue-with stats. Nothing revelatory but further proof of which marketing channels perform best for sales conversion. Thanks to the often excellent Business 2 Community site for this.
The title says it all. Makes sense to me.
Thanks to itbusiness.net for the story.
There’s a top tech CMO I follow on Twitter. She doesn’t post that often (which is fine by me), and I don’t always agree with what she says, but I’m happy to get her updates. She’s a vociferous supporter of ‘social business’ and her company preaches the importance of filtering the online wheat from the online chaff. But I noticed yesterday two stats which struck me. One was that she has approx. 40k followers – I told you she was a top CMO. Second was that she herself follows almost 26k people.
I’ve no doubt she has an extremely busy worklife. So what possible benefit can she get from signing up to follow the stream of 26,000 people’s tweets. Why would she do this? Either she skims every one (v.unlikely), sets up filters to only see the most selective ones (in which case why not just cut back on most of them), or she dips in occasionally for a random selection (most likely). Is that such a great advance on more traditional methods of gauging the public temperature?
Just how selective can she have been to have signed up for each of those 26,000? Surely she hasn’t individually checked each one out in advance? I’m guessing most were followed on the ‘quid pro quo’ basis. So for someone whose job role is to advocate social networks as a path to greater personal efficiency, presumably she doesn’t herself place much value on the importance of gaining online followers. Which to me is a conflicting message.
Maybe I should ask her. I just doubt she has the time to respond.
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.
Some clients like their engagement programs to be fluid – they believe in them because they know they make sense. Others prefer them tightly orchestrated and documented to the smallest detail. Some of ours have been detailed on Excel sheets with more formulas than I’d have believed possible. But one force has been proved, time and time again, to be more powerful than almost any other, aside from the cold cash of a direct resulting sale. Executives with personal anecdotes. A hundred actions, responses, metrics and the like are nothing compared to a client exec. with the power to approve budget saying “I was at a customer the other day and he was absolutely being influenced by (Influencer X)”.
It might not be scientific proof, or even driven by any kind of data, but one anecdote from the right executive and everyone down the chain falls into place. That’s why senior salespeople are so useful, and perhaps critical, to have on-board though the engagement process. They keep the budget in place during the inevitable dips in more tangible progress.
What’s particularly interesting is how few companies have any existing framework to collate such anecdotes. If the quote comes in as an email it can obviously sorted in a particular folder, or simply printed out, but beyond this, it just doesn’t happen. Yet every engagement program needs to harness these quotes, capturing them at the time and reminding senior management of them at key points down the line. Short-form video is by far the best format, way better than just audio and a hundred times better than an email – yet none of our clients have ever established this without us suggesting it. The quality of cellphone video is now more than good enough and iOS, Android and WindowsPhone can all transcribe to text from video. Collate the various video clips in an online database, even an iCloud Photo or Flickr album will do, and integrate them into your next program or performance review. You’ll be amazed how powerful they’ll prove.
Point 2 (of 6). Many critical influencers don’t have any existing relationships with our clients. We’ve recently concluded one of our Influencer Perception Audits for a client of ours – one of the best known global software companies. One you would imagine knew everybody who mattered.
Having identified the top market influencers in a particular business sector we conducted a one-to-one audit on how each of those identified influencers currently viewed our client in that sector. One of the questions we asked was ‘ Do you have any existing working relationship with any of (our client’s) point executives, and if not, is this something you would like to have?’ It’s a typical starting point question we ask so we’ve come to know the likely trend in responses. The findings are made more interesting by the fact that in advance of the audit, we ask our client which influencers they already have a working relationship with.
As emphasized in our most recent audit, our client’s execs typically believe they have existing working relationships with perhaps 50-60% of the individual influencers. Sometimes it’s less, but rarely more. When we ask those identified influencers the same question, closer to 20% believe they have a working relationship with any of our client’s execs.
How much of this ‘over-belief’ by the client’s execs is just the bravado of human nature, how much is “I might have met him/her only once but I’m sure they’ll remember me”, and how much is the assumption that “it may not be me personally that knows him/her but I’m sure one of our team must know them”, is impossible to say. But our experience shows that it is never the case that the influencers believe they have a better relationship with the client than vice-versa. Clients always over-estimate the strength of their relationships. Sometimes by an astonishing degree.
It makes me wonder to what degree this also relates to the executives’ working relationships with their prospects & customers. How accurate is their gauging of the strength of those relationships? If there were a similar 30-40% gap between opinions then that could explain plenty of lost sales.
Aside from informal surveys such as ours I’m not sure how many vendors seek to qualitively measure the strength of their existing relationships. The acid test most used – “did you win the sale?” – is a winner-takes-all moment in time, with no opportunity for a second attempt. So the homework needs to be done in advance. Starting with the customer’s key influencers.
I was putting together a presentation on our Influencer Engagement Programs last week and thought it might be useful to outline some of the key learnings we have. There’s way more than six but I’ve chosen six and I’ll write about each in separate posts.
Point 1. Marketing depts. are still heavily, and rigidly, compartmentalized. And that’s a problem. The influencer model requires breaking that apart. As soon as we’ve identified the key customer influencers for a client, those influencers are then typically segmented into those the client routes to the PR agency, those to the social media team, those to the AR folks etc. Those that can’t be dispatched to these teams are mentally put into the ‘others’ category. Most companies have little existing mechanism to deal with these others. Through no fault of their own, they’re considered ‘awkward’ to accommodate. The cause is that their benefits are ‘awkward’ to measure.
Let’s go back one step. Marketing depts. are intrigued by who the individuals really influencing their customers are. There’s a genuine interest to find out. And an excitement with the ‘identification’ results – the feeling of a new dawn. But when they do find out, clients rarely have the internal structure & processes to act on this new knowledge. And then they can stumble.
Marketing depts. don’t have to break anything to commission us to identify their real customer influencers. They have to have interest, and a budget. But to act on our findings they often do have to break something internally. Because much as they’d like to create a new way of interacting with these new-found influencers, they’re restricted in how to deal with them by the existing fiefdoms within their organization. And they get into people-politics.
How do they choose to engage with the single consultant, who occasionally blogs, sporadically contributes an article to a trade mag., but who regularly consults to a number of large prospect opportunities? The PR team doesn’t want to lose that person from their long list of journalists, even though they’re never going to be a priority on that list. The client’s consultant relations team hasn’t the resource to proactively engage with small consultants either, preferring to spend their time with the much larger consultancy brands. And in terms of the influencer outreach program, how do you measure the value that influencer contributes when they act only as a background advisor to one or more prospect companies? Keeping them ‘onside’ with you costs time, patience, budget, and your influencer program needs to show a return on investment each quarter.
PR depts. and agencies think they have a hard enough time justifying their own existence – yet their traditional focus on journalists & the media means their eventual return can at least be measured in column inches, site stats, audience ratings, etc. AR teams can find they have a harder job because often only the analysts’ written reports are seen as tangible returns, when their actual role can be much broader. But how do you persuade your bosses of that? Yet compared to other categories of influencer, the returns from AR & PR activity are relatively simple to display on a PowerPoint chart. And that’s what seems to count. When each category of influencer may require a slightly different RoI metric to reflect the success of your outreach, it needs a particularly motivated, secure, senior and understanding client executive to support the ongoing engagement stage.
No surprise then that so many marketing depts. opt for the instant, though sugary, gratification of social media outreach. All those retweets, shares and weblogs look so much better on a PowerPoint graph. Whether they have any effect on sales is a very different argument.