When I wrote Return On Influence in 2012, the term “influence marketing” wasn’t even on the radar. At the end of the book I boldly predicted that within a few years, this would become a mainstream marketing channel.
Undoubtedly it has. Research I did for a client indicates that 85 percent of advertising and marketing agencies now have some sort of influence outreach capability and boutique influence marketing agencies are popping up like flowers after a spring rain.
But does it work?
Through a hand-picked sample of eight paid and eight organic influencers, he found that the paid influencers generated about nine times the amount of content of an organic influencer, but just a fraction of the engagement.
He showed that links shared by organic influencers garner significantly more shares and clicks than links shared by paid influencers.
I questioned if this was the best way to do an influence analysis and in a follow-up post, Christopher acknowledged that Twitter is a poor predictor of market reality due to demographic bias, but explained that it’s basically the only social media data we have available these days.
The reality of influence marketing is not Twitter
Indeed, Twitter mentions and follower counts may be the least effective way to measure anything when it comes to true influence. So WHERE is the power of influence marketing occurring … if it is happening at all?
In a recent post, I explained that there are eight benefits of influence marketing:
- Reach/Awareness (especially when yours is limited)
- Research (since these people are generally experts in their field)
- Social proof, meaning there is power in aligning with a trusted brand
- Content ignition — an influencer can get content shared more broadly than many brands
- Site authority and SEO (through effective links)
- Strategic leverage because true influence is a scarce resource
- Cost savings — Research shows impressions generated by influencers compare favorably to traditional advertising measures
- Authentic advocacy can be established as the influencer begins to know and understand the product and the company.
Even if Christopher’s Twitter analysis were representative, his research would only scratch the surface of these potential benefits.
Let’s look at how influence marketing works in real life.
Influence marketing in action
I will use myself as an example because that is the easiest example I can provide! But this is probably a representative slice of the potential of influence marketing if it is done well over time.
I have been working with the Canadian analytics company gShift for several years. Some of our activities have included:
- They’ve sponsored the Marketing Companion podcast and my book The Content Code
- I visited them at their site in Barrie, Ontario, where I got to know their team and their products
- We have seen each other socially at trade shows, speeches and other events
- We have collaborated on content projects.
Let’s look at some of the true benefits of influence marketing beyond Twitter to see how this works in the real world.
Awareness — Before gShift sponsored my podcast, their brand recognition was relatively low in the marketing world. Today, when they go to conferences and trade shows, people come up to them and say they heard of them through the podcast.They have also connected with other industry influencers through me. We were able to quantify new awareness through hits to a dedicated landing page.
Research — When gShift was developing a new product, they asked me to give it a trial and provide feedback. I also participated in a brainstorming session at their office and continue to provide them feedback and ideas on an on-going basis.
Social proof — gShift has asked me to provide quotes and testimonies for their efforts, which I am happy to do because their work is amazing. Perhaps simply reading this post today may spur some people to check them out.
Content ignition — On content on which we have collaborated, the social shares that come from my network may be more than 500 percent greater what they can generate through their entire network of employees.
SEO — Through the podcast sponsorship and joint content efforts I have provided dozens of backlinks from my high-authority site.
Strategic leverage — How many companies will I work with? Very few. gShift recognizes the benefit of a long-term relationship because I am a trusted resource in their marketplace and that is a scarce commodity.
Authentic advocacy — When our relationship began, I knew very little about gShift but over time as I got to know their products and people, I became impressed with their vision, capabilities, and organization. In fact, I am authentically enthusiastic about what they do. The company’s products are now being mentioned in my talks, workshops, and college classes — not because they paid me to do so, but because I like what they do and see how their technology can help people.
Not only am I an advocate for gShift, they have been an advocate for me that has led to additional speaking and consulting engagements.
Another view of influence marketing measurement
With the help of Dr. Jonah Berger, the Keller Fay Group conducted research on what they called “micro-influencers,” (I referred to them as the Citizen Influencers in my book). These folks are not traditional celebrities, but knowledgeable, passionate experts seen as a trusted source through the content they create and share.
Instead of relying on Twitter data, Berger dug into field research that included personal interviews to find out what sort of benefits were being realized from influence marketing.
The study showed that these influencers have up to 22.2 times more conversations each week regarding recommendations on what to buy versus an average consumer.
On the other side of the equation, 82 percent of consumers reported they were highly likely to follow a recommendation made by an influencer.
“Many marketers today try to use celebrities as their influencer marketing solution, but they are missing out on a much bigger opportunity,” said Brad Fay, COO of the Keller Fay Group. “Our research shows that real life influencers who are passionate about what they are recommending have significantly more buying conversations, and consumers are more likely to act on their recommendations.”
Additional key findings from the study included:
- Not only do these influencers have more buying conversations, they are more direct in their recommendations with 74 percent encouraging someone to “buy it or try it” compared to 66 percent of the general population who encouraged those actions in their recommendations.
- 87 percent of the buying recommendations they make are happening face to face.
- According to people receiving advice, influencers were seen as more impactful compared to an average person based on the following characteristics: more credible and believable (94 percent vs. 83 percent), more knowledgeable (94 percent vs. 84 percent) and better at explaining how the product works or could be used (92 percent vs. 83 percent).
The implications for influence and measurement
Clearly, the potential benefits of influence marketing extend far beyond a few well-placed tweets. What does this mean to you if you are pursuing a path of influence marketing?
Obviously you need to look beyond Twitter followers and mentions when determining an influence marketing strategy. In fact, that may be the WORST measure of true influence (due to the demographic bias and ability to game those measures). As the Berger research demonstrated — and as I illustrated from my own example — the true power of influence marketing is coming from:
- network connections of the individual
- long-term collaboration that results in authentic understanding and advocacy
- quality, trusted content that is seen and shared by a relevant audience
- face-to-face and word of mouth advocacy
Consider your goals. Which of the eight benefits of influence marketing aligns with what you need to achieve right now? What are the qualitative and quantitative measures that can show you are making progress (and there are a lot of options beyond Twitter!)?
If you break it down into the eight benefits of influence marketing and focus on measures aligned with those deliverables, it becomes a lot easier to prove, or disprove, the effectiveness of your influencer relationships.
I would like to make one last point about influence marketing and how to do it well.
Influence marketing provided unique and measurable long-term benefits for gShift because they didn’t “pitch me.” They weren’t looking for a sponsored post or a backlink. They developed a sustained relationship with me over three years. The benefits continue to accrue for both sides because we’re friends, and friends help friends.
Influencers are people. Don’t pitch them, befriend them.
I hope this perspective has helped you think about influence marketing measurement in a new way. I would value learning from you and hearing your thoughts in the comment section.
Illustration courtesy Flickr CC Anne Adrian
Originally published at www.businessesgrow.com on April 18, 2016.