From the Influencers

In Influence Marketing, Look for Influencers Who Wield Trust, Not Celebrity Fame

March 10, 2016

While “influence marketing,” or organic word-of-mouth recommendations by influential people via social media, is highly sought after for brands these days, there’s often a mistaken impression that the influencer needs to be a celebrity: someone with hundreds of thousands or millions of fans. While this certainly helps, particularly for luxury consumer brands, the truth is that great influence can be wielded by everyday people such as ordinary consumers, customers, suppliers and employees. Their digital or social promotion can have significant impact on the product and service vendor decisions individuals make in the marketplace.


In a recent blog post for Customer Think, Michael Lowenstein writes that influencers are simply individuals who have the means to interact with others through their social network, who actively use multiple channels to seek information, and who are frequently sought out for their opinions. In other words: not celebrities such as actors, professional athletes or high-profile company executives.

“Over the years, we’ve seen decision-making influence almost completely shift from outbound, managed corporate print and editorial advertising to informal peer-to-peer communication, through digital contact, social media, and face-to-face,” wrote Lowenstein. “There is lots of current research evidence to support the roles, and power, of an influencer.”

In fact, family and friends hold the most power of influence over consumers, who are more likely to trust Aunt Susan than Gwyneth Paltrow. After all, Aunt Susan isn’t getting a cut of whatever product she’s recommending, therefore, her opinion is unbiased.

The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey that measures the public’s trust in business, government, and institutions, found that 78 percent of respondents reported they trust family and friends communicating on social media. Less than half – 49 percent – said they trust company executives.

In an attempt to begin shaping influence, many companies chase single influencers who wield a great deal of power. This may be a mistake. For ordinary brands, it’s important to identify a broader field of influencers who may not have millions of followers, but who wield a great deal of trust. This individual may not even be known to the customers. It could simply be someone on a consumer Web site who writes clearly and intelligently and offers credible product reviews. Americans today put a lot of stock in such peer-to-peer consumer reviews: according to Nielsen, 68 percent of consumers have reported that they trust online opinions from other consumers. Another study from BrightLocal found that 88 percent of people reported that they trust online reviews written by other consumers as much as they trust recommendations from personal contacts.

“Keller Fay [Group] has stated that, based on their evaluations, brands can generate up to four times more sales through campaigns which encourage ordinary individuals – you and me – to talk about preferred brands,” wrote Lowenstein. “And, brands that inspire more emotional response receive three times the word-of-mouth activity compared to less emotionally engaging brands.”

For marketers who like cold, hard numbers and simple, measurable processes, influence marketing is going to be a bit of a challenge. More of an art than a science, shaping influence is a process that relies on human emotions like trust and memory of experience. Like social media itself, it’s bound to take unexpected turns and create opportunities even the most savvy marketers didn’t see coming. Customers can be vocal (and powerful) advocates for a brand if their experiences have been positive (and serious detractors if their experiences were negative). For brands today, the challenge is two-fold: first, creating the positive experiences, and secondly, finding the people who had the positive experiences who are willing to be visible advocates. It will take some time, and it will require the attention of marketing professionals committed to understanding and furthering influence. Without a well-developed social marketing strategy that includes influencers, however, few brands have a bright future. 




Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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