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.

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.

LinkedIn data shows ‘Influencer Marketing’ job roles are really social media job roles

thebuyersidejourney.comIn 2014 LinkedIn featured 514 recruitment posts for ‘Influencer Marketing’ or ‘Influencer Relations’ positions. That’s up from 289 the previous year. 206 of the 514 were from marketing agencies looking to fill roles within their agency, leaving 308 ‘in-house’ positions. We then looked at what criteria were most commonly cited as being requirements for the position. The three leading criteria, in order, were: Experience of social media outreach & engagement, Proven ability to apply metrics to activity, and Ability to integrate influencer outreach into broader marketing goals.

No wonder Influencer Marketing has gone so off-track. The LinkedIn data proves that those recruiting the positions are now seeing it as social media-based and those fulfilling the roles are themselves wishing to focus on social.

I’m wondering where the ‘understanding of the customer and what influences them’ comes in to play – if at all. I don’t see it in the ‘social media engagement’ because I’m pretty sure that’s all about the level of retweets / comments and shares. And I don’t see it in the ‘integrate outreach into broader marketing goals’ because that’s likely about the number of eyeballs reached and turning outreach into email addresses and Facebook profiles.

So as the incoming generation of influencer marketers bring with them their interest and focus on social media metrics, I think we’ll just have to look elsewhere for a greater understanding of the customer and their buying behavior.

Time for a step-change in what we’re doing.

 

‘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

 

60 million people in one click! That says it all about blogger databases.

Love it. Just when I was fearing our company seemed to have a different understanding of ‘influencers’ to almost everyone else I see this strapline from a UK firm purporting to specialise in ‘influencer marketing’.

“The UK’s Largest Influencer Marketing Agency. We build creative social marketing campaigns for brands and then distribute them to 60 million people in one click!”

Huh! 60 million people. All influential obviously. Every one of them well targeted no doubt.

I guess they just didn’t want ‘spammers’ in their strapline.

 

So what’s been the overriding trend in Influencer Marketing this year?

The past few years have seen a number of trends on the world of Influencer Marketing. When I look back at these I can’t help noticing that none of these trends have been, in my opinion, good for better understanding who really influences an organisation’s prospects & customers. The largest trends have been short-term diversions and their shortcomings soon realised. The result is they’ve just confused the subject matter, and left the understanding of the subject in no better a place than it was five years ago. I’ve resolved to unearth some more positive trends in future posts. No point complaining.

In 2011 we saw the rise (and later fall) of the supposed ‘online influence platforms’. In 2012 there was the wide-scale transition of Influencer Marketing programs from being managed in-house (where marketing depts. didn’t know what to do with them) to being contracted out to PR and ad agencies (who didn’t care that they didn’t know because they now had a new revenue stream). 2013 saw the ‘pay for play’ blogger / broker networks make a concerted attempt to redefine ‘influencers’ as bloggers and tweeters who’d willingly endorse products and companies for payment. 2014 is actually harder to identify one over-riding trend but I think it’s been the finessing of which social media metrics are most relevant to ‘influence’. I’ve seen no end of graphics illustrating ‘relevance’, ‘appropriateness’, ‘authenticity’, etc.

What each of these have in common is that they’re all marketing-centric, and increasingly generated by the marketing agencies themselves. I’m seeing surprisingly few vendors and brands driving any more productive trends. Why is this?

 

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?

As a vendor, what would you most like from what you consider your Influencer Marketing outreach?

Influencer50, Influencer Marketing, As a vendor, what would you most like from what you consider your Influencer Marketing outreach?Influencer50 will shortly be conducting a survey of Heads of Marketing at B2B organizations in the U.S. If you’d like to take the survey please let us know. We’ll be publishing the results in late-Jan or early-Feb’15.

There are just five questions.

1. What pain-point incentivised you to commission an Influencer Marketing program?

– Disappointing closure-rate on sales

– Lack of knowledge in new market

– Unfocused marketing spend / allocation

– Need to prove sales / marketing alignment

– Acknowledgement that “we can always do better”

– Other

 

2. What were the core skills you wanted from your choice of Influencer Marketing partner?

– Experience working with similar peer companies

– Greater understanding of B2B decision-making

– Social media expertise

– Already integrated into our Marketing Dept.

– Other

 

3. At the outset of the program what was the single most important outcome you hoped to achieve?

– Understanding the degree to which our prospects are influenced by online / offline / social channels.

– Broadening the reach of our social media outreach.

– Understanding the identities of our prospects’ top influencers.

– A better understanding about how our prospects make their purchasing decisions.

– Near-term conversion of these influencers into sales opportunities

– Other

 

4. Having seen the results, what was the greatest surprise in your eventual findings?

– We already knew most of the influencers.

– The key individual influencers weren’t who we expected them to be.

– There are many more influencers impacting our prospects than expected.

– The balance between offline / online / social influencers was not as expected.

– Those influencers identified have increased our confusion.

– Other

 

5. In hindsight, where do you believe you were previously wasting most budget / effort beforehand, if at all?

– We were reaching out to the wrong people.

– We were reaching out to too many people.

– Our outreach just wasn’t reaching enough people. It’s a numbers game.

– We had no data to justify who we were contacting.

– We were not focusing enough on social media outreach to reach them.

– We were focusing too much on social media outreach to reach them.

– There was no waste. We weren’t previously investing in influencer outreach.

– Other

What ‘bloggers for hire’ claim to offer

I’ve been receiving quite a few approaches recently from ‘bloggers for hire’ assuming that Influencer50 operates a so-called ‘influencer marketing platform’ – in reality just a database of bloggers willing to promote products & services in their posts for an upfront fee.

This raises several issues for me. How poor the targeting of these bloggers must be – we don’t operate such platforms, I must be one of the most public voices against them, and they clearly haven’t done even the minimum of research on what we do do.

Secondly how generic their approach is – see below at one I received yesterday. They’re selling their claim to be a ‘social media influencer’ and will endorse pretty much anything. What they have to offer – they claim – is a high Google PageRank and a regular level of traffic.

When people like this start permeating blogs with their undisclosed promotions, all casual blog readers need to be on alert. And what does it say about those sponsors willing to reach their audience this way?

Dear Sir/Mam
I’m a tech&auto blogger at xxxxxxxxxxxx.com and social media Influencer for Brands like Toyota,Allianz,Cars.com,Victorinox,Brainwavz,Asus,Videscape.com etc under sponsored digital marketing campaigns.

I’m interested to participate in paid/sponsored social media promotion and marketing campaigns of tech products& gadgets,
Please assist me to connect with the concerned team.
Regards

Blog Details:
Blog:https://www.xxxxxxxxxxxx
Google Pagerank: 02
Monthly Traffic: 7,000-10,000
Domain Age: 1 year

The direction Influencer Marketing could have, and should have, taken.

The mass-market direction for Influencer Marketing over the next year seems pretty clear to me. Today’s hype is all about brokering commercial deals between pay-for-play tweeters & bloggers and ‘brands’. Brands are desperate to get as many people talking about them as possible, to explore every outlet, and tweeters would love to be paid for their tweets. Both sides want each other, even if the customer or prospect is the one to lose.

The problem is that reaching out to real influencers is difficult, with no guaranteed RoI and certainly no predictable rate of that return. And that doesn’t fit comfortably with today’s need for guaranteed, predictable measures.

It wont last, but it’s set for the next year or so because it helps the metrics that marketers have set for themselves. Having adopted one of the many marketing automation systems (a la Eloqua, Marketo, etc.) they now need to ensure their marketing programs are well reflected in it, and # of social channels, # of retweets / reblogs / shares, size of potential audience, are valuable metrics for this. Forget they’re having no effect on sales, they are reaching an audience.

So marketing agencies, and it is the agencies who are moving this agenda, are improving their odds by reaching out to the most willing individuals. These individuals may not be influencers, almost certainly they’re not, but they’re willing, they’ll reliably add to the brand’s outreach channels. Most importantly, they’re available for hire.

I’ll give it nine months before the groundswell of opinion turns on it. But there’s so clearly a better direction Influencer Marketing could have taken.

The fundamental reason for reaching out to real influencers was, and should continue to be, to improve your chances of completing a sale. These ‘social influencer’ services divorce any connection between marketing and sales.

To reconnect marketing with sales you have to first analyze which individuals are involved in the prospect’s decision-making process – and which aren’t. Now if you could reliably understand who was important and who wasn’t to a sale, in advance of any purchase decision – and be able to scale that process across industries and across regions – well, that would be truly powerful. But it’s not a direction most in Influencer Marketing seem to be pursuing.