The other day, I ordered a new drink at Starbucks. Normally, I have my go-to favorite, but for some reason I felt like a change. As I was sipping the foamy concoction, I realized something: I made the switch because of unofficial influencer marketing tactics. My friend had been gushing about the drink during our latest meeting, and that recommendation triggered my subsequent purchase. I made a mental note to try her drink, and I followed through.
There are some marketing pros out there who think that influencer marketing is a game-changer. Social media has leveled the playing field so that it’s not just the Lady Gagas and Justin Biebers of the world that can influence a gaggle of girls to buy a new perfume – now everyone has the potential to become an influencer in his or her own career. Consumers trust their friends, family and advocates far more than they trust banner and TV ads, and they’re more likely to make a purchase because of a recommendation than a billboard.
As a brand champion for talent, I think it’s important to understand how influencer marketing is reshaping the way businesses market and sell their products and create brand ambassadors, so I recently sat down with three respected authorities in the field of influencer marketing. We talked about the state of influencer marketing today, the impact that greater transparency has on the marketplace, and the increasing role that more transparent influencer platforms and tools will play for leaders.
Sam Fiorella is a partner and Chief Customer Experience Strategist at Sensei Marketing, as well as a notable author on the topic of influencer marketing. He is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, and the co-author of “Influence Marketing: How to Create, Manage and Measure Brand Influencers.”
Marcy Massura is Vice President, West Coast Director of Digital and the North American/Global Influence & Community Lead for MSLGROUP. She provides digital strategies for numerous clients, as well as strategic counsel for Proctor & Gamble North America.
Mark Fidelman is the CEO of Raynforest, an influencer marketing and advertising network that connects brands with influential people who can get the word out about their products and services. He believes that providing a space for brands to meet influencers accomplishes two things: brands can align with individuals who have the ability to mobilize large groups of consumers on their behalf; and influencers can monetize their efforts and make a living. (Speaking of transparency, I’m an advisor for the exciting new venture)
Here are five lessons about influencer marketing shared by these three experts:
1) Influencer marketing requires leadership transparency in order to be successful.
Marcy: “Transparency is the word of the year. It goes hand in hand with authenticity (they are BFFs). We see our brands striving to be transparent in all the areas of their business, from social conversations to access to brand information to crisis response. Transparency desire is a result of an over marketed and now skeptical consumer base. “
Mark: “If there’s no transparency in how [a brand] recruits people, manages them and gets at the results, brands end up throwing the program over the wall to agencies and don’t know if the program works or not until they see the final results.”
2) Current tools claiming to measure social “influence” are inaccurate, underdeveloped, or both.
Mark: “The challenge for brands is learning how to get a piece of the action, since the influencer marketplace today is far from transparent. You’ve got a situation where brands have to work through talent or PR agencies to find and recruit influencers. There are tools out there that claim to help you identify the right influencers by reporting their social media footprint, but they’re woefully underdeveloped when it comes to identifying the right people who truly influence the decisions your target audience makes.”
Sam: “Social scoring platforms have tried to filter the online noise by categorizing who is influential; however, their algorithms have come under fire for inaccuracies, and brands using them report less than optimistic bottom-line results. The market is wide-open for new platforms that understand the relationship between the brand, the influencer, and their audience.”
3) Creating open channels of exchange between brands and influencers is a good thing – as long as it’s done ethically.
Mark: “For influencers, there’s a fine line to walk when it comes to using your influence effectively while maintaining transparency. Joel Oleson, a leader in the Microsoft SharePoint community, does a great job of this. He makes it clear when vendors request a product review, but also makes it clear the views are his own.“
Marcy: “The transactional nature of some transparent influence networks will allow honest connections for both the brand and the influencer. Initially there could be perception problems around the cross over from earned (although even earned impressions with influencers are usually generated by some kind of incentive) to a more direct paid model. “
4) Platforms like Raynforest, which measure influencers’ performance and allow brands to work with and manage influencers, are poised for explosive growth.
Sam: “What I’ve found impressive about Raynforest is the fact that they’ve crowd sourced the development of the solution. The team has openly consulted with industry leaders and marketers on what they’d like to see in an influence marketing platform. This bodes well for their future.”
Mark: “Influencer marketing is one of the hottest industries out there, and there’s overwhelming demand from people that have no way of monetizing their content today. We’ve got a unique magic formula that nobody else has that we’re going to release out of the gate, and we believe a large population of brands and influencers will flock to it.”
5) Two of the biggest challenges for brands looking to embrace influencer marketing: creating a large-scale campaign and measuring the results.
Marcy: “Trying to harness the power of influence is a bit like trying to hug water. It sounds doable until you actually try it. Many brands have been playing in the influence game with outreach of 50 here and 50 there influencers on spreadsheets and have not mastered how to take their influencer marketing to scale. The urge from clients is large scale influence programs…and the results can be astounding.”
Sam: “Social media has created an environment for “citizen influencers” but there are so many disruptions in the communication paths between influencers, decision makers, and the brand that tracking and reporting results is difficult.”
Mark: “Measuring performance and results is more important – and more difficult – than measuring popularity. For example, say you have someone who can run really fast, a very attractive guy, looks great in uniform, can speak well, but you don’t know how well he can play on the ball field…That’s what we measure – how they play. Not how they look off the ball field.”
What Say You – Is This A Game-Changer for the World of Work and Brands?
A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 09/26/2013.