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.

I guess it had to happen – an approach from an ‘influence marketing platform’ company!

I guess it had to happen. I was directly emailed on Friday by one of the ‘influence marketing platform’ companies. And my view on them went from very bad to even worse.

On opening the mail I assumed I was about to be harangued for so criticizing them in the past. I think the whole notion of these ‘platforms’ is terrible – they’re just databases linking vendor marketing depts. with freelancers willing to post about that vendor for payment. Can you imagine any credible individual, with real buyer authority, ever being willing to trade that hard-won credibility for a few under-hand payments and a new line in “Am posting this while snacking on some delicious new cappuccino Oreos”?

Their email actually said that they’d identified me as ‘a marketing thought-leader’, that they had tracked this blog’s subject area and that as a result, I might like to consider using my ‘undoubted influence’ (oh the irony of it) to earn additional income by partnering with brands they represented to share my ‘positive thoughts’ on those brands. It said other ‘influencers’ were earning ‘considerable’ amounts through this process. And it gave me a link to their online ‘partner’ form.

So if I didn’t know it before, I’ve now had it confirmed that no-one at this firm is actually reading the blogs & tweets of those ‘influencers’ they’re approaching – they just have bots sucking up relevant words and phrases and then a mass-mailing app which spams them. I can only assume they’re not telling their clients their ‘influencers’ have been so poorly selected.

Would you want those individuals really influencing your prospects to be treated like that?

Is being an ‘online influencer’ as black & white as you think?

We’ve recently been considering whether there’s still a line between being an ‘online influencer’ and an ‘offline influencer’. And if there is, whether that line is still important.

Take the example of say, a leading academic who has no social media footprint, doesn’t tweet, doesn’t blog, isn’t on Facebook, only engages in face-to-face conversations, meetings, presentations and authoring papers. It would be obvious to categorize them as a 100% offline influencer wouldn’t it?

But then what if other individuals, having met and talked with that person, then blog, tweet and post about that person’s views. Does the original influencer then unwittingly become an online influencer?

I’m sure many of you would say yes, in the same way that David Beckham perhaps unwittingly became a major Hispanic influencer a decade ago. He may have not intended to, he may not even been aware of it at the time, but influential he undoubtedly was. With this as an example maybe an online influencer doesn’t actually have to be online themselves.

But the implication is that all online influencers can be reached by online outreach. That that’s their medium of choice. A prominent trend in Influencer Marketing circles this year has been to assume every influencer wants to be engaged online.

What about the possibility that although an influencer may have never reached out socially, they could perhaps be avid consumers of social media, just not contributors. And what if they then took what they’d ready on social channels and conveyed those thoughts back into their day-to-day offline world. They’d be an offline influencer, correct?

So why do we still categorize people as online influencer and offline influencers? Is that still valid? And even if still valid, is it an important division?

We’re convinced it is. Not only does it represent how they influence, but also how best to establish a lasting conversation with them. Something way too few people seem to be focusing on right now.

Majority of respondents in a Gallup survey said that social media had no influence at all on purchasing decisions!

Really good article in last week’s WSJ. Exactly what we’ve been talking about for years. Here’s a snippet but for the full thing I encourage you to go to:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/companies-alter-social-media-strategies-1403499658?mod=e2fb

Note the line “A majority of respondents in a Gallup survey said that social media had no influence at all on purchasing decisions”.

Social Media Fail to Live Up to Early Marketing Hype

Companies Refine Strategies to Stress Quality Over Quantity of Fans

WSJ - Just Being SocialIn May 2013, Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. bought ads to promote its brand page on Facebook. After a few days, unhappy executives halted the campaign—but not because they weren’t gaining enough fans. Rather, they were gaining too many, too fast

“We were fearful our engagement and connection with our community was dropping” as the fan base grew, says Allison Sitch, Ritz-Carlton’s vice president of global public relations.

Today, the hotel operator has about 498,000 Facebook fans; some rivals have several times as many. Rather than try to keep pace, Ritz-Carlton spends time analyzing its social-media conversations, to see what guests like and don’t like. It also reaches out to people who have never stayed at its hotels and express concern about the cost.

Ritz-Carlton illustrates a shift in corporate social-media strategies. After years of chasing Facebook fans and Twitter followers, many companies now stress quality over quantity. They are tracking mentions of their brand, then using the information to help the business.

“Fans and follower counts are over. Now it’s about what is social doing for you and real business objectives,” says Jan Rezab, chief executive of Socialbakers AS, a social-media metrics company based in Prague.

For the full article go to:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/companies-alter-social-media-strategies-1403499658?mod=e2fb

Speaking at PROOF Conference on Influencer Marketing, Phoenix AZ, 10-11th Nov.

PROOF ConferenceI’m excited to be a speaker at the just-announced first PROOF Conference on Influencer Marketing. I’ll be alongside one of the people I most respect in our industry – Paul Gillin (@paulgillin)- which makes me look forward to it even more. Paul’s book, ‘Attack of the Customers’, was one of my favorite business books of last year.

If you’re interested in attending the conference, which is equally for brands and agencies, use the special code ‘NHayes’, for a $100 discount voucher.

http://www.proofcon.com

Phoenix AZ, 10-11th Nov.

Our next White Paper: To what degree are your prospects & customers influenced by online & offline communities?

WP#18We’ve been spending plenty of time in recent months on the subject of influencers within online & offline communities.

Our next White Paper:  WP#18 : To what degree are your prospects & customers influenced by online & offline communities?

Available for download next Monday.

Do most top influencers now tweet and/or blog to establish that influence?

It’s not a question we’re often asked, principally because most prospects and clients automatically assume it the case. At our company we’ve long known different. I was just running through some stats for a client project we’re near completing.

The marketplace is U.S-centric, at the junction of business-tech and Financial Services. No shortage of cutting-edge technology, major deals, plenty of money, global organisations, heavily performance-based. If there’s a technology invented to gain an advantage they use it. And just look at the figures.

Approx. one-third of the top 75 influencers have an active twitter feed (i.e have tweeted in the past month) and less than one-quarter run an active blog (have posted in the past two months). Most of those with a blog also tweet. So whichever way you look at it, significantly less than 40% of the top influencers maintain a presence on social media. That’s not to say they’re particularly keen users, and certainly not prolific, but they are there if you look for them.

When you’re ignoring over 60% of your most important targets, why would marketing depts. continue migrating so much of their outreach to social?

The temptation of social is to only look at the headline metrics.

I chair the ‘Influencer Marketing & Influencer Relations’ LinkedIn Group. One of my roles is to approve all new member requests and I’ve some interesting stats to share. The group is very specific, and only professionals from the vendor-side are admitted – no agencies or individual consultants. These rules are to encourage uninhibited vendor to vendor discussion, free from agencies endlessly pitching themselves or steering conversations round to self-promotion.

We’re always reviewing the stats surrounding the group. We now have well over 850 vendor-side members. But what I wanted to share are the request stats. Since Jan’13 73% of all requests have come from agency-side or students. We’ve had to politely decline each of these.

It would be easy to boost the numbers by admitting every request. If so, we’d now enjoy over 2500 members. And that’s the temptation of social. Quality suffers at the hands of metrics – the core numbers are the first impression anyone gets and you’re rarely allowed the attention span to explain quality.

On social, no-one invests the time to think behind the headlines.

When will marketing heads question the value of commercial tweeters & bloggers?

I think within six months in-house heads of marketing will be questioning the benefits of reaching out to the paid-for tweeters & bloggers currently being favored by the emergence of the influencer marketing ‘platforms’. These platforms – a development on the Klout approach of identifying those most prolific on Twitter – are selling through subscription the identities of those making the greatest social media noise.

But those bloggers & tweeters who welcome the approaches of (most often) PR agencies – primarily because of the resulting commercial opportunities – are almost never influential individuals. Certainly not influential to buyers. The platforms are in effect just providing a new database source of commercially-oriented tweeters willing to be part of a vendor’s marketing outreach. That’s fine in itself – good luck to them – but in becoming marketing contractors they are most definitely not sales influencers.

If the metrics you’re using for evaluating your Influencer Marketing outreach are sales-focused then this is a major problem. But as many increasingly use metrics based simply on outreach stats, maybe for them it’s doing the job they want. If so, they’re surely pursuing the wrong goal.

Those active on Twitter and within online community groups appear to be very different people

Infographic: CMSwire.com, The Buyer-side Journey

Infographic: CMSwire.com

At Influencer50 we’re currently collating the responses to a short survey of 150 U.S-based marketing heads on their views of industry-specific community groups, both offline and online. What we already know is that B2B buyers see certain communities as very influential in their decision-making.

One particularly fascinating finding, which until now has been just our adopted wisdom, is that many buyers are either active on Twitter and other social media or online communities – but not both. You might assume that someone who takes an active part in social media conversations would naturally extend those conversations into online community forums. But it seems users largely make a choice between one or the other, or perhaps neither, but almost never both.

Perhaps they feel they’d be repeating their contributions, or perhaps culturally they feel they’re either a Twitter or online community kinda person, but it appears rare for any one individual to be active on both platforms. We first noticed this a few years back as part of our auto-industry work for Michelin, and it seems to be emphasized by our latest survey.

The findings would suggest that any social media outreach your organization may be undertaking is not reaching the online communities you’re likely assuming it is. And so working with your online communities needs to be considered a very separate strategy.

Influencer50’s latest survey is scheduled for release in early June.

(The infographic courtesy of CMSwire.)