Who has more consumer influence; your Uncle Bob, a favorite blogger, or Kim Kardashian?
This is the word-of-mouth marketing question marketers keeping asking. The desire to gain access and influence by borrowing relationships and equity has become a cottage industry loosely called “influencer marketing.” Originally the province of PR guys, everyone is now into the influencer act even though it’s not particularly clear how to define influence, who really has it, how we measure it, and when or how we should deploy it for optimum payoff. TopRank recently published an eBook full of influencer dos and don’ts that you can get here.
The desire to efficiently expand reach and frequency in social networks has led marketers to search for ways to leverage “influence.” Ideally, if we can identify the best influencers, brands can co-opt them or rent them and use their networks to spread the word with increased speed and credibility at modest costs. This has been a fantasy since the first blog appeared.
The problem is there are too many unknowns:
- There is no standard definition of influence.
- Influence is a byproduct of a trusted relationship.
- Influence can be fleeting, categorical, or contingent.
- Influence happens in context and in the moment.
- Influence waxes and wanes over time.
- Influence works both ways and is often weighted by degrees.
- Other factors (e.g., urgency) magnify or diminish the impact of influence.
- Few people hold sway over others for sustained periods of time.
- Influence is mitigated by experience.
- Influencers can give bad advice or direction
- Influence can impact awareness and preference but fall short of sales
- Overexposure (Kim Kardashian or Neil Patrick Harris) diminishes influence
- Influencers can be shills or undisclosed paid pitchmen, not neutral observers
Entering into the fray is Dr. Jonah Berger of the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania sponsored by Experticity.com and the Keller Fay Group. These guys surveyed 6,000 people from their expert list and the general public to get a read on influence and influencers. They wanted to know if celebrities or others have the most useful influence.
Their findings — that Uncle Bob, now labeled a “micro influencer,” wins — is a tad self-serving, yet nonetheless interesting and possibly true.
Micro influencers, defined as “a person who has a greater than average reach or impact through word of mouth in a relevant marketplace,” have 22 times more conversations about purchasing recommendations than the average person. And 82 percent of consumers polled said they were highly likely to follow these recommendations.
This makes common sense. People who are seriously into something (photography, genealogy, music, etc.) talk about it incessantly, study everything they can find on the topic, and attract people who want more information from an un-branded neutral source. These self-proclaimed experts are rarely bashful. Almost everybody has a go-to guy on different subjects who can be relied upon to know the latest and greatest and have a point of view. So it’s not surprising that 87 percent of the influencer recommendations in this study were delivered face-to-face and that these influencers were considered more credible than the average person.
Influence is an elusive concept and an elusive measurement. This survey casts doubt on the value of celebrity or social media star posts and tweets versus lesser-known bloggers and Uncle Bob. It’s a step in the right direction because getting a better handle on influence, who wields it, and how it impacts subsequent downrange buying behavior is high on our marketing agenda.
Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.