Barbara on February 23rd, 2009

The annals of influencer marketing have their share of horror stories — influencers who won’t let go of a negative point of view, and won’t stop sharing it. It doesn’t really matter how good your influencer marketing program is. Sooner or later, an influencer will shift from neutral to negative. How will you handle the situation?

In our Influencer50 client work and careers, we’ve found that most companies use 1 of 3 basic strategies when dealing with overly critical influencers:

1. Convert them. Hand down, this the best way to go. It takes lots of thought and work, over a reasonable to extended window of time.

2. Surround them with neutral or positive influencers. The idea is to balance their comments and gradually soften their position. This is about letting influencers influence each other. It introduces risk, yet can pay off. However, take care not to mix attention-craving negative influencers at the same event. They tend to feed off each other or goad each other along. Either way, the result is rarely desirable for you or the other influencers participating in your event.

3. Ignore them. This is the most foolhardy strategy. It’s used more often than you might imagine. I have seen very few cases where ignoring a negative influencer paid off. Ignoring a top influencer does nothing to neutralize their attitudes and often results in increasing — not limiting — their opportunities to discuss your company with clients, prospects and other influencers.

Whichever strategy you prefer, it’s a good idea to plan ahead on how you will handle high-profile detractors.

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Barbara on February 20th, 2009

f_alltop_125x125Sway has just been added to Alltop’s Marketing collection. Marketing.alltop aggregates the headlines of the latest stories from the best sites and blogs that cover marketing. It’s an excellent resource on a range of marketing topics.

I’m proud that Sway is included.

I often use Alltop collections in my online work, and recommend them in my offline life. That’s where I discovered many of the blogs featured in my blogroll. In fact, speaker.allop has been on Sway’s blogroll since day 1.

For information about Alltop, see the YouTube tutorial.

Of course, I hope you’ll subscribe to Sway’s RSS feed, Duncan’s Infuse blog, and our Influencer50 newsletter, ‘The Influencer‘, as well.

Thanks Neenz!

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Barbara on February 19th, 2009

Can winning industry awards help sell products and services? According to the Influencer Marketing book, the answer is no:

“Industry awards are primarily self-congratulatory ‘feel good’ exercises, which have limited marketing value and all but zero influence on the top decision-makers.”

– Nick Hayes and Duncan Brown

They do credit awards with some value in the early stage of a decision process, such as in response to a Request For Proposal.

Is that the practical extent of the value of an industry award?

I agree with them insofar as few industry awards have the impact of the Oscars. However, that seems more a shortcoming of the typical awards organizer than the nature of awards in general.

Every industry has its awards programs that amount to little more than karaoke. It pays to avoid those. Or, bury them.

Likewise, every industry has its awards programs that do matter.

As with all forms of influence, the trick is knowing which is which.

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Barbara on February 18th, 2009

HBR List 2009Influence made The Harvard Business Review 2009 List of breakthrough business ideas.

As you know, I’m a fan of the idea that social media may expand traditional spheres of influence by eroding reliance on physical “nearness” (propinquity), to decision-makers.

The HBR study by James Fowler and Nicholas A. Christakis tightens the noose the other way:

“New research shows that personal influence is a short-range phenomenon, dissipating entirely at three degrees of remove from the person who exercises it. This has implications for business, where the success of campaigns to foster, say, creativity or worker safety may hinge on enlisting employees to influence colleagues’ behavior.”

That means we influence only a very small sphere of people in our personal lives.

On the up side, it does support our Influencer50 ethos: conduct quality research into bona fide influencers, understand their networks, and work with them directly.

Hat tip to Leili McKinley.

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Barbara on February 17th, 2009

It’s easy to get caught up in what to say, how to say it — even how many characters to say it in — and completely lose sight of the simple truth that our words are just words, unless they’re backed by actions.

This is certainly not a new idea. However, it’s being expressed by lots of different people right now. Everyone has a different context. Witness:

Seth Godin talks to it in terms of authenticity.

Greg Cordell talks about it in terms of love.

Duncan Brown touches on it in terms of what makes a good analyst.

We’re all facing the same tough year. Maybe this is a good time to take stock of ourselves and the people we trust. Ask some of the hard questions. Look for the proof points. See who measures up while the chips are down.

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Barbara on February 13th, 2009

picture-5LinkedIn is one of several tools that can help influencers pursue their passion for gathering and sharing knowledge. Here’s some insight from my own experiments as well as conversations with influencers:

Starting with basics, treat LinkedIn as a directory for being found. Create a complete profile. Write every section of text for fast, easy reading — and with a eye for search engine matches. Many people will find your profile by searching the web.

Next, consider using at least 2 of the new profile widgets: displaying your blog feed, and a SlideShare or Google presentation. These make your profile stand out from other experts with similar credentials and networks.

Judicious participation in Q&A is another tactic for giving people a sense of you and your style. Likewise, consider giving and receiving recommendations to partners, clients and colleagues.

More and more influencers are joining LinkedIn Groups, and those able to devote the extra time are creating and promoting their own groups.

Up until now, the emphasis has been on sculpting an online profile that conveys something of you in human terms, on top of a standard cv-style profile. Some steps also take you into the shallow end of the pool as a participant in the LinkedIn community.

This brings us to the final point, and it is strictly personal: contact settings. This determines how LinkedIn members can contact you — through referrals, or directly through LinkedIn’s InMail.

Look forward to your thoughts and experiences. Please share!

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Barbara on February 12th, 2009

picture-5You probably think of LinkedIn as a recruiting and job hunting network. It also serves as a valuable backoffice tool for analyst relations, consultant relations, and fully integrated B2B influencer programs.

The price is certainly right: basic services are free, and business upgrades are economical. Plus, the number of profiles keeps growing. As of last week, LinkedIn claimed more than 35 million members in 200+ countries. Finally, the general demographics are a good match.

I’ve been guiding influencers and clients alike toward LinkedIn since its debut in 2003. Used properly, it can boost influencer relations productivity. Over-reliance can run your program aground very quickly.

For best results in influencer identification, use LinkedIn for corroboration and expansion of facts gleaned through other research sources.

The reason is simple: LinkedIn contains user-generated content. Unlike Wikipedia, there’s no team of editors debating accuracy. Fact checking is your responsibility — not LinkedIn’s, not the person posting about themselves.

For best results in influencer engagement, use LinkedIn to find people who can introduce you to your targeted influencers.

Can you use LinkedIn to connect with an influencer you’ve never met? My advice is no, don’t go that way. First, learn influencer contact etiquette and develop a sense of how to interpret — not simply read — the LinkedIn profiles of influencers. You’ll develop a good sense of when you’re looking at a solid opportunity for breaking the common sense rules of engagement.

I’ll continue this thread tomorrow, with a look at how some influencers have been using LinkedIn.

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Barbara on February 11th, 2009

thank's for everything, julie newmarIt’s tempting to think of influencer programs as master plans for turning objective decision influencers into your company’s bona fide fans. The truth is, that’s not a desirable goal for your influencer programs.

Valuable influencers maintain a high level of objectivity. Some call it integrity. Others describe it as independence or ethics.

Whatever label you prefer, compromising it is a surefire way to dilute the effectiveness of the influencer. Once that happens, there’s no turning back. They play a lesser role in every decision making process because their viewpoint is clearly skewed toward your company.

How do you structure an influencer program to achieve good relations without compromising independent thinking?

A few of the best practices we share with Influencer50 clients:

Do assign senior people to managing relationships with your top influencers. These people should be knowledgeable about your company from a business perspective, in addition to having more tactical knowledge about your products, services, partners and competitors.

Do empower your relationship managers to engage key players across the company with your top influencers.

Do not aim standard marketing – including advertising, PR, collateral, direct marketing, events, or demos — at your top influencers.

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Barbara on February 10th, 2009

To industry observers the situation seems clear: changes taking place in IT buyer decision processes require corresponding changes in how vendors deal with influencers, such as the industry analysts. However, the changes in tech decision-maker processes have been gradual and have varied greatly by market. Plus, critical aspects of buying decisions remain hidden from external view. As a result, few in tech marketing are aware of the extent of change taking place in their customer decision processes. Even fewer are thinking about how best to map the new realities to Analyst Relations programs.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with 3 of the people who are not only thinking about it, but translating their observations and ideas into practice: Evan Quinn, director of Corporate Analyst Relations at HP; Jennifer Bartolo, vice president of IT Influencer Relations for SAP; and Debashish Sinha, vice president of Marketing for HCL America.

They are pioneering analyst relations for the next decade. You can check out my initial notes in our newsletter, The Influencer.

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Barbara on February 9th, 2009

Your top competitors are as influential with your customers and prospects as you are. This raises an interesting question: how can you leverage competitors as part of your influencer marketing program?

One proven tactic is recruiting influential staff from competitors.

Another tactic is getting competitors to talk about your company in a positive way. To do this, you want to focus on how the competitors’ employees feel about your company. You want them to worry.

You want them to worry enough to acknowledge your company as a top competitor.

The key here is providing them with information that warrants some worry. It could be your growth rate or client wins. It could be your momentum in the market — attracting partners, entering new markets, establishing thought leadership, speaking at conferences, or other areas where you beat them to the punch.

Don’t give away too much information at one time. Pick a few powerful points. Work those points.

Meanwhile, begin tracking what your competitors say about your company. Find out by asking customers, prospects, partners, or other influencers. Again, don’t limit the conversation to products, services and pricing. Look for what’s being said at the company-level.

Then, adjust your proof points — and your touch points within the competitors — as needed.

Competitors are intent on influencing your buyers. Why not make the best of the situation? Put some of that competitive influence to work for you.

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