Q&A: Investing in Influence w. Mark Schaefer

November 01, 2012  |  Russ Martin  |  Comments

The social media age has spawned a new form of celebrity and a new marketing discipline. Popular bloggers, tweeters and YouTube stars are stealing more attention away from traditional media, and, as they do, their consumer influence rises. Brands are looking to leverage that power.

Mark Schaefer wrote the book­on influence marketing, literally (Return on Influence, McGraw Hill), and will open the It’s All Social conference, Nov. 20 in Toronto. He spoke with Marketing’s Russ Martin about the rise of influence marketing and why you should (or should’t) care about Klout.

How prominent have influencer programs become?
We’re seeing a lot of momentum in this direction. Big companies, small companies and advertising agencies are starting to use this information in so many ways. If you look at the anecdotal evidence, all the stories that are coming out, and some of the big name brands that are incorporating these programs like Disney, Audi and American Express, you have to draw conclusion that, yes, this is picking up speed.

It’s a very powerful opportunity to connect with people who already have some predisposition to love what you do. And to nurture these people and reward these people and turn them into loyal fans.

When did brands first start targeting influencers on social media?
This idea of connecting with powerful word of mouth advocates is not a new idea. Ever since people started selling things to one another, we have recognized that certain people have influence. The difference now is with some of the technology available to us on the web, some of these algorithms and companies that are developing methods to quantify influence on the web, this activity is becoming available to more companies. Instead of taking months and thousands of dollars to try to recognize these influencers, it can be done in minutes with a little bit of effort and money.

How are influencer programs different from traditional PR programs, which target traditional media?
There’s a vast difference. Many of the techniques that were available in the past were like firing buck shots. You put out press releases or called newspaper editors and hoped something would hit, something would connect. And hope beyond hope that it would get the attention of someone that matters. We’re flipping the funnel. Now we’re starting with the people who matter. We can find the people who matter. We can find the people whose interests, passions and values fit our companies, products brands and services.

There are lots of services that measure user influence. Which should marketers choose?
Essentially Klout and Kred and PeerIndex all do the same thing. They might have different data streams and present the results differently, but essentially they’re all measuring one thing: can you create or aggregate content that is shared and create a reaction? There are some new platforms emerging that are taking this to the next level. One that I think deserves attention is Appinions. They’re reaching beyond social media and distilling information from more than 5 million online sources. They’re leveraging proprietary algorithms developed at Cornell University over 10 years. It’s taking it to a whole new level of looking at influence in context. The field is moving very, very rapidly.

Klout has received a lot of criticism and backlash for having flawed algorithms that measure noise instead of influence. What do you make of the service’s critics?
I think some of the criticisms against them are legitimate. But I think the best marketers and the best businesspeople are looking beyond the hype and PR blunders to look at the science behind this and the math behind it. It’s not perfect. It’s in the silent movie stages. But the trend is there.

Which metric are marketers too hung up on?
It’s expedient to measure people liking a page. It’s comfortable to spend money to drag people to our site. We’re familiar with that. It’s advertising. We’re not approaching people like people. We’re still treating people like targets. That’s the metric companies get too hung up on. They’re not looking at building relationships. They’re still looking at this as targets to advertise to.

As they get repeatedly targeted by brands, will influencers revolt?
Certainly, as companies begin to recognize the opportunity and that this is an important and legitimate channel, yes it is going mainstream and picking up momentum. Everyday people who are influential in a certain niche are starting to find themselves in the middle of a lot of outreach programs and brands. The group that is probably getting most weary of this right now is the mommy bloggers. They control so much of the household budget that many are getting overwhelmed by outreach programs. It takes something special to connect with those folks in a meaningful way.

Mark Schaefer is speaking at Marketing’s “It’s All Social” Conference on Nov. 20 alongside other thought leaders such as Alex Ikonn, Maggie Fox, Drew Bomhof and others. Tickets are still available.

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