Cult of Influence

You may be a blogger, but are you an influencer?

You may be a blogger, but are you an influencer?

There is a stack of Disney ears at the door. As the crowd files out of the elevator, each person is handed a pair. They are extra long Oswald the Lucky Rabbit ears—not Mickey ones—and they flop up and down in the air.

Oswald is the co-star of a new Disney video game, Epic Mickey 2, which is being previewed atDigifest, a three-day digital conference held at the Corus Entertainment building on Toronto’s Harbourfront. Epic Mickey 2’s designer, Warren Spector, has just finished an hour-long talk to a packed auditorium, including about 20 social media influencers.

Spector is now in a private screening room on the building’s eighth floor. A pink sunset leans in on the windows as he shakes hands in front of a wall of gold TV awards. He’s meeting a group chosen by Disney because of their presence on the social web—and their sway over gaming fans.

Black-clad servers are serving steamed pulled pork buns, mini salmon grilled cheese sandwiches and sliders. One guest, Christopher Kalanderopoulos, who edits a local website, accepts a slider.

He eats the miniature burger and smiles. “These gaming events are the best I ever eat,” he says.

The rise of the social web has birthed a new form of influence. As brands attempt to increase their online presence, they’re looking to independent content producers—usually bloggers—with large networks to help them gain fans and followers, improve online awareness and, ultimately, push product. It’s an age-old strategy: marketers and their agencies trying to get “influential” people talking about their brands to build buzz. It’s why we have celebrity endorsers and PR firms woo reporters with media junkets, product samples and party invitations.

But the medium of social media demands a new approach. One that’s rooted in data and mixes media relations with PR and word-of-mouth. Things have changed since 2005 when High Road Communications, which organized the Epic Mickey 2 preview, first started hosting events aimed at influencers for gaming clients. Targeting and measurment have improved, and so have the results.

What was once a fringe, experimental tactic has moved to the forefront of social media strategy.

And as more dollars are pumped into these programs, the perks are improving, too. Brands courting social media users offer everything from free laptops to books, smartphones, gift cards, clothing and vacations, but they’re increasingly also offering experiences like concerts, talks and exclusive invites to events with special guests, like Disney’s Warren Spector Epic Mickey 2 preview.

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