Zach Cole: Rethinking Social Influencer Programs

Rethinking Social Influencer Programs

Rethinking Social Influencer ProgramsLet’s face it, there are certain people out there who have a knack for getting others to listen up and pay attention. This is not only a valuable trait offline, but also an especially useful one online, where messages and updates circulate through social channels at tremendous speeds. We tend to call these people ‘influencers,’ and marketers have come to view the influencer as a valuable asset to their marketing programs.

When thinking about social influencer programs, many marketers tend to approach the idea from the perspective of ‘word-of-mouth 2.0’. This is not entirely inaccurate, it simply doesn’t paint the whole picture.

Many influencer programs revolve around a brand giving away some attractive prize to a supposed influencer who has a large number of Twitter followers, blog subscribers, or a high Klout score.  Their hopes are that this influencer will then be so overcome with joy that he or she will tell everyone about the brand.

So what ends up happening? Not much actually.

Giveaways are received, but the influencers rarely say anything worthwhile – and if they do, there’s no guarantee that the audience they are addressing is the right audience for the brand itself.

I would like to urge marketers to rethink social influencer programs. Rather than merely looking at Klout scores and numbers of Twitter followers and blog subscribers, we should dig deeper. We should look at the communities in which they are active (who they talk to and who talks back to them). We should look at what areas they are interested in and how enthusiastic they are about a given topic.

What we tend to find when we really look, is that the best influencers often don’t have the most Twitter followers or highest Klout scores.  Rather, they are the ones who fall somewhere in the middle, numbers-wise, but who have a higher-than-average willingness to share information and talk about a given brand or topic.

We should also rethink the giveaway model. Sure, incentives are nice, but they are fleeting and short-lived. What happens when you stop giving away freebies? Does all the conversation about you suddenly stop?

Instead, we should approach influencer engagement the same way we approach all social interactions: By showing authentic interest in the individual, and making a concerted effort to connect with them on their level. This will win over the most passionate of influencers, which is, ultimately, what we’re after.

Originally published 31 May 2012 on the Conduit blog. Zach Cole is Director of Strategy and Analytics at Attention Span Media and can be followed on Twitter @ZachACole.


  1. Eric Snow (@PTC_PR1) says:

    Totally agree Zach. In a B2B context, give aways are impractical anyway, so influencer relations or influencer marketing types need to think harder about how to engage. I would submit that organizations should lead their influencer relations activities with people who grew up on the PR side of the house rather than the marketing side – as they are the ones trained in true engagement. (BTW, great to reconnect!) – Eric Snow, PTC