Rely on simple, straightforward litmus tests to distinguish between the two. Try this one:
Traditional AR programs focus on trend watchers at the analyst firms.
AR programs moving towards influencer relations focus on trend watchers and trend makers.
Forrester Research’s Kevin Lucas raises a good question: what core corporate business value can your analyst relations program deliver? His point is that AR programs shouldn’t commit to delivering sales value unless there’s good reason to do so. As logical as that advice may sound, I don’t agree with it.
Analyst relations programs can be designed to deliver on a wide range of business objectives. There’s no reason to shy away from aligning AR with the customer purchase decision process. In fact, that has been the basis of the analyst business — and analyst relations — since the late 80s.
What you can’t do, is bolt sales performance expectations onto an existing AR program. Objectives are fundamental to how you design, staff, fund and measure an AR program.
A legacy AR program — perhaps focused primarily on what’s said during a conference, or improving where your dot is placed on quadrants — is not going to shorten sales cycles tomorrow because somebody issues an edict today.
The magic wand scenario just doesn’t fly.
That doesn’t mean that an AR program can’t deliver sales value. It means that delivering sales value will take time. It will take intention. It will take planning.
Kevin asks a good question. It’s up to each of us to come up with a good answer.
One of the top 10 questions we’re asked by new clients is, “what’s the best way to measure our influencer program?” Today, there’s no single “right” answer to that question. The answer varies according to the state and direction of the organization, its business objectives, and the market it’s addressing.
Each organization undertakes an influencer program for its own unique set of reasons. Even head-to-head competitors — targeting similar influencers in the same market — often declare different objectives and apply different measures.
That’s not to say there’s a lack of valid techniques for measuring the impact of influencer programs. Quite the contrary. It’s just that there’s no one-size-fits-all formula.
The Word of Mouth Marketing Association is one of the industry groups recognizing the need for a selection of valid measurement approaches. Their measurement research committee suggests that at least 4 measurement models deserve serious attention:
- Customer Value Matrix
- NetPromoter(TM) Economics
- Social Value of Opinion Leaders
- Conversation Value(TM) Model
Thought leaders like Ogilvy’s John Bell are paying attention, just as we are. These models will evolve rapidly. We can all help shape the thinking. We all have a hand in the rate of adoption.
Meanwhile, don’t hesitate to adopt a measurement model that makes sense for your organization.
Two important points from the discussion:
1. Influence is in the eye of the audience.
2. No such thing as a universal grade for influence.
As for MrTweet: I’m on the record as a died-in-the-wool skeptic on these kinds of applications. None have given me worthwhile recommendations or insights to date. Now MrTweet is in the hot seat. I’ve followed MrTweet and will share my thoughts once it returns something. As with so many of these social network applications, MrTweet puts an awfully big stake in the ground:
“I’ll suggest to you which influencers and followers you should check out.”
OK, MrTweet. Pimp my twitterverse.
Duncan raises some good points about the evolution of blogs and microblogs (i.e. Twitter). Blogging is becoming the online publishing platform of choice in many industries, from politics to pharma. This has a couple of implications for influencer programs in 2009.
Top of my list, is that 2009 should see the end of consternation over classifying influencers as “bloggers” or in terms of their other roles in a market or community, be it their job title, employer, profession or expertise.
The crossover point started to become clear in mainstream tech media relations when you could no longer distinguish between columnists and bloggers at ZDNet and other top-10 media networks.
In analyst relations, Gartner brought the point home a few months ago with the launch of the Gartner Blog Network. Trust me, no one is dithering over whether to reclassify Gartner employees from analysts to bloggers.
Sure, some people will be best classified as “bloggers”, just as we still have syndicated columnists from the hardcopy print days. In general though, the confusion over doctor-lawyer-blogger man-thief should die down.
No high tech influencer program is complete until it addresses sourcing and vendor management executives. You may think that this group of people is buried deep in your customers’ accounting departments, removed from actual decisions. You may think of them more as gatekeepers on properly filled out forms, credit checks, and other accounting records. Not so. These executives wield enormous potential for influencing computer, software, service and device vendor selection, pricing, Ts&Cs, and more.
The current economic condition makes this an ideal time to take a hard look at sourcing advisors and vendor management executives. Check out the insights one group shared with Forrester Research CEO George Colony.
Take a little of our Influencer50 advice: don’t limit your knowledge of these influencers to what you read in a market research report. Get out there and identify them. Then, engage with the ones who matter the most to you in each of your markets.
Many of us are thinking about how we weave influencer relations and social media into traditional marketing programs. Todd Defren, a popular blogger and principal at SHIFT Communications, spends a lot of time on this, and in particular on the intersection of PR and social media. He’s raised a valid question: is there a point where the label “PR agency” no longer applies? Should public relations agencies deeply engaged in social media channels adopt a new category, such as social media agency?
There’s no right or wrong answer to Todd’s question. Nonetheless, it’s important for each of us to follow his example, and ask. Growth is messy and organic. We can’t throw a switch to jump from a traditional track to running on a whole new set of rails. Instead, we have to stop and step out of the moment, and take in where we are and ask ourselves what we’ve become.
Influencer relations, mobile communications, and social media will challenge each of us to decide whether to come up with new definitions for our old marketing labels, or to adopt new labels.
Dale Vile, co-founder and managing director of Freeform Dynamics, announced a change in leadership at his company. Jon Collins is stepping up to take over as Managing Director of Freeform Dynamics, while Dale assumes a role as Research Director. Co-founder Helen Vile continues as operations director. I expect this transition will be seamless, and look forward to seeing what Jon does with the reigns of Freeform.
In Silicon Valley, it’s almost expected that founders take a step back as their companies mature. Not so in the industry analyst business. Analyst companies are top-down in terms of management. Changes at the top tend to ripple down and out fairly quickly. Culture, research practices, client relations, trust and influence — all can change very quickly. Examples are all around us. Look at the changes Emily Green has brought to Yankee Group, and Gene Hall brought to Gartner.
Dale and Helen seem to have taken all the right steps in transitioning the top job. Best wishes to Jon, Dale and the rest of the Freeform Dynamics crew.