Word-of-mouth has always been one of the most effective marketing strategies a business can use. Research has shown time and time again that consumers are more receptive to messages about brands that come from the individuals' own social circles than from the brands themselves. In the social media age, companies have the opportunity to tap into the networks of influential individuals and turn those people into powerful brand advocates.
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"Social influencers," as they're known, are social media users with a strong group of active, engaged followers. While many social influencers tend to have large followings, what's more important than the number of followers is how many of them will mention, respond to or share an influencer's posts. Marco Hansell, CEO of Speakr(formerly known as twtMob), built his company on the idea that brands can truly benefit from finding and connecting with the right social influencers in their industries.
"People talk about social influence [as] being a fad, but it's really based off traditional word-of-mouth-marketing," Hansell told Business News Daily. "Now, we've taken that idea of word-of-mouth — the highest level of trust [in a brand message] — and used technology to accelerate it. Social influencers can drive a much higher impact than you ever could [by] pushing out your message through your own company voice."
What makes social media such an effective word-of-mouth channel is the fact that ROI can be measured with more precision and accuracy than ever before. Not only can you track conversations about your brand among influencers and their followers, but you can even determine which influencers drove certain customers to make purchases. Predictive analytics company Ninja Metrics looks at influencers and utilizes a "social value" score to determine the dollar-amount value of each influencer's word-of-mouth-driven sales. [When Customer Loyalty Isn't Enough, Turn to Word-of-Mouth]
"It's a ripple in a pond effect, and the pond is [an influencer's] social network," said Dmitri Williams, founder of Ninja Metrics and an associate professor at the University of Southern California. "Five to 10 percent of [social media users] are responsible for 60 to 80 percent of influence, [but] big influencers are almost never big spenders. The more 'social' the business category is, the more important [social value] is."
"Social" industries — those driven heavily by word-of-mouth recommendations — are ones like travel, dining and entertainment, where a large percentage of money spent is driven by social aspects rather than the product itself, Williams said. He cited the example of a group of friends visiting a spa together: These friends are willing to spend money on expensive spa treatments together because maintaining their relationships is just as important to them as the actual services, if not more so. Many brands tend to overlook this relationship component of social influence. As a result, they fail to realize that a more subtle approach, where the product is a side note in an influencer's experience with a brand, can be more effective.
"Think C2C, not B2C," Williams said. "Focus on relationships between consumers. [A coffee shop] can give the 'cool kids' a free coffee, but the real value is that they're talking to their friends, so give them a better place to sit. [When you] promote and enforce the friendship, they'll stay longer and buy more coffee. It's a virtuous cycle."
When searching for and identifying social influencers, Hansell advised focusing on engagement rates rather than follower count, and making sure a person's followers really care about the content coming from that individual's feed. Hansell noted that there are a few ways to leverage social influencers for your brand, such as content distribution (social shares and retweets) and branded content creation by the influencer (photos, videos and guest posts). In the same vein, businesses can provide the influencer with a first-hand experience of a product or service so he or she can talk about it on social media.
It's also important that the influencer's personal brand aligns with your own brand image so the message feels more genuine and authentic — but don't forget to have the influencer disclose their connection with your brand.
"Engage with the Federal Trade Commission's best practices around advertising and disclosure," Hansell said. "You don't want to get sued, but also, when you're pushing out content [through an influencer], adding disclosure won't hurt you [and will make the message] truthful to the audience."
Once you've found a good influencer and determined the best strategy for that particular person, give the influencer free reign to talk about your brand as he or she sees fit.
"Don't think of influencers as another place to put an ad," Hansell said. "Let them speak in their own voice. At the end of the day, you are not going to be able to speak [to influencers' audiences] better than they can."
Originally published on Business News Daily