Who are These “Influencers” I’m Supposed to Find?

red micBrands have gone beyond paying stars millions to endorse products.  They’re making them Creative Directors. Lady Gaga’s been doing it for Polaroid for 3 years. Will.i.am “works” for Intel, and Justin Timberlake for Bud Light. Why is this happening? The raw power of influencers.

Whether it’s Psy selling pistachios or Beyonce’s face on Pepsi cans, influencers are sought out, courted, and offered the sun, moon and stars just to bask in part of their glow. And it’s always been that way. What makes them worth it?

They have the ongoing attention of the masses, they have credibility with those people, and they elevate the value of a brand by being associated with it. By gosh if 50 Cent drinks Vitamin Water, that’s what I should be drinking!

The good news is influence is not a market cornered exclusively by celebs. There are people who have the ongoing attention of your target audience, have credibility with them, and can elevate the value of your brand by being associated with it. Those are the influencers you must find.

Who are they? Where are they? The answers are different for every industry vertical, brand and product. The science is in discovering them. The art is in making them your fan and advocate.  An influencer: 

Has built a significant audience with consistent, valued content.
You’re not just looking for bloggers and media types, although they certainly carry weight. You’re looking for anyone online with a significant following of potential customers. Make sure most of their posts are relevant to your topic and get reasonable engagement. And make sure they produce content consistently. You may love or hate Social Spotlight, but you can count on it being there every Tuesday and Friday. 

Has built trust by never or rarely steering readers wrong.
We’ve seen it in study after study, one positive recommendation from a known and trusted source is more influential and leads to more desired actions taken than any ad, gimmick or product review. Yes, Alicia Keys is the Creative Director for Blackberry, but posting a tweet marked “sent from my iPhone” did little to add to her trust (she says she was hacked).   

Is willing to write about and share things they think are great.
80% of user impressions on products and services were made by 6% of users on social. That’s an indication of just how anti-social most social users are. An influencer who prides themselves on never mentioning anyone or sharing others’ content isn’t worth cultivating.  

Understands mutually beneficial relationships.
Like the Beatles said, “In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Influencers know they’re valuable to you. But if you make them a true fan, they won’t mind giving you a mention or two. Make sure you earn the consideration by contributing to their channel in ways that benefit them (see more below).

Once you’re clear on your topic, finding influencers active around it is a matter of using a glut of available tools, including Klout (including Klout for Business), Peer Index, Kred, Technorati, etc. And there are native tools like Google searches, LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups and Pages (Graph Search makes this easier than it used to be), and Twitter chat search (hosts are usually active). Overall, the most engaged participants are good influencer candidates.

Courting and winning over influencers is trickier. You must have a winning product and value proposition. Few will write about you “just because.” Listen. Get a feel for their style and willingness to write about others. Determine what the influencer wants, be that sharing their blog, retweeting them or participating in their forums. Remember that mutually beneficial relationship? Hold up your end of that. Refer potential clients to them, buy their book, go to their events, pat them on the back, or offer a written rave.

Just remember as you’re looking for superstar influencers, there is no substitute for having a product and customer service that makes one customer so stoked about you that they praise you from the social rooftops. Replicate that at scale with a holistic, integrated social relationship management platform, and no one will be able to keep the good word about you from spreading.

@mikestiles
Photo: stock.xchng

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