Influencer marketing is progressing from too much hype and trial-by-fire programs to sensible strategies and accepted best practices. There’s no better time than today to re-fresh your thinking about influence — what it is, who has it, what roles it can play in business. I’ll be discussing these topics at next week’s Bay Area Executives Meetup in Mountain View, CA, along with moderator R Ray Wang of Altimeter Group and my co-panelists Michael Brito of Edelman Digital, Ali McCourt of Intuit and Tony Welch of HP. Special thanks to Tatyana Kanzavel for organizing the event and panel!

Register for the Bay Area Executives Meetup: Super Panel on Influence

“The Many Facets Of Influence: How to Outreach, Engage, and Build Trust with Key Stakeholders”

An interactive panel with R Ray Wang, Michael Brito, Barbara French, Ali McCourt & Tony Welch

Tuesday, August 24th
Networking 6:30 - 7:00 PM
Panel 7:00 - 8:30 PM
Location: Samovar Conference Hall, Mountain View, Calif.
Event hashtag: #baexec

The panel will provide perspectives on these critical questions about influence:
1.  What is influence? and how do we align it with business value?
2.  The myths vs. realities of influence
3.  Key success factors of influence
4.  Identifying influencers: who and why?

Space is limited. Tickets are $20 in advance, $30 at the door and include gourmet food and wine. Register now to get on the waiting list and (hopefully) get confirmed!

Bring your questions, join the conversation, and engage!

Popularity: 41%

Influencer marketing tools are getting a new gear and it’s a good one. Up until recently, influencer relationship management (IRM) tools offered 3 speeds: identifying, monitoring and measuring influencers. That’s good, but not good enough. Corporate marketing teams focused on social media need to find ways to scale their influencer programs without sacrificing micro-segmentation and personalization. That kind of scalability is just what this new gear — call it influencer activation or participation or engagement — delivers.

Ogilvy’s Insider Circle(TM) is the latest entrant in this evolving category. Per the Ogilvy announcement this week:

Insider Circle allows brands to build and scale relationships with key brand influencers – including influential bloggers, Twitter users, brand fans and loyal customers – and quantitatively measure the performance of social activation campaigns. Insider Circle, which is offered by brands on an invitation only basis, allows those brands to make exclusive, shareable content and offers available to a select group social media influencers in categories important to the brand.

This makes perfect sense, when you think about it. We’re accustomed to being able to email or phone influencers directly from our relationship management tools. The savvy providers are moving beyond the basics to help us deliver custom content and appropriate special offers to carefully selected social media influencers.

Revisit your wish list for influencer relations management tools. You might find that wishes are coming true.

Popularity: 6%

The web has revolutionized the media and research businesses. Freely available and low-cost research is gaining stature as a viable alternative to higher-priced analyst research. Those who publish so-called “good enough” research are becoming trusted influencers in their own right. Plus, maturing web search services make it easier to find premium and sponsored research stored on the web in a variety of formats. So, how does a company develop two-way relationships and conversations with these alternative information sources? A natural choice is to add them to an existing analyst relations program.

Historically, analyst relations programs rejected the idea of serving any other type of research-based influencer. Competitive intelligence and market research departments took the lead on researchers beyond the analyst domain. This distinction makes less and less sense as the web evolves.

Today, AR programs are well positioned to respond to the growing stature of the in-house research departments at industry associations, professional associations, media networks, events companies, and bloggers. Examples include the research departments of associations such as the IEEE, Object Management Group and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). Examples in the media include the product and trend research that has become the hallmark of TechWeb’s Dark Reading and CBS Interactive’s ZDNet.

Expanding the AR charter to include highly complementary influencers creates new efficiencies in manpower. Plus, embracing complementary categories of influencers enables the AR team to increase its strategic value and diversify best practices skill sets. Benefits also include rapid outreach to previously underserved influencer categories.

Popularity: 3%

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.

Popularity: 4%

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.

Popularity: 7%

Barbara on January 17th, 2009

Marketers tasked with building online communities learn quickly that size matters. Which would you rather aim for: building one community of 50 members, or 50 communities each with one member?

Odds are good you’ll go for the one larger community. It’s a matter of survival, isn’t it? Your professional reputation, job security, and next quarter’s budget may hang in the balance.

Yet, when you design an influencer program, your focus shifts to the other end of the scale. Your goal becomes building 50 communities of one.

Influencers have their own networking patterns. An influencer program taps into those existing patterns as a way to join the conversation and meet the influencers.

If there’s no opportunity for influencers to converge naturally, an influencer program can step in and create a group. This might take the form of a council, an advisory board, or an exclusive networking dinner held in conjunction with an industry event.

Either way, the group is not the end goal. It’s the individuals within the group that matter.

The goal is building 1-to-1 relationships with influencers in the group, so that they get to know your company and want to talk about it.

In the world of influencers, 50 communities of one will outperform one community of 50 every time.

Popularity: 3%

Barbara on January 9th, 2009

An influencer program can be a powerful asset in countering sales objections. Here are a few well-proven tips from our collection of case studies:

1. Compile and prioritize specific sales objections. Don’t accept generalities at the outset. You can generalize later. Start with clear, articulate objections. Get a good sense of frequency, too.

2. Identify external influencers who have both the credibility and the message to address each sales objection. Remember, your focus is finding 3rd party influencers with credibility in the eyes of your customer decision-makers. The “right” influencer is one who has the credibility and already has the counter-argument to the sales objection.

That’s an important point and it bears repeating:

Your role is to find the right influencers — not to manufacture them.

3. Design appropriate vehicles for capturing influencer counter-arguments and conveying them to decision-makers as objections arise.

It’s straightforward and sheer common sense.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

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Barbara on October 30th, 2008

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.

Popularity: 3%

Barbara on October 11th, 2008

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.

Popularity: 3%

Barbara on October 3rd, 2008

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.

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