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Matt Hixson

Influencer Marketing: Stop Looking for the Pied Piper

By: Matt Hixson | May 30, 2013 | 
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Influencer Marketing: Stop Looking for the Pied PiperOne of the big focuses in social marketing today is influencer marketing.

The idea being that if you can get one person to tell something to their large audience, their audience will listen.

For organizations this is seen as less effort and potentially high response.

In reality, things aren’t that simple.

Let’s take a look at a few things to keep in mind when you approach influencer marketing.

What Are You Trying to Influence?

When we talk about influence there is always the conversation about how you define influence, and thus define an influencer.

Let’s ask a different question – What are you trying to influence? This will dictate what you measure and how you approach the situation.

Most people can boil it down to two things on social platforms:

  1. Get your content to spread and be consumed by your target audience; or
  2. Get your target audience to respond to your call-to-action.

Different objectives may define different influencers.

Context is King

We form relationships within a context. As you and I talk about a specific subject such as social media marketing, we begin to build a relationship around that specific topic. If we build a trusted relationship around this subject, you will be likely to consume the content I share on this subject over time.

If, all of a sudden, I start giving you parenting advice, you may look at me like I’m nuts. You don’t have any idea if I have kids or if I’m a good parent or a bad parent. We consume and act on information we find credible because of the source. Different sources (your relationships) carry a different weight of trust based on the subject.

Relationships are Dynamic

The more we talk to each other the more of a relationship we build. Over time we have the opportunity to build trust. If we stop talking, our relationship starts to decay. These relationships form the paths in how people share and consume information.

I might listen to you today, but not in a week because our relationship has changed. This is the most challenging aspect of dealing with social networks. They are extremely dynamic, and that creates an environment where what you knew yesterday may not be true today.

Influence is Defined by the Person Being Influenced

I don’t believe in the magical influencer. There is not one person who speaks to the masses and *voila* everyone does what they say. Influence is a very personal thing and it is unique to every one of us. It is much more about the behavior of the person consuming the information, as opposed to the person pushing a message.

We like to focus on people who can push a message to a large group of people, because this is what mass marketing platforms such as television have taught us for the past 60 years.

People who have a ton of friends and followers are interesting and they create hypothetical impressions, but the real questions are:

  1. Who consumes their messages?
  2. Who passes their messages on?
  3.  Will those people respond to their calls-to-action?

Let’s use an example. Assume you have Susan, Mike, and Tim. Susan may consume the running content Tim produces because she trusts him on that particular subject, and Tim may do the same when Susan speaks. Simple. Now let’s take Mike. Mike may hear content on running from Susan, and not consume it. He may hear it from Tim and not consume it. But when he hears it from both Susan and Tim, he does. It is more about the behavior of the person consuming than the person sharing.

All of these points are examples of the relationships between two or three people. Expand this to thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people, with hundreds of thousands of social actions, and it gets complex quickly.

Influencer marketing will not succeed if you’re looking for Pied Pipers – the most influential or popular people the market considers today. It is time to evolve our thinking and fulfill the promise that social originally promised. Community.

About Matt Hixson


Matt Hixson is CEO and co-founder of Tellagence. With co-founder Nitin Mayande, Matt is pioneering a new front in big data and communication:  identifying how human interactions with technology influence social media outcomes. The son of an entrepreneur, Matt possesses a deep reservoir of curiosity, inventiveness and energy – supported by an extensive educational background. Claiming both an MBA and CPA, he asks colleagues not to hold that against him, and somehow manages to be rather charming in spite of his many degrees and accolades. 

18 comments
Mike Tracy
Mike Tracy

Nice insight Matt. I agree that you need to know your biz objective(s) upfront before you start influence marketing. I believe we need to break out influencer's between family/friends (1st, 2nd degree, etc..) vs others whom we have no personal connection. Nielsen and other studies show over 90% of customers trust recommendations from people they know vs. on average below 50% across all branded channels.

So matching the influencer's interests to his family/friends interest, then leveraging the influencer to market the interest in common between the two, should yield the best conversion.

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

You're singing my song sir. I've been writing, commenting forever that it's someone ELSE who'll decide what's 'awesome' or what matters to THEM. The rest - context, relationships, social - are all factors, but not influence. It's about the 'why' - why this story matters to me, why this is what I'll buy vs. that - before you get to influence. And yes, Who you're trying to influence is as important as Who and Why. FWIW. 

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

Some great points Matt. 

I'm a bit of a social sciences geek (at least in my reading habits). I think marketers/brands need to also be cautious about CTRs and search / ad metrics when talking about influencers......it's easy to get lost in those kinds of numbers without properly understanding belief and behavior. Academic research has a lot to offer in this area (Brown, for example, is doing some really fascinating stuff - http://www.brown.edu/Departments/CLPS/ )

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Good stuff, Matt - you know how much of a fan I am of the @Tellagence platform, and it's great to see technologies coming out around influence from people that understand what it takes, versus tech companies assigning generic scores and influence based on limited data and knowledge.

Here's to the conversation continuing to move forward.

Latest blog post: eggs

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

Oh... and I thought @dannybrown  was the "Magical Influencer".  I love the pied piper imagery - you're right... there's no magic.  There are measurements that make it more of a science then voodoo.  Like Tellagence.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I personally don't trust anyone with a high klout score. Well I trust @ginidietrich but she is the exception to the rule 'Over 65 pass me by' Great post Matt. The social scoring is really silly. And I still haven't seen any examples of success using influence. I have seen case studies in setting up and executing campaigns but none with results. I find Brands giving things to people with high klout scores really silly and a waste of money.

This is another of the bright shiny objects that social media talking heads, agencies, and news sites use to generate content suckers will buy until the next one comes along.

If you have a great product or service you don't need gimmicks. Spotify kicked off through Klout I think but if the platform had sucked it would be dead today.

biggreenpen
biggreenpen

This was a really interesting read! I think one of the factors that is part of the way a community grows is that some people take longer than others to latch on to an idea. That was the case for me with an app I love called @charitymiles - essentially you run using the app and CM donates 25 cents per mile to a cause you designate. But it took me a WHILE ..... seeing other people I trust using it (I could see their FB posts after they had run), hearing a presentation about them at the dinner preceding a half marathon, multiple mentions on FB, Twitter, etc., before I finally figured it out -- I was motivated pretty early but it still took a certain volume of mentions as well as some direct encouragement (I think it was in the form of a challenge!) from one of these people. Sometimes we want to see measurable results right away (understandably) but other times we need to factor in how long it takes for influence to take root.

matthixson
matthixson

@JoeCardillo I agree with the point about CTR's and search - one challenge is that this is what the market knows.  Social is still new for them so it will take them some time to adjust.

matthixson
matthixson

@Danny Brown Thanks Danny.  We are aligned in our thinking.  I'm glad you are a big voice in this conversation right now.  It is going to take a number of us to change an industry.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@Howie Goldfarb if you read a certain book, you'll find several examples of ROI and success using influence/influence marketing. Of course, if we're talking ROI and financial success from "social scoring influence", then that's a different convo altogether... ;-)

Latest blog post: eggs

matthixson
matthixson

@Howie Goldfarb Thanks Howie.  I agree that they way the market is looking at "influencers" today is going to have a very hard time producing results that have the lasting impact marketers are looking for.  The technology in this space is still evolving.  There is a better way but it will take a bit of time.

matthixson
matthixson

@biggreenpen I'm glad that resonated with you.  It is a very important part.  It is not just about our ability to push information, it is our ability to consume that really has massive impact.