Everybody seems to have their own ideas about which events are best for influencer relations — meeting and engaging with influencers, becoming an influencer. This is especially true right now in the Web 2.0 / social software realm. One event that’s earned my respect over the last year is Defrag. Let me tell you why.
Defrag has 4 of the characteristics I use when deciding what events to recommend to clients:
Clear point of view: Defrag isn’t an industrial landfill of all possible topics within the social software - enterprise 2.0 market space. It has a well-defined focus: software innovations that can help us turn all this data into something meaningful, useful, and world-life-or-job changing. To be sure, this level of focus pulls in well known topical experts. It also attracts lesser known influencers who are driven by a sincere passion.
Who’s buzzing about it: Two of the people who nudged me about this year’s Defrag were Graeme Thickens and Charlene Li. And I don’t mean that I picked it up from their blogs on my FriendFeed. Both mentioned Defrag during 1:1 conversations.
Who’s attending: Check it out for yourself. The AR compartment of my brain lights up when the speaker roster for a relatively small event includes the likes of Kathleen Reidy, Jonathan Yarmis, Paul Kedrosky, Stowe Boyd, Ian Glazer, and Mark Koenig, plus Charlene. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Look at the influencers attending from the entrepreneur, operations and academic communities. This is a well-rounded line-up.
Potential for meaningful dialogue: It’s small enough to be intimate, yet large enough to stay fresh for 2 days. Plus, the agenda brings attendees together for keynotes and filters them into smaller groups for dinners and breakouts. It’s a natural extension of the online social experience. In other words, there’s a high potential for real conversations with real thinkers about stuff you really care about.
You can ramp up quickly on some basic influencer marketing concepts and strategies thanks to webmasterradio.fm. Co-hosts Brandy Shapiro-Babin and Jiyan Wei conducted a lively interview with Influencer50 founder and president Nick Hayes last week.
They covered good ground — who is an influencer, how influence works, why it’s important, plus some basic influencer marketing strategies.
The podcast is part of Webmasterradio’s “Cover Story” channel on PR. It’s a good listen, especially for PR and AR professionals interested in broadening their horizons.
You can stream or download the episode here: “Influencer Marketing Strategies”. As of this posting, it’s available free of charge.
Today I saw 2 more threads in the ongoing debate over whether social media popularity is a good way to measure influence.
First, my colleague Duncan Brown writes that Google is launching an AdWords-style SEM program across big social networks.
As an online publisher, I can see how this Google program makes perfect sense for media buyers. It will play from Madison Avenue to Main Street. After all, the big advertisers say they plan to shift their remaining 2008 and 2009 spending, cutting traditional ad spending while increasing spending on word of mouth and other forms of social media. (For the latest CMO study visit Epsilon; hat tip to Ken Rutowski for flagging it in his newsletter.) Google is offering just the right media product to pick up those extra dollars and euros. I’ve got no issue there.
However, I do see a potential downside. Call it collateral damage. Google is portraying the program as a measure of influence. Duncan describes the confusion this could cause:
“If Googleâ€šÃ„Ã´s plans get more firms to talk about influence, then fine. But I fear that it will dumb influence down to a few â€šÃ„Ã²magicâ€šÃ„Ã´ numbers that have tenuous relevance to real influence.”
“Popular people are not necessarily good influencers. And influencers are not necessarily popular. There is much more to it than that.”
We’ve got some very bright people on both sides of the debate — those advocating that we equate influence with popularity/connectedness, those advising against it. Neither side is ready to blink.
In the end, the media buyers may have the final vote on whether online popularity is the path to the influentials.
Tom Smith’s guest post at Mashable makes the point that we now trust the opinions of strangers as much as we trust our close friends, thanks to social media. He’s highlighting findings from the Universal McCann study, “When did we start trusting strangers”. Don’t let yourself get lulled into thinking this phenomenon is taking place only in consumer markets. Social media is also changing the way that businesses source trusted opinions on products and services.
Social media is transforming B2B decision-maker ecosystems in two fundamental ways. The most notable, according to Influencer50 research, is that more categories of advisors are exerting more influence during B2B purchase decisions. Social media is helping make many types of “hidden” advisors more visible, more accessible, more informed.
Another change is the appearance of new types of influencers. Examples include niche consultants, procurement groups, and expert communities.
The bottomline is that social media is changing the way we slice the B2B influence pie, just as it is changing influence in consumer markets.
You would think that Chris Brogan, an impossibly wise and kind thought leader in social media circles, would never run into difficulties in engaging with influencers. Yet, he does. He shares a personal story about it, and how he succeeded, on this beautiful autumn morning.
His story highlights one of the tenets of influencer marketing: human beings respond differently to different types of outreach, at different times.
In short, if you are going to touch a new influencer 5 times, don’t use email for all 5 of the attempts. Don’t rely on posting 5 comments to their blog. Don’t try to get attention by connecting on 5 different social nets.
Mix it up.
What works today with one person, may not work again tomorrow. It may not work at all with another person.
Remember too, that every outreach doesn’t need to have precise aim and content. Don’t always strive to be erudite and thought-provoking.
Like Chris, just try to be genuine.
Can you measure branding through tangible improvements in operations and the bottomline? Are your branding investments aimed directly at changing customer behavior? Is brand equity a myth that exists in the minds of marketers?
These are some of the questions that Jonathan Salem Baskin raises in his new book, Branding Only Works on Cattle. He talked about his ideas for rocking the branding boat at a special presentation to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco last night.
It’s easy to see that branding strategies developed for the era of mass media are not going to perform as well in the era of social media. It’s much harder to get your head around what that change would actually look like.
At least 2 of Jonathan’s ideas struck a chord with me, as they fit very well with the transition to influencer marketing:
1. Shift the branding focus away from creating fictions (mascots, celebrity endorsements, etc.) Instead, enrich the actual customer experience with your company, products, and services. The customer experience is the brand.
2. Trade in the creative marketing math for measuring branding (recall, impressions, tonality, etc). Instead, adopt standard business math. Measure brands based on real world customer behavior. Worry less about whether your YouTube vids go viral, and more about whether your brand facilitates shorter sales cycles, higher word of mouth referrals. Look to the bottomline to find the benefit of branding investments.
Jonathan is not advocating the end of branding, merely the end of bad branding habits. For example, perception-changing branding isn’t going away, nor should it. Find more about that in Martin Bishop’s perspective on the evening.
Influencer marketing is all about addressing customer behavior, as it is happening. Jonathan is challenging us to adopt some similar ideas about branding.
Tarah Remington was in touch with Influencer50 today, with a heads up that the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) has released a draft of the WOMMA Influencer Handbook for public comment. The handbook is about best practices in the use of influencer marketing:
“WOMMA believes influencer marketing is real and here to stay. It is not a myth, or a passing fad, or the latest trend. Rather, it is one component of successful word of mouth marketing programs.”
The WOMMA handbook references Nick and Duncan’s book, Influencer Marketing: Who Really Influencers Your Customers, in the bibliography on books, white papers, and research.
WOMMA is calling for public comment from marketers, bloggers, and consumers in order to make this tool as useful and effective as possible.
Update: Found a cameo post by one of the authors, Sean O’Driscoll.
Microsoft large account resellers (LARs) are among the most influential channel partners in the industry. Companies that benefit the most from LARs are those that understand how to work with LARs as sales influencers.
LAR influence ranges from injecting consultative insight into a volume-licensing contract, to sharing competitive intel on mutual accounts. LARs can also give their downstream partners an additional boost through the Microsoft Influence Program for partners. Companies bringing contracts to registered LARs receive recognition and rewards direct from Microsoft. Altogether, that’s a far cry from relegating LARs to licensing support.
Of course, LARs will eat your lunch if you let them. As with any influencer, vet them properly before inviting them near your accounts. Sizing up LARs as influencers — not just as order takers — is a good way to start.
Rich Freeman has written an excellent digest of the good, the bad, and the ugly of working with Microsoft LARs at Redmond Channel Partner Online.