A consumer advocate can be your brand’s best friend. They spend 13% more than the average buyer and refer business that equals 45% of the money they spend, according to Satmetrix. The rise of these brand influencers has spawned quite a bit of buzz in recent months for companies thinking this could enhance their marketing campaigns. Some have even started paying influencers for their time to boost some initial success. After all, if the influencer loves the brand and the fans love the influencer, then the fans will love the brand, right?
In reality, it’s quite challenging. Our agency recently ran a study that shows brands are having some trouble translating their influencers’ authentic love for their products into mutually rewarding relationships. We defined an influencer as someone who: a) has a social media following of 2,500 or more, b) considers themselves to have an influence on their audience, and c) has received or desires to receive compensation from a brand. Through a combination of qualitative and quantitative research (a survey targeting 780 adults and a survey targeting fans with a sample of 1,093 adults), we found that 39% of brand influencers say they have had a bad experience with a company, primarily because the brand didn’t follow through with the deal they made (33%) or because they were bad at communicating (23.5%).
Before launching into a discussion about how to better engage your influencers, you may be asking yourself, “How do I find them?” Start by researching who is talking about your company online. You can do this by using social influence identification tools such as SocMetrics or working with third-party influencers or blogger networks. You can also invite influencers to self-identify, or even take it upon yourself to sift through your customer databases to find high-value consumers who might want to influence on your behalf.
Once you’ve identified your influencers, the next step is establishing a symbiotic relationship with them — a challenge few brands seem able to meet. To better understand the complex nature of the brand-influencer-fan relationship, we derived these guidelines from our research and experience:
Don’t underestimate an influencer’s power. Recently, Alishan Hopping, a blogger who has been loyal to Kate Spade for years, had a terrible in-store experience. When she reached out to the company via Twitter and their “Contact Us” website feature, she received no response. So she blogged about her experience instead. Within an hour, her followers re-blogged her post, tweeted at Kate Spade, and wrote on the Kate Spade Facebook page about the issue. It was only after receiving this deluge of vicarious consternation that Kate Spade grasped the impact of Alishan’s influencer status and tried to make good. Brands can avoid a similar predicament by actively recognizing and engaging with the influencers who reach out to them (for whatever reason, good or bad).
Look for influencers who actually like and use your products. One influencer we interviewed shared a story of what equated to brand stalking: She received a random box of products — stuff she would never use — from an unfamiliar brand, and was then harassed by repeated phone calls and emails haranguing her for not doing her job. Situations such as this happen frequently and unnecessarily. When you identify a potential social influencer for your brand, get to know them first. Explore the purchasing behaviors and lifestyle needs reflected in their blogs, Facebook postings and tweets. If your brand doesn’t fit, don’t force it. As influencer Morgan Cogswell shares, “The products that I love … I’ll write a diatribe about. They don’t have to twist my arm to do it. I just really love it and want other people to love it, too.”
Don’t fake it. When news broke that Nestlé was using child labor around the world in 2010, their brand advocates came to their rescue, swaying their followers to focus on the good Nestlé was doing with their worldwide formula initiatives. Nestlé then sought to amplify their influencers’ success by sponsoring a blog conference. They invited numerous brand ambassadors to attend with the logical (yet misguided) assumption that it would generate a positive dialogue. The effort failed. Since Nestlé had sponsored the conference, it was seen as a manipulative and disingenuous public relations move. To be effective, influencers need to be perceived as independent, authentic fans of the brand. Learning from this experience, Nestlé now remains behind the scenes, personally rewarding — versus publicly sponsoring — their influencers to advocate on their behalf. Using this approach, Nestlé has since gone on to have many successful paid influencer marketing campaigns.
Compensate them. Really. Our study shows that 53% of influencers expect money and 20% expect free products. Overall, they expect their efforts to be rewarded by something of equivalent value, although that isn’t necessarily money. It can be a prelaunch product sample or full sponsorship to attend a conference (We’ve found great success with both) — just as long as it is a fair value exchange. Kelby Carr, a self-proclaimed type-A parent who founded a blog bearing the same title, wrote a Facebook post that sums up responders’ feelings: “I am not sure I can express how little interest I have in sharing a company’s giveaway in exchange for… Oh right, in exchange for nothing.” The post was met with 73 likes and cheers of agreement from other influencers.
Our research explores the different ways influencers are being rewarded and how they want to be rewarded. Whatever compensation you choose — money, free products, discounts, etc. — should align with your objectives, make good business sense and meet your influencers’ stated expectations. For example, if you want to run a simple sampling campaign for a new product, prelaunch access is typically all you need. Your influencer receives the product before anyone else along with a request from you that he/she test and review it. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re seeking a production-quality video from an influencer with great reach and resonance, you can work with third parties like BlogHer or Sway Group (and many more) who have established pre-negotiated rates with “famous” influencers.
There are, of course, other factors that weigh into the balance of your company’s relationship with brand advocates. The key thing to remember: When properly aligned, these factors set the foundation for a win for your brand (awareness, brand perception, sales), a win for your influencer (credibility, increased engagement, increased fan base) and a win for the rest of your customers (a product, service or point of view never considered before). So get to know them — well — and you’ll soon be on your way to building a strong, authentic brand-influencer-consumer relationship.
For the original post go to: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/08/yes_marketers_you_should_pay.html