How come we rarely hear from the brands themselves about the success of their Influencer Programs? Rarely a day goes past I don’t hear or read of marketing agencies touting their skills at working with ‘influencers’, of successes achieved or local awards secured. Many of these stories come with the flimsiest of evidence – mid-range bloggers saying how thrilled they were to work with the brand, a regional magazine writing a fluff-piece about a local agency, or the agency itself spinning numbers of ‘passionate brand advocates’ they’ve engaged with. But rarely do the brands themselves do the talking.
Are they just too busy? – maybe, do they not want to tout figures for reasons of commercial advantage? – maybe also, or perhaps the agencies are just more motivated to shout their perceived successes. All I’m sure are a factor but I think it’s primarily something else.
I think the metrics agencies are working towards just aren’t the same ones that the brands are. The agencies may well be satisfied with seeing a rise in fans, retweets, impacts and OtS (opportunities to see). But this isn’t enough for the brands. The C-level execs running them know these measures aren’t strong enough to bring in new customers, or even move new prospects far along the pipeline.
Until they can tie those important measures into their influencer programs I think they’ll be staying quiet.
I don’t have big numbers to share. I have five anecdotal conversations – each with a CMO, or equivalent, of organizations ranging from $35m to just shy of $1bn revenue. Here’s the first. There’ll be more to follow.
This East Coast marketing chief paid $9,000 in total to get five bloggers to write two blog posts and a minimum of four tweets over a four-week period about their supposed adoption of a new tablet accessory. These tweets were then re-published as part of the vendor’s launch invite activities. Each blogger then attended the San Francisco launch earlier this year. That’s approx. $1800 each person.
Was it worth it? The marketing head, who’d identified the bloggers through a ‘social influencer’ database provider, was initially “ok with it, though we’d already known two of the five so we could have approached them direct. We’d have preferred to work with independent bloggers who didn’t need payment, but we were told most did, so we went along with it.”
“It felt a commercial arrangement throughout, with them having all creative control. That was a surprise. It felt like it was all give from us. The upside was that all four turned up at our launch, it wasn’t obvious to anyone else we were paying for them, and we could use their endorsements in our web ads. Financially it wasn’t a bad return for us, but I’ll definitely read their future posts with a lot more skepticism than before. I’ll always wonder if they’ve taken a payment to write about what they have.”
In the B2B sector every in-house Marketing VP, Audience Manager or C-level immediately understands that their organisation’s customers & prospects are primarily influenced offline and through online search. Those that meet their customers know that these people aren’t glued to Hootsuite all day long, picking up whatever’s being posted on Twitter, Facebook et al. They laugh at even the thought of it.
So it still bemuses me there are other self-appointed ‘influencer platforms’ that effortlessly transpose the word ‘influencers’ for ‘social influencers’ so as to promote their own Twitter- or blog-trawler software. I used to wonder how these companies exist – because if they met any of the corporate buyers I meet they’d be laughed out of the office. In perhaps every B2B sector that I know of, ‘social influencers’ are in the very extreme minority – less than five per cent.
Then I came to understand how these platform providers exist. They sell to marketing agencies. And marketing agencies just don’t care about real market influencers – they care about numbers of people who they can outreach to. The game is to continuously ‘top up’ those outreach numbers. Even if those people have only the most tenuous connection to their client’s sales prospects.
So why don’t the in-house managers spot this and call out their marketing agencies? Because too many in-house managers themselves never meet real sales prospects. And so also have no understanding of who they’re really influenced by. This cycle has to stop.
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.
There’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?
Am currently writing a paper asking the question ‘How could Twitter become a platform of real B2B influence?’ I’m basing it on the core six hurdles for Twitter to overcome before it’s a credible source of business purchase decision advice. Maybe you think it’s there already.
But can you imagine being questioned by your boss on what strategic partner to opt for, what million-dollar investment to make, what financial accounting system to choose, and saying, “Sure, let me check what’s being said about that on Twitter.” Thought not.
So what would have to change? Anything to contribute to the paper?
Influencer50 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.
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.
Interesting evidence from Barbara Thomas, head of the Customer Recognition Program at IHS, when her firm asked 100 organizations, “Which Influencer / advocate ‘activities or assets’ are most valued by companies?”
Top of the list – no surprise it’s Customer Videos and Customer Case Studies.
However Barbara says she was surprised at the two lowest rated activities – Facebook Likes and Twitter mentions. Yet this ties in with one of the themes we’ve talked about for the past few years – the over-emphasis on engaging with customers / prospects through social media. B2B customers are just not using Twitter, Facebook et al anywhere near as much as vendors think they do. Good to see her research reinforcing it. Hat-tip to Barbara.
I’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?