There’s a lot of buzz in the marketing industry right now about “finding the influencers.” If you follow Bazaarblog, you know by now that shoppers are looking for authentic recommendations from real people, not marketers (like me). Some of these real people have more influence than others, based on their knowledge and expertise, their reach, etc. Naturally, then, brands should identify influencers and encourage them to spread their feedback about the brand’s products. Brands seem to understand at least this much.
What surprises me, though, is the way brands are currently identifying and courting these influencers. Many brands start with reach – how many Twitter followers, Facebook friends or LinkedIn contacts a person has. Brands identify people of interest in their industry, and based on reach, determine which people will have the greatest success in spreading their message. They largely rely on number of impressions to determine who will generate the most influential message.
This method can be costly. Many brands court influencers with free products or trials to get them talking, attempting to turn the influencer into a brand advocate. With regulations from the FTC, however, those who receive products for trial or payment from brands are required to disclose this fact as part of their review. For some consumers, this knowledge clouds the authenticity of the influencer’s reviews or advocacy.
This presents a dilemma for brands. Customers want the opinions of real people, but normal people don’t have the reach of influencers. Existing influencers, on the other hand, have to be courted, competed for, and convinced that a product or brand is worth touting – and often in the process their message loses some meaning.
So, why attempt to turn influencers into your advocates? Why not instead turn your advocates into influencers? It reminds me of that U2 lyric – “We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong.”
Many of your customers are expert advocates on your products, your brand, your industry. Other shoppers trust these advocates’ opinions, and are thus influenced by them.
For example, many of my friends consider me an expert in photography. I have my favorite brands and products, and I advocate these to friends looking for, say, a new digital camera. My recommendation influences their decision – many friends have made camera purchases based on my recommendations. So, I’m something of an influencer among my friends, on this subject
But my reach also extends beyond my immediate friends. I’ve driven the purchases of people I have never met, never exchanged emails with, and who don’t follow me. These people have read my opinions online and relied on my knowledge to make a decision. They trust what I have to say because I am a normal consumer. And as an expert, my comments are generally more detailed and helpful than the average review, adding to my influence.
Rather than court high-profile influencers with the most reach, brands can instead identify customer advocates like me, and help them be seen and heard by more people. A brand can turn a customer like me into an influencer by empowering me to advocate for them beyond my personal networks. Imagine you have a customer that is very happy with you (hopefully this isn’t hard to imagine!). He or she is willing to tell others how great your brand is. Now, imagine how powerful it would be to place a customer like this in your product aisles where he can share his experience with your brand, in his own words, with all of your shoppers. That’s influence.
Brands have this opportunity online, right now. Your aisles are your product and category pages. User-generated content (UGC) is the bridge between your customers and revenue-lifting advocacy. When they are asked to share their reviews and stories, they are being shown, by your brand, that their opinion matters. And in turn, their opinion will matter to the prospective and current customers deciding whether or not to buy from your company. By enabling this conversation, right on your site, you are creating a collective influencer network that results in more sales.
Locating these would-be influencers is simple – let other customers identify them for you. Allow site visitors to vote on the helpfulness of other customers’ feedback and to sort by most helpful. Now you’ve identified your most influential customers and brought them into the spotlight where they will have the most impact
Publicly recognizing your top contributors encourages others to put in their two cents as well. Apparel retailer Free People (client) featured their top reviewers in an email campaign, and saw a 93% increase in review volume that week. Reviews also became more detailed after this campaign, providing more information to help customers make confident buying decisions.
Creating your own influencers recognizes your best advocates, and empowers them to help other shoppers buy. It’s all customer-driven, helping customers help each other – which, in the end, helps your business.