There's an awful lot of talk in social media around influencers. That term is thrown around a lot and quite often attributed to people in positions of perceived authority in their specific areas of the world. Influencers are people who incite others to action and whose opinions are considered valuable and worthy of note. Marketers like to target these individuals because by targeting the few, they can influence or persuade many to buy through them. Thereby identifying these key individuals and marketing to them - they will in turn market to the masses and draw a great deal of attention to the product or service at hand.
That. Sounds. Wonderful. #ponies #rainbows #unicorns
It's not all that easy in reality however. Influencers, especially now that social media has exploded, are increasingly the recipients of a great deal of attention. Depending on the particular individual you could be competing for their attention with the likes of major media outlets, political figures, television and movie stars, or other random industry pundits. That is a lot of noise to combat with.
Finding Your Influencers
So you know what influencers are and how you can benefit by getting you and your product or service in front of them. But where are they? How do you find them? Well that largely depends on your industry and position within it. For some people it may be quite obvious. If you are a social media consultancy your influencers are likely fairly easy to find - in social media. If you are a small brick and mortar clothing retailer located in the Ballard area of Seattle, WA - your influencers "might" be a little more difficult to identify. Or, are they?
There are conversations relevant to your product and service happening all of the time. The key here is to find where they are happening and then identifying the key players in those conversations. Take a look at your conversion funnels for insights in to these conversations. Where in the consumers decision making process are the conversations happening? For that small brick and mortar clothing retailer those conversations may be happening on a hyper-local fashion centric blog. If you're well...just about anyone there are going to be online conversations happening that are relevant to you. Check out some social media monitoring services that will help you find, monitor and engage in these conversations. Some of the best I've come across are Trackur, SimplyMeasured, Radian6 (large volume and budgets) and SocialMention. There are lots of them in the marketplace so spend some time and find what works for you and your budget then get to listening!
Not all of the conversations you should be monitoring are going to be online however. And the bummer of it is that there is no offline conversation monitoring tool. Must like online engagement, but more critical, offline engagement and influence weighs heavily towards relationships. The stronger and more positive a relationship an influencer has with your product or service, the more likely they will be to suggest or defend you in their offline conversations. The most obvious way to help build positive relationships with offline influencers - is to treat all of your customers well time and time again. Consistently. Continuously delighting your customer and keeping them coming back is building loyalty. Loyalty breeds advocacy.
Beyond your interactions with your customers - think of the interactions they're having that are relevant to you with others. Let's keep looking at this small clothing retailer in a Seattle neighbourhood. Who else would influencer their customers decisions? Well - perhaps they don't sell shoes, but there is a very cute and "similar-in-style" shoe boutique around the corner. Paying attention to buyers behaviour could tell the shop owner that some of their customers visit the show boutique prior to their clothing store. Building a relationship with the owners and employees of this shoe boutique could increase the likelihood that they would suggest the clothing shop as a next likely stop for the shoppers. How could you translate this idea to your business? Do you sell insurance? Perhaps it's worth looking to the body shops your prospective clients are visiting as sources of influence. Do you own a landscaping business? Consider the local lawn mower salesman a potential source of influence. I could go on - but you get the point. Identifying the touch points in your customers decision ecosystem will help you identify points of influence and thus - your influencers.
Inciting and Incentivizing Behaviour
Understanding the influencers motivation is critical to making your outreach work. At this point you've now spent some time listening to the conversations around your brand and have identified the key players or influencers in them. You can begin to engage with them and keep them involved in the conversation. But truly unlocking the power in influencers and those that are engaged around your brand really lies in understanding what motivates them. By fully understanding the motivating factors behind their involvement you can keep them engaged over time and even further the level of engagement they have.
Motivation itself has a couple of different base types. Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from within the individual based on their feelings about something or other emotional and mental elements. Extrinsic motivational factors come from outside of the individual. These are often seen in the forms of rewards, money, etc. Even beyond these two types of basic motivators, there are nuanced differences that are worth investigating.
Some of those might look like:
Access to knowledge
These people are highly motivated by access to knowledge that others don't have, or don't yet have. They would likely take action for inclusion is a specialized and exclusive knowledge sharing or focus group. They will want to be on the "inside" as much as possible and be in the know ahead of the game. They will feel empowered and valued by access to privileged information.
Special recognition and Status
Some people are motivated by what some would consider more traditional means. An award for example. Special badges, icons, or avatars also appeal to those members seeking recognition. These types of people also respond well to gifts of thanks and appreciation - think swag, coffee gift cards, etc. (I hesitate to ever suggest you give away product.) This translate directly in to community elements where status within the community is also a VERY relevant motivating factor. You can look at examples like the Microsoft MVP program for insight on how to execute on this concept successfully.
There is a subset of your community who are influencers and who are looking to influence upstream as well. They want to be listened to by you. They want to give input and feedback in to your products and service - that is actually valued. They want to be made to feel important and valued by you. Engage these people in conversations around product development, beta testing, etc.
Sense of belonging
The people that are motivated by a sense of belonging crave community. They crave interacting with like minded individuals over common interests. They like the social aspects of community and seek involvement and placement within that community. Creating an environment for these people to have a very deliberate membership experience and associated experiences will be highly valued by this individual.
Marketers spend a great deal of time and resources looking for influencers and figuring out how to get them to take action. Something that is critical to keep in the fore-front of all of this type of activity is human nature. We are all looking for something and are motivated by different things. Identifying what people are are moved by, what they want to get out of a relationship/situation, and how to relate to them will get you where you need to go. It doesn't have to be a vague or obtuse activity if you are intimately in tune with your customers. Get to know them and they will give you all of the insight you need to make smart marketing decisions and create rich and successful influencer initiatives.