Mark Schaefer shares advice and case studies on capitalising on social scoring platforms.
Businesses today find themselves in the middle of a marketing and communications revolution. The combination of high speed internet and free easy-to-use publishing tools such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs have empowered everyone with a voice and – potentially – influence. This is of course a double-edged sword for businesses, with advocates providing powerful support for the brand, and detractors able to do untold damage.
However, while this may seem like a daunting prospect for companies, in some respects little has changed from times of yore, insists Mark Schaefer, consultant, blogger at the acclaimed www.businessesGROW.com and author of new book ‘Return on Influence’.
“Finding the powerful word of mouth influencers has been taking place since medieval times – since the very first marketplaces, you knew that if you could get people who were respected and liked to advocate your product, you were going to sell more,” he explains. “This is a journey that businesses have been on for thousands of years. What is different now is that we can begin to find these influencers, wherever they are.”
In recent years, advertising agencies had created the likes of E-scores and Q-scores to measure influence in the media, something that was a “labour intensive and expensive process” according to Schaefer, but still the best option for those looking to identify influencers. However, the advent of social media has led to the emergence of a number of new tools such as Kred, PeerIndex and Klout, that assess billions of pieces of content to quantify how successful people are at generating online buzz.
“These are creating algorithms to do the work for you - we are using mathematical models to do this difficult and expensive work so these lists of influencers are a lot more accessible,” says Schaefer.
However, he warns: “The key now is what you do with it. And just like any new marketing channel, there’s a lot of experimentation going on and some companies are having spectacular successes - and some are falling flat.”
Here Mark provides some guidance on how to use – and not use! – Klout for influencer marketing.
1. You can’t force advertising messages on influencers
“There’s a company that sells baby-related products that decided to identify and nurture powerful mommy bloggers,” says Schaefer. “They identified the group of bloggers and invited them to a spectacular dinner in New York city, thinking it would give them something to talk about because the brand was acknowledging them and how important they are with this fantastic dinner.”
However, all did not go according to plan.
“It was a complete disaster, because when you go to a fancy elegant restaurant in New York city you can’t bring your babies. So they all had to find baby sitters and pay for them, and then pay for transportation to the city. So it backfired on the brand because the mommy bloggers all thought that the company didn’t understand the very customers they are trying to reach.”
Schaefer believes there is an important lesson here for brands.
“It is now a new day where you can’t force your advertising messages into this new channel – you have to connect with these people where they are, and meet them on their terms, and celebrate that in ways that are truly valuable.”
2. Model how buzz will (or won’t) travel from sources
“PR agency Burson-Marsteller found itself in a situation where a blogger had some misinformation that could have been potentially very damaging for one of its most important customers, a large New York bank. The bank was panicked by this, and five years ago the PR firm would have organised a press conference, the bank would deny the information, and the story would have got even bigger.”
However, by applying information from Klout about how influential the blogger was, Burson-Marsteller was able to determine a more appropriate way to respond.
Schaefer explains: “The PR firm examined the Klout scores of the blogger and people who were treating the information, and they found the scores were very low, which was an indicator that they couldn’t move content. So their advice to the bank was to do nothing because it would all blow over – they may have this information but the content wasn’t going to move and the story would die. And they were right!
“So they used Klout scores as a predictive model of how buzz would travel through the internet and made the right decision – a particularly interesting and creative use.”
3. Identify the most effective candidates for your sales/marketing teams
“Klout scores are beginning to be included on CVs – and why wouldn’t they, because if you’re interviewing someone for a digital marketing position and they have a Klout score of 55 and the other person you’re interviewing, who is equally capable, has a Klout score of 15, why not employ the person who has a higher effectiveness on the social web? They know how to move content and get people to react to it. That is an important skill increasingly in careers like sales, marketing, PR, communication, even human resources.”
4. Reduce suspicion and privacy issues in influencer marketing
“There is a privacy issue, although all of these channels have the ability to opt out, so if you don’t want to be included, you don’t have to be. But the counterpoint of that is that if you get, for instance, a sample of a new toothpaste or something from a brand, you’re then thinking you’re on a mailing list and you’re being sold to. You’re going to be suspicious. But if you get a present in the mail from Klout that says we’re rewarding you with free music downloads because we’re acknowledging your power and influence on the web when it comes to music, you’re going to think that is really neat. So there is an advantage to having this buffer between consumers and the brand, because it is a reward instead of a sample.”
5. Consider the legal ramifications of targeting influencers
“In most countries there are laws now that state if you’re receiving money or gifts (including gift cards) you need to disclose this, because a tweet has the same legal weight as a blog post. In a blog post it can be explained that a record is being reviewed, that it was received for free from a company, and that it is an honest opinion. Full disclosure. But how do you do that in 140 characters? It is a grey area that companies need to be aware of. There are legal issues that are developing that brands need to consider.”
6. There is a first mover advantage associated with this field
“There is an advantage to being first. If you’re out there and doing it well, and actively creating an emotional connection between your customers and your brand, when your competitors come by, your advocates are going to say ‘I’m already with these people, I love what’s happening there’.”
7. Influencer marketing is about engagement – not advertising
“This is a different kind of channel that needs to be treated differently. There is an organisational component here where many of these companies have been conditioned to broadcast and advertise and if you try to broadcast and advertise to influencers it isn’t going to work. People are sick of being sold to, they are sick of being advertised to and if you ever come across in a way that they are not going to trust you, you are done. So there are best practices and there are special skills that need to be associated with this new marketing channel.”
8. Influencer marketing is in its early days – it won’t be just about Klout!
"Platforms such as Kred, PeerIndex and Klout are really in the silent movie stages. They have only been working on these things for a few years but there is a lot of money and resources going into these companies right now and they are making a lot of progress. Every month for example Klout is adding another platform to its analytical capabilities.
"But to give you a vision of where this could go, and it is going there quickly, there is a new company that just announced itself in November called Appinions. They’re culling information from 4.5 million sources – newspapers, forums, blogs… so it is beyond social media and they are leveraging 10 years of research from Cornell University to find incredibly powerful contextual information about what is the sentiment of this content. It is not just a mention, it is is it positive, is it negative, is it neutral, is it a flash in the pan, or is this someone showing over time they have influence. So the market is developing very rapidly. And that is why it is important for businesses to understand it now because it is a new trend and there is a demonstrated advantage in this social space to get there first.”