It doesn’t often enter into our thought process, but every purchase we make is affected by an agent of influence. We’re constantly persuaded, motivated, and moved by media. Our daily choices, preferences, and leanings are all subtly pushed one way or the other, by the random bits of media we digest on the regular. It’s akin to mass hypnosis really.
So who’s the man holding the watch?
Media is created by authoritative brand voices, and brand voices usually boil down to powerful individuals within an organization. Of course, it goes much deeper than that. All the way down to innocuous personal observations.
You might choose a particular bag because you saw someone with one on the train, or you could have chosen a particular brand of television because you have a friend who raves about the picture quality.
Does that mean we can’t make decisions on our own? Not at all. Our decisions are based on culture, experience, and belief. The truth is when we’re thinking of buying something, our choices are significantly filtered by our environments and the influences to which we’re exposed.
The concept of targeting influential individuals within your market, rather than the folks in your relevant demographics, isn’t anything new. It’s called influence marketing, and celebrities have long been a mainstay in its use. Recognizable faces are constantly used to endorse brands because they exert an intangible influence over large swaths of the population.
This aspect of influence has become much more important with the flowering of social media. Ordinary people can now become influencers, occasionally without even trying. That means authoritative voices within separate niches are more persuasive than ever before. This can make for a valuable resource in any marketing effort, be it for small businesses or large enterprise.
Of course, we still tend to look at what celebrities are doing and wearing, but we all know these are mostly paid endorsements. Social media influencers are another matter entirely. They carry a different sort of weight than people involved with traditional endorsement.
When a friend or a colleague raves about a particular restaurant on Facebook, for example, you don’t really wonder what they have to gain from the glowing review. But targeting important social media users presents unique challenges. In order to mount an effective influence marketing strategy, you first have to identify eligible and targetable influencers.
Types of Influencers on Social Media
There are 5 distinct types of social media influencers:
- The Networker– we all know someone who seems to spend all their time posting on Facebook or tweeting about something and have a million contacts
- The Opinion Alpha – these are figures of authority, known to be experts in their field. They have a ton of credibility, and add a ton of clout to whatever products or services they endorse
- The Discoverer– always posts about the newest and latest in the market, they have a ton of fans and droves of followers. They’re the hipsters of the social media world; anything you think is cool, they were into it back in ’09 before it got “too mainstream”
- The Curator– an avid follower, this individual is quick to disseminate relevant information they get from other people to niche blogs or forums. Examples include: bloggers, reporters, and even news outlets that provide valuable links
- The User– not as prolific as networkers, but they wield a lot of influence in their own circles. These are basically your target market. If you’re in a niche with a passionate market they fall into this category quite nicely
How to Identify and Target Influencers on Social Media
If you’re starting a new business or, simply want to promote a certain brand, you’ll want to find out what kind of social media influencer would best be leveraged in meeting your goals. Not every type will be a good fit. The first thing you need to do is to determine where you want to concentrate your efforts. You can focus on more than one social media outlet, but you want to limit the number so you can keep up with it. Unless you have multiple employees working on it, in which case you can obviously stratify your focus.
Social networks have all sorts of tools to find niche communities on their platforms. Hashtags or trending topics on Twitter and Facebook, specific boards on Pinterest, groups on LinkedIn, and the list goes on. See which networks have the most active industry voices by giving these platforms a thorough once over. The process you use to find the most active niche communities will vary on each social media platform. Look out for:
- Lots of users with interests aligned to your niche
- Active discussions concerning your industry
- The social media presence of big brands within your industry
Once you’ve chosen the platforms you believe comprise your target market, it’s time to do a search. You want to find people who have
- relevance, and
It’s usually easy to identify individuals with reach because they have a large following or a lot of friends, but a large reach alone doesn’t prove their influential efficacy.
To determine relevance, you have to check out what kind of content they post and if any of it connects with your target market. It may be helpful to draw a hypothetical example here. Let’s look at a bit of influence marketing from PC gaming start-up, Tripwire Interactive.
Tripwire: An Example of Influence Marketing
If you were Tripwire’s CEO, you would want to get the word out about your upcoming release, Killing Room 2, and you would need an industry influencer to sing the praises of its revolutionary new gore engine. It’s the first of its kind, and it ensures every blood splatter from every eviscerated enemy will stain the ground of each level for the entirety of a user’s session of gameplay.
You would not want to approach Reggie Fils-Aime for an endorsement. Sure, he’s a big name in the gaming industry, and his endorsement could carry plenty of clout. He’s the president and CEO of Nintendo’s American division, after all. Unfortunately, that means he’s a console gaming guru, planting him firmly outside of your niche, PC gaming. Not to mention the only social media presence you can find for the guy is a few parody accounts on Twitter. Plus, he’s weird as hell. Really just not who you want as a cheerleader.
Instead, in our little hypothetical, you’d be wiser to do what Tripwire actually did, and approach online magazine, PCgamer.com to do a write-up on your awesome new offering. They went within their niche, found a loud and relevant voice, and courted them to create content supporting their product, by virtue of its gameplay and Unique Selling Proposition; in this case, the USP is the new gore engine, the focus of PC Gamer’s piece.
You can do the same for your brand, by searching for highly touted voices on social media outlets.
Can you search manually? Sure, if you only need to market within your own immediate circle, where it’s easy to identify the influencers. But if you want a wider reach, you may need to use some social media monitoring tools designed to do just that.
Social Media Monitoring Tools
Or you can go to Twitter and use its advanced keyword search tool to see who’s getting a lot of traffic in whatever industry you need. Regardless of the results you get, you still need to eyeball the subjects individually to see if they can be useful before initiating contact.
If you want a more focused search across platforms, you may just have to shell out for some paid tools. Most have a free trial before you need to pay for subscriptions, so take advantage of these offers to see if it’s worth the investment. Some of these tools include BlogDash and mPact which look beyond mere popularity and identify the location of influencers. This can be important if your business or brand is location-specific.
Engaging Social Influencers
Once you’ve identified your influencers on social media, the next step is engagement. This can be a sensitive process, but in general, it’s tit for tat. You can offer an exchange of services, provide them with free content, go into dual promotions, add useful dialog in their blogs or forums, retweet/share their content, etc.
It’s best to take a tacit approach and start engaging them on the social media account where they’re most active. Once you’ve established a relationship, you can broach the subject of a mutually beneficial arrangement. If you’ve got the cash laying around to afford it, you may even want to consider paying them for advertising.
The important thing is to set yourself up as another niche authority, one with something to offer in return for your target influencer’s cooperation. Collaboration thrives on reciprocity, and free favors aren’t easily forgotten. So go out of your way to be accommodating when taking this approach.
What sorts of strategies do you use when approaching an industry influencers? Let me know in the comment section.