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Identifying and Leveraging Influencers Aint Easy and there’s No Quick Fix

March 26, 2012

Ever since the first days of my marketing existence at Reebok in the early ‘90’s, I learned that a key prerequisite for a successful launch must include ‘seeding the market’ through influencers.  At Reebok, this often included product give-aways in strategic sectors at all levels of the target market… say, elite athletes and urban wannabees.

It is no different today.  Only the tools and methodologies available have expanded exponentially and with it so has the complexity.  Over the past 5 years, every Go-to-Market Strategy, Planning and Process Execution we have been a part of, (whether for our own projects or for our clients), involves identifying and then leveraging social media ‘influencers’ to get the message seeded and to help the seeds germinate.

In recent years New Market Entrepreneurs like Klout, PeerIndex and Radian6 have recognized the need for identifying social/digital influence and quantifying it.  In our opinion, they are offering a quick fix, yet it’s a start.  That’s why we were excited to discover some newly published research by Brian Solis of Altimeter Group.  “The Rise of Digital Influence” dramatically raises the bar about how to think about identifying and then leveraging social media ‘influencers’ as a part of your launch.  We strongly recommend you take the time to read the overview post here and to download the report here.

As is our practice for the time-challenged, here’s Brian’s executive summary which should be enough to convince you to dive into the links.  This stuff is powerful.

Digital Influence is one of the hottest trends in social media. A myriad of vendors are emerging that score and rank the activity of everyday consumers on the social web. With additional services preparing to launch on the horizon, the ability for brands to connect with influential consumers is set to become standard protocol. With an effective digital influence strategy, businesses will spark beneficial word of mouth, create brand lift, and ultimately influence the actions of other consumers much more authentically than does traditional marketing.

At the same time, consumers are learning the meaning of their newfound stature in social networks and are exploring the possibilities related to their influence score, what it means, and also ways to increase it. Brands are also seeking ways to make sense of these numbers to better identify the right people and ways to connect. Whether it’s through advocacy or promotional programs, relationship building, or through important events, everything begins with an understanding of what digital influence is and isn’t. And, once influence and how it works is understood, brands must develop strategies and processes to effectively partner with connected consumers who are becoming influential in their networks.

This report explores the emerging landscape for digital influence to provide businesses with a lens into how it’s earned and spent in social networks. Additionally, the report lays out an Influence Framework and an Influence Action Plan to identify connected consumers and to define and measure digital influence initiatives using an included step-by-step process. Through examples and a review of the digital influence tools available, businesses will posses a stronger grasp of how to develop effective strategies and supporting processes.

The key take-away for our readers is this:  It’s not as simple as finding people with high Klout scores and then attempting to recruit them into your launch/messaging/social medial plan.   As with all matters involving sound G2M strategy, planning and execution, your influencer identification and recruiting must be part of a cohesive strategy that Brian does an excellent job describing.   Still not convinced or able to click over, here are some examples of the practical advice Brian offers.

…So, in that sense, tools that measure online activity can provide value if you know what you’re trying to accomplish first and how you will measure success and then apply that filter to your examination.

Once businesses take the time to learn about digital influence, its benefits, and how to connect with influential consumers, brands can harness social networks to proactively drive positive sentiment, engagement, and results. It’s important to take this time to gain a better grasp of digital influence to develop a meaningful strategy and defining desired outcomes. See, digital influence is defined as the ability to cause effect, change behavior, and drive measurable outcomes online. So a score of “74” doesn’t correlate directly to outcomes. But, through design, brands can identify the right people, develop meaningful engagement strategies, design online experiences that can lead to desirable results.

When defining a strategy, a good place to start is by going back to basics. Some of the most often asked questions that deserve your consideration upfront are:

· What is influence, and what makes someone influential?
· Who is influential in social networks and why?
· How can I recognize influence or the capacity to influence?
· What effect does digital word of mouth have on my business?
· How can I measure successful engagement with influential consumers?

To help you find the answers and more importantly, to get the greatest value out of influence vendors, I include a detailed Influence Action Plan to develop thoughtful, results-oriented strategies and programs. The Action Plan is designed to walk you through the steps necessary to assess where you are, where you need to be, who can help you get there, why, and what’s in it for them and those who follow them.

Your next steps are then to turn your Influence Action Plan into a working strategy. Here’s what to do next:

1. Define the parameters of the program and what success looks like
2. Assesss vendors based on your goals and identify influencers that will help you achieve desired results
3. Design a program that provides value to not only influencers, but also those connected to them
4. Measure performance and optimize strategies and experiences from program to program
5. Repeat

By studying the people who matter to your business, and the people who matter to your customers, your business strategies will benefit from a new level of customer awareness and sensitivity that speaks volumes in new media. Suddenly the score isn’t as important as the elements that earns someone stature within their community. Understanding this will contribute to a more informed, effective and valued engagement program. And at the end of the day, while “influence” vendors help identify ideal connected consumers, it is up to those who run influence marketing programs to define the “R” or return in ROI to track the true measure of influence, outcomes.

Download the report…

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