The rise of sites like TripAdvisor, Amazon reviews, forums, blogs and social media in general, has seen a shift in trust. We trust our peers much more than faceless corporations trying to sell us their goods. Research has shown people are more than five times as likely to buy based on a social recommendation than through exposure to traditional forms of marketing. Influencer marketing is much more than just the latest PR buzz word; it’s now an essential tool in any marketers kit.
I’m not writing as a marketing expert or someone who has conducted a heap of research on the subject. I’m writing as a person some marketers might want to form a professional relationship with – especially if they have a technology based product or service to tout. As well as helping them understand more clearly how to approach people like me, I’m actually hoping it will make my life easier – because believe it or not I do like getting pitches and press releases.
Reporting on technology isn’t easy. Things change so rapidly and it’s important I stay informed about my industry. There is simply no way I could do that in isolation. Getting good, clear, unfussy press materials is one of the key ways I stay in touch. It allows me to pick out the stories that I can use in my work for further, independent research.
So that’s the first thing I would say, when it comes to the question ‘how do you get me talking to my followers about you?’ Always have in mind that influencers want to hear from you so they have interesting things to share with their followers. It doesn’t need to be a battlefield where novel-length press releases stuffed with overblown superlatives and impossible claims are used as a battering ram to break down the walls of my social media castle, while I defend with snarky tweets about the dictionary definition of innovation.
I am time-poor and that is in part because of how much time it takes to maintain a healthy social following. It can be a bit like managing a room full of sugar-hyped toddlers at a third birthday party; everyone needs attention or they get bored and then trouble happens! The best relationships I have with marketers play out in a series of one-line tweets or emails… ‘hey Kate here’s a thing you might like.’ is all I need… it’s in my interest to look at the link that came with that sentence and then I can decide for myself whether it is innovative, ground breaking or something I am absolutely going to adore.
The second point I would make is know the influencer you’re trying to influence… the landscape today is populated by bloggers, university professors, podcasters, Instagram celebrities, YouTube stars, the list goes on and grows almost daily. Which platforms are best for you will depend on the market you want to reach. There are countless social tools to help you do this – many of which are free.
Once you’ve identified the platform make sure the influencer is a good fit for your brand and really has the clout you need. There are a couple of traps it’s easy to fall into here.
Number of Twitter followers is probably the most frequently referenced vanity metric, but it doesn’t take much to look a little deeper and see if you’re being served a dud. You need people with fans who listen to what they are saying so follower to following ratio is a giveaway. If an account has 25k followers but is following 25k in return they’ve used the follow-me-back method of building popularity – and even a monkey can click follow repeatedly. You want people with followers who are interested in what they have to say, not just people who followed for a follow back.
It’s also worth looking deeper at the interactions on the twitter account and at the people who follow the influencer. Tools like Followerwonk will let you see how many followers their followers have, the geography of their followers, as well as lots of other useful metrics like how often people are retweeting their posts.
Klout is another vanity metric that is often quoted, but beware – it is very easy to game. If you look at someone’s Twitter or Facebook feed and it is full of endless large group retweets to the same people that say nothing of any importance, there is a very good chance they are collectively gaming the system. The more interactions you get from mid to high end Klout score users, the higher your own score will climb. Pretty much the only reliable metric you can get from Klout is if a user has a low score – then you can be sure they have no real social influence (or they didn’t sign up to Klout, so I guess it’s not that accurate after all).
Although big numbers on profile pages look impressive, it’s not always the best way to target your campaign. Focusing all your resources on a social media big hitter like Stephen Fry, who might, if you’re incredibly lucky, grace you with an impersonal retweet that will fly through his followers timeline without really being noticed, will be far less effective than getting half a dozen popular bloggers on board to write posts about your product samples and then engage with you in an on-going social media conversation about their experience.
Which brings me nicely to my next point, and one I believe a lot of marketers miss — social media is social – so be social. Social is about talking, but it’s also about listening. I am always impressed when a brand I have referenced – either for good for bad reasons – has listened and joins in the conversation. I remember a few years ago having a fun conversation on twitter about dipping jaffa cakes into tea. Before long McVities RealJaffaCakes and Tetley’s Teafolk twitter accounts had joined in the conversation, gaining retweets and favourites from me and many of my followers. Equally when I complain about paypal to my following recently, within half an hour they had responded, called me up on the telephone and sorted out my problem, gaining a praising message from me shortly after.
As well as listening you need to build a relationship with the influencer by connecting with them outside of your requests for help to promote a product. No one likes to feel used. If you read their articles, retweet them, comment on them, compliment them, share other articles unrelated to your business you think they might like, they will start to see you as a part of their network – so when you come to have a product to pitch to them I guarantee you will get a much more open minded reception.
And don’t be a sore loser. If an influencer decides your story is not going to interest their followers and declines to share it – trust them. Reputation is hard to build and easy to lose… If they are truly an influencer they will have built that reputation carefully by making sure they don’t share stuff that will be irrelevant to their followers. That way they are sure their followers will listen to them – which is exactly why you’re targeting them in the first place.
For example, after I ran a successful Kickstarter I started to get a LOT of requests from people to share their crowdfunding campaigns. I made a decision early on that I would not share any campaign that I was not personally investing in. After all, a share from me is tantamount to a recommendation to invest and if I’m not investing myself why would I expect my followers to? There is one exception to this rule and that’s education products – as I don’t have children I wouldn’t naturally invest but the measure for me is ‘if I did have kids would I buy one?’ If the answer is yes I will share.
Ultimately you don’t want an influencer to throw their reputation away sharing your irrelevant content because then their value to you will plummet too.
Social media has completely changed the way I work. I get instant feedback about my packages and reports and pretty much anything I choose to have an opinion on. The anonymity that the internet provides makes people a lot bolder in the way they express their opinions – so there is really is no place to hide, especially if you get it wrong. You could view that as a negative, and I know a lot of people do. You need thick skin to operate in the public eye on social media.
But it’s also a massive opportunity. Marketers should understand the value of information and insight about what makes your consumers happy or not. It’s the same for me… Anyone who is an influencer in today’s social culture has achieved that by applying basic marketing principles to their online interactions. They are in effect, your peers. If you remember that, respect them for it and couch your conversations accordingly then you will earn their respect in return – which is a pretty solid foundation for any business relationship.