Web strategist Jeremiah Owynang recently tweeted a story from launch.is, which discussed a Windows 7.5 campaign that Microsoft ran. In this promotion, Microsoft collaborated with Klout to help promote the Windows Phone 7.5 OS by offering a free phone as a perk to users influential about Microsoft and technology. Users were also invited to an exclusive party where Microsoft showed off its new phones, as these influencers enjoyed cocktails and live music.
This marketing push by the software giant illustrates a growing trend by marketers looking to leverage the “influence” of a select group of people to promote their products and services. Unfortunately, this approach also introduces a number of serious questions.
By devising clever algorithms, companies like Klout, PeerIndex, and PeopleBrowsr, have unearthed a new breed of influencers for brands to use as marketing vehicles. What makes these individuals “influential?” When you boil it down, they have earned their influence through high activity on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. They may be popular, but are they really “influencers?” More importantly, will their recommendations truly steer the brand preference or buying behavior of the masses?
Not as much as we think — and here’s why.
Mobile phones are one of the many products that fall under the “considered purchase” category, meaning that people typically do a fair amount of research before they buy. That said, consumers will typically look to experts, or in this case, mobile phone experts (i.e. bloggers and journalists), to help them make the most informed purchase decisions. While we don’t know exactly Microsoft’s target, other than broadly defined technology and Microsoft influencers, my gut tells me that a majority weren’t mobile phone experts.
This isn’t a jab at Microsoft’s marketing team or efforts, but a clarification of how an influencer is defined.
An alterative to looking at individuals with juiced up social media activity, is to navigate toward something more natural and credible. In other words, move the needle from the popular kids who just talk about technology, to the geeks, bloggers and thought leaders, who create objective editorial content that is engaging, organic and authentic.
In many cases, we are already seeing this strategy take hold in the marketing landscape. Rich Brome (Phonescoop), Marin Perez (Intomobile) and Noah Kravitz (Technobuffalo) are all influencers in their space. They are influencers because they educate the masses by writing engaging editorial that helps people make better purchasing decisions.
While they may have a bevy of followers on Twitter and Facebook, the key to their influence revolves around the content they create and the social media engagement that content generates. Marketers can harness this content within their executions because amplifying the positive opinions of respected experts will have a powerful impact brand preference.
As such, rather than basing influence on follower counts and social media activity, marketers should re-shift their focus to identify their brands’ most influential authors and leverage their content to support the brand story. The brand story is always more believable and compelling, when a respected third party authority tells it. The opinions of these influencers will have a greater effect on brand perception and buying behavior, which, if used properly, will help drive sales.
There is no denying that brands will continue to invest in influencer marketing programs; however, they must realize that influence goes beyond a score. It is about using content to establish a deeper and more intelligent connection with an audience. And it is those authors who are the true influencers that deserve attention.
Originally published 26 January 2012 on mediapost.com