We are all influencers now. Everyday consumers have an unprecedented amount of power when it comes to shaping a brand’s image, and starting or joining the conversation. This democratization of social influence will affect all marketing disciplines.

A marketing channel is being created: influential people (or you can call them customers, advocates, superfans). Advocacy or influencer programs that engage a few hundred influencers today will look quaint in two years as brands learn to harness the power of amplification by engaging hundreds of thousands of advocates and fans. In particular, the public relations and word-of-mouth industries are waking up every day to this reality — the era of personalized PR but on larger scale.

Marketers need to actively seek out and establish relationships with the people who are best equipped to amplify their messaging — and do it all at scale. This is where influencer-relationship marketing comes in.

Influencer-relationship marketing is a long-term strategy for building and managing authentic, enduring and direct relationships between brands and tens of thousands influencers. There is a playbook; creating and building influencer relationships can be reduced to three steps: identify, incentivize and activate.

Identify: So which influencers should a brand target to expand its reach and produce the most scalable results?

A common assumption is that people with the greatest reach in the social space, such as celebrities and high-profile journalists, are the most ideal candidates for effective brand influencers. Intuitively, this makes sense, but a far more effective influencer strategy is one that targets the “power middle.”

The power middle consists of the most relevant bloggers and social influencers who have a loyal (if relatively modest) following. While they might not have the largest fan base, cumulatively, these social publishers tend to have the strongest impact as brand influencers.

Incentivize: Once the ideal influencers have been identified, brands need to reach out and invite them to act as brand collaborators. Influencers can be enticed to enter such a partnership through the offering of social currency. Depending on the brand and the influencer, social currency can range from assets such as compelling and authentic content to discounts, products and exclusive access to events or branded experiences.

Activate: Once the influencers have opted in, brands can use tools such as influencer points and rewards, mobile messaging and Facebook brand-page integration to motivate the influencer. Brands should engage their advocates and influencers at least two to three times within 60 days, establishing an ongoing value exchange.

Social media return on investment

While different brands will attribute varying values for social activity, over the course of more than 200 campaigns, our company has found that clients generally recognize ROI in the following ways.

  1. Dramatic improvement in the efficiency of influencer identification and the implementation of activation campaigns — reducing direct costs.
  2. Social actions and earned media value increase five to 10 times the program costs.
  3. Creation of brand-influencer networks, assets with measurable lifetime value that brands can own and use repeatedly.

When SocialChorus was charged with creating an influencer network to help Tropicana launch the Trop50 True Resolutions Facebook experience, 173 power-middle influencers were recruited into the program. The results were dramatic — 468 influencer stories that led to more than 38,000 consumer social actions, and ultimately 468% ROI for the client.

Because influencer marketing is still in a relatively nascent stage, marketers are typically responding to today’s challenges with yesterday’s tools: manual data entry, spreadsheets and time-intensive human outreach. Moving forward, the solution will have to be a substantial degree of automation, one that provides the necessary amount of efficiency, while leaving room for brand-specific customization.

By owning and managing direct relationships with key influencers, brands and agencies are able to expand their reach and scale their ROI, while bringing down the cost of social marketing.

Gregory Shove is the founder and CEO of SocialChorus, a social influencer relationship marketing software and services company. Before SocialChorus, Shove was an active investor in private and public companies, with a focus on consumer segments. He also co-founded 2Market, a Silicon Valley startup that pioneered the development of interactive shopping; it was acquired by AOL in 1995. Before 2Market, Shove held positions at Digital Equipment and Sun Microsystems. He graduated as a Sloan Fellow from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in 1993 and holds a Bachelor of Arts in economics from the University of Western Ontario.

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2 Responses to “Benefits of influencer-relationship marketing: Authenticity, scale and ROI”

  1. [...] Benefits of influencer-relationship marketing: Authenticity, scale and ROI (smartblogs.com) [...]

  2. i haev so few twitter followers that i doubt i have any real influence at all.