You need to approach your marketing online differently as well. Your approach must incorporate social influence marketing. When designing Websites, you display banners and push your Website listings higher up in the search engine rankings to promote and sell products. It’s easy to forget how people actually buy.
It’s easy to assume that the potential customers are lonely people crouched over their computers late at night choosing what products to add to a shopping cart. isolated from the real world and their family and friends.
But in reality, that’s not how people purchase online today. Although it might have been the case in the early days of the Web, those days are over now. Using the Internet has become a mainstream social activity.
Consumers approach purchasing online differently, too, and as a result, you need to approach your marketing online differently as well. Your approach must incorporate social influence marketing.
Defining Social Influence Marketing
A discussion of any subject needs to begin with a definition, and so here’s the one for social influence marketing: Social influence marketing is a technique that employs social media (content created by everyday people using highly accessible and scalable technologies such as blogs, message boards, podcasts, microblogs, bookmarks, social networks, communities, wikis, and vlogs) and social influencers (everyday people who have an outsized influence on their peers by virtue of how much content they share online) to achieve an organization’s marketing and business needs.
The definition warrants further explanation. Social media refers to content created for and consumed by regular people. It includes the comments a person adds at the end of an article on a Website, the family photographs he uploads to a photo-sharing site, the conversations he has with friends in a social network, and the blog posts that he publishes or comments on.
And then there are the social influencers. Are these people with special powers to influence a large majority of people?
Not at all; rather, social influencers are the everyday people who influence the consumer as he makes a purchasing decision.
Depending on the decision he’s making, the social influencers may be a wife (or husband), friends, peers at work, or even someone the consumer has never even met in real life.
Simply, the people who influence a brand affinity and purchasing decision are the social influencers. They may do this directly by rating products and commenting or by publishing opinions and participating in conversations across the Web.
Anyone can be a social influencer, influencing someone else’s brand affinity and purchasing decisions, and you, the reader, are probably one, too, without realizing it.
Social influence marketing is about recognizing, accounting, and tapping into the fact that as your potential customer makes a purchasing decision, he’s influenced by various circles of people through the conversations that he has with them online when he shares his own social media and consumes theirs.
But wait a minute. How does social influence marketing tie into social media marketing? These terms are increasingly used interchangeably, but it’s worth noting that when talking about social influence marketing, the emphasis is on the social influencers versus social media, which invariably implies just marketing on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Understanding the fundamentals of influence
To understand how social influence works, you need to look at how people are influenced in the real world, face to face. Social influence isn’t something new. Long before the Web, people asked each other for advice as they made purchasing decisions.
What one person bought often inspired another to buy the same product, especially if the original purchaser said great things about the product. That’s how human beings function; we’re influenced and motivated by each other to do things.
We’re social beings, and sharing information on our experiences is all a part of social interaction.
Is influence bad?
Of course not. More often than not, people seek that influence. People ask each other for advice; they share decision-making processes with friends and colleagues; they discuss their own experiences.
How much a person is influenced depends on multiple factors. The product itself is the most important one. When buying low-consideration purchases (those with a small amount of risk), people rarely seek influence, nor are they easily influenced by others.
Buying toothpaste, for example, is a low-consideration purchase because each product may not be that different from the next one, and they’re all fairly inexpensive. so you won’t lose much money if you choose one that doesn’t fit your needs. On the other hand, buying a new car is typically a high-consideration purchase (a purchase that includes a large risk).
The price of the car, the maintenance costs, and its reputation for its safety all contribute to making it a high-consideration purchase. Social influence plays a much bigger role in car purchases than in toothpaste decisions.
Social influence matters with every purchase, but it matters more with high-consideration purchases than low-consideration ones. Most consumers realize that when they’re making high-consideration purchases, they can make better and more confident purchasing decisions when they take into account the advice and experience of others who have made those decisions before them.
That’s how influence works.
Considering the types of influencers
When discussing social influence marketing, colleagues often ask me whether this means that they should add product review features to e-commerce Websites or advertise on social networks.
Yes, product reviews and advertising are important, but there’s more to social influence than those two things.
When you think about social influence in the context of your marketing objectives, you must separate social influencers online into three types: referent, expert, and positional.
As a marketer seeking to deploy social influence marketing techniques, the first question to answer is this: Which social influencers sway your consumers as they make purchasing decisions about your product? After you identify those social influencers, you can determine the best ways to market to them.
Any major brand affinity or purchasing decision has a referent, expert, and positional social influencers all playing distinct and important roles. Which one is most important may vary slightly based on the purchase, but the fact remains that you need to account for these three distinct types of social influencers in your marketing campaigns.
If you’re a marketer trying to positively affect a purchasing decision, you must market not just to the consumer but also to these influencers.
A referent influencer is someone who participates on social platforms. These users are typically in a consumer’s social graph and influence brand affinity and purchasing decisions through consumer reviews, by updating their own status and Twitter feeds, and by commenting on blogs and forums.
In some cases, social influencers know the consumers personally. Because the consumers know and trust their referent influencers,
they feel confident that their advisers are also careful and punctilious. As they’re people they trust, they value their advice and guidance over most other people.
Referent influencers influence purchasing decisions more than anyone else at the consideration phase of the marketing funnel, according to Fluent, the social influence marketing report from Razorfish.
For example, if I decide to make a high-consideration purchase, such as a car, I might start by going online and discussing different
cars with a few friends in a discussion forum or on a social network. And then that weekend, I might meet those friends over coffee and carry on that discussion in person.
This influence is considered referent influence because these friends sway me by the strength of their charisma and interpersonal
skills and they have this sway because I respect them.
A consumer who’s mulling over a high-consideration purchase might also consult an expert influencer. An expert influencer is an authority on the product that the consumer is considering purchasing. Also called key influencers, they typically have their own blogs, huge Twitter followings, and rarely know their audiences personally.
When I’m considering buying a car, suppose I don’t turn just to friends for advice but also visit some car review Websites. On these review Web sites, experts rate, rank, and pass judgment on cars.
They’re the expert social influencers — people who I may not know personally but are recognized as authorities in a certain field. Their influence is derived from the skills or expertise that they. or broadly speaking, their organization. possess based on training.
A positional influencer is closest to both the purchasing decision and to the consumer. Called peer influencers sometimes, they are typically family members or part of the consumer’s inner circle. They influence purchasing decisions most directly at the point of purchase and have to live with the results of their family member’s or friend’s decision as well.
Now I know that I can’t make a high-consideration purchase like a car purchase without discussing it with my wife. Invariably, she’ll drive the car, too, and sit in it as much as I will. It is as much her purchase as it is mine.
Her opinion matters more than anyone else’s in this case. She’s closest to the purchasing decision and to the consumer and therefore has the most social influence.
Influencing on digital platforms
Each time people make purchasing decisions, they ask each other for advice. Sometimes, they depend upon an expert’s guidance, and in other cases, that advice comes from people they know.
So why is influence such a big deal today? This is because Internet and social media consumption specifically have hit the mainstream. For example, as of February 2009, the social networking phenomenon Facebook had 175 million users, giving it a population larger than most countries.
That’s a lot of people talking about a lot of things (including products) to a lot of people! People are making more and more purchasing decisions online every day. It’s as natural to buy a product online as it is to go into a physical store.
They buy clothes and shoes online, not to mention high-consideration items such as computers, cars (yes, cars), and jewelry. But that’s not all.
Not only are consumers buying online, but thanks to social media, they’re conversing, socializing, and influencing each other online on a scale never seen before.
Call it a shift in Web behavior, but the way people make decisions in the real world is finally moving to the Internet in a big way. The social media platforms such as Facebook (shown in Figure 1-2), MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube are just a few of the places where people are asking each other for advice and guidance as they make purchasing decisions.
Smart companies are realizing that they should no longer design their e-commerce Websites to convince buyers to make purchasing decisions in isolation. Rather they need to design the Websites to allow consumers to bring their social influencers into the decision-making process.
As consumers, people expect and want that because that’s how they’re used to making their purchasing decisions. So that’s why social influence marketing matters today. People are influencing and are being influenced by each other every day on social network platforms, community Web sites, and destination sites.
You may need to put a lot of effort into convincing your managers how important social media platforms are. Many of them may feel that it’s a youth phenomenon, one that doesn’t serve the interests of brands well.
The best way to communicate these ideas and techniques to your staff is by organizing lunch-and-learn sessions and bringing in external speakers who can walk your managers through the major social platforms and how best to market on them. Sharing case studies from other brands always resonate well and goes a long way to establishing credibility.
Comparing Social Influence Marketing with Other Marketing Efforts
It isn’t enough to deploy social influence marketing (SIM) in isolation of every other marketing effort. If you do, you’re sure to fail. Your customers will notice that you have a disjointed, conflicted story. depending on where and how you’re interacting with them.
Therefore, it’s important to understand how you can integrate your social influence marketing within your other more traditional marketing. direct mail, public relations, display advertising, and promotions.
Some social influence marketing philosophies are in conflict with traditional public relations, media buying, direct mail, and promotions tactics. It’s no use damning those forms of marketing and alienating your peers who focus on those areas.
Put extra effort in partnering with your fellow employees as you practice these marketing techniques. Explain what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how it complements their efforts.
If you discredit the other forms of marketing and the people behind them, it only hurts you in the long run.
Direct mail is about managing an active customer database and marketing to members of that database via circulars, catalogs, credit card applications, and other merchandising materials delivered to homes and businesses.
You’ve probably gotten a lot of direct mail over the years. perhaps mountains of it. and at some point, you’ve probably wished
that these companies would stop mailing you. That’s all direct mail, and whether you like it or not, direct mail has been a very successful form of marketing.
The catalog industry logs billions of dollars in sales because of it. That will change with social influence marketing. Of all the areas of marketing, direct mail is one that will be most affected in the long run. Before you start worrying that your mail carrier will stuff your mailbox (or your e-mail inbox through e-mail marketing) even more than usual, consider this: Direct mail is most successful when the mail is targeted and personalized.
That means it’s reaching the people who really care about the offers (or are most likely to take advantage of them), and it’s personalized toward the recipients’ needs in a voice and style that’s appealing to them. Pretty straightforward, isn’t it?
Success in Direct Mail
Direct mail is only as successful as the marketer’s customer database. The database should contain the names and addresses of people who are open to receiving direct mail. But when people stop trusting the marketing efforts of large corporations and instead switch to each other for advice, that’s when direct mail loses its power.
Statistically, I know that consumers are now more likely to depend on each other for advice and information than they are on the corporations that are marketing to them.
With consumers who are even more connected to each other through social media than before, it has gotten easier for them to reach out to one another for that advice.
That means that when they see a piece of direct mail, they’re less likely to depend on it. They’d rather go online and ask a friend for
advice or search for a product online than look at that flyer in the mail.
There’s another side to the story, though. The more data that you can capture about your customers through social influence marketing tactics, the more opportunities you have to feed your direct mail database.
That’s just a factor of consumers doing more online, sharing more of themselves, and opting into direct mail efforts in exchange for information or acceptance into an online community.
Your database may get richer with social influence marketing in the mix, but the value of it may decrease — although that doesn’t mean that you can’t use direct mail as a starting point to jump-start an online community, sustain interest in it, or reward participation through mailing coupons.
Among the earliest proponents of social media were digital savvy public relations experts. Many of them entered this space by treating social media just as they have treated the mainstream media.
These professionals equated buzz (how much people talk about a specific product or brand) in the social media realm with press mentions in the mainstream media.
These PR experts identified the influential (influence defined as those having the most reach) bloggers and tweeters and started showering them with the same kind of attention that they had been bestowing on the mainstream media.
They sent them press releases in advance, offered exclusive interviews, invited them to dinners, commented on their blogs, and carefully tracked how often their brands were mentioned and how positively.
For PR professionals, this approach made perfect sense. Arguably, they recognized early on how powerful social media could be and were among the first to track brand mentions and participate in conversations.
In fact, many of the social media experts today are former public relations professionals who’ve taken the time to understand how social media works and how they can leverage it to support a company’s or a brand’s objectives.
Many PR professionals also understand how bad press and traditional PR disasters can be amplified by social media if not addressed immediately.
But life isn’t that simple, and the relationship between public relations and social media is a complex one. which is something that the savviest PR professionals understand and have always understood. Public relations is fundamentally about managing the press (mainstream or alternative) and pushing a company’s agenda out to the press as much as possible.
Whether it’s the mainstream or alternative media, it doesn’t matter. From a public relations professional’s perspective, the press is the press, and they’re only as good as their ability to amplify a company’s message. That’s where the problem lies.
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When I look at social influence marketing and how it harnesses social media, some of its core tenets are in conflict with public relations. For example, social influence marketing is about social influencers influencing each other through social media.
The focus is on the social influencers influencing each other and not on the PR professionals influencing people in the social media realm. The difference is that as consumers, we’re trusting and depending upon each other more for advice than on large corporations.
The PR professionals, for all their sincerity and skill, will still push a company’s message as forcefully as they can. and in that, it conflicts with social influence marketing.
Is there a remedy? Not necessarily, but as you deploy social influence marketing campaigns, be sensitive to the fact that your goals and aspirations may be in conflict with your PR organization if it hasn’t embraced social media or social influence marketing.
Have a conversation with them early on, find ways to collaborate and delineate boundaries, too. who does what, who reaches out to whom, and how much space is given to authentic social influencers to do the influencing versus the PR professionals.
And as you do this, keep in mind that for many PR professionals, social influence marketing is an evolution of PR. That’s a good thing providing for even more opportunities to collaborate.
When it comes to buying display advertising (also referred to as media planning and buying) on Web sites where your customers spend time, social influence marketing plays an important role.
Display advertising is about identifying Websites your target customers visit, buying ad space on those Websites, and then measuring how much those ads are viewed and clicked upon.
It’s as much an art as it’s a science because knowing which sites your customers visit, where they’re most likely to engage with an advertisement (where on the site as well), whether the site charges the appropriate amount for the advertisement, and how much that advertising affects purchasing is not always easy.
Trust me. I work with media buyers all the time, and their jobs are harder than you think. But the display advertising space is important even in an economic downturn.
The reason is simple: It’s one of the most measurable forms of advertising, especially in relation to print and television, along with search engine advertising.
You can track who views the advertisement, what they do with it, and in some cases, whether they eventually buy the product based on that advertisement. It’s no surprise that the relationship to social influence marketing is an important one as a result.
This relationship with social influence marketing takes various forms. Here are some of those connection points:
Market to the social influencers who surround the customer, as well as the customer.
One of the ways in which you market to those influencers is using display advertising. So rather than just placing advertisements on Websites that your customers visit, you place some advertisements (doesn’t have to be a large percentage of your budget) on Websites that their social influencers frequent, too.
Is this as measurable as those advertisements targeting your customers directly? Maybe not, because these influencers are less likely to click the ads and make a purchase.
But nevertheless, they remember the brand and they influence your customers.
Place display advertising on social platforms. like Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube — that your customers frequent.
Granted, display advertising on social platforms generally produces bad results (users don’t notice the advertisements, and they don’t click them) but the ad formats for social platforms are still evolving.
One example is appvertising, where advertisements are placed within applications that reside on social networks. These produce
better results. Another innovation is where consumers are asked to rate the ads that they’re viewing.
This helps the platform target ads more appropriately to them in the future.
Use interactive, social advertising.
Think about this scenario for a moment: You visit a major Website like CNN.com and see a large advertisement on the right side. The advertisement asks you a question, and you’re invited to respond to that question from within the ad unit.
What’s more, you can see other responses to the question within the ad unit. That’s an example of the ad unit becoming a platform for a social conversation.
There aren’t too many examples of social ads online, but I’m seeing more companies experiment in this space. Figure 1-4 shows how one ad appears on CNN.com.
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Promotions are another important type of marketing activity that’s affected by social influence marketing, due to the fact that as people communicate with each other more, they have less time to participate in product promotions.
But it also presents unique opportunities for marketers to put the potential of social influence marketing to good use. Consider this:
Promotions are primarily about incentives that are designed to stimulate the purchase or sale of a product in a given period. Promotions usually take the form of coupons, sweepstakes, contests, product samples, rebates, and tie-ins.
Most of these promotions are designed as a one-off activity linking the marketer to specific customers.
However, by deploying social influence marketing concepts, you can design promotions that require customers to draw in their
social influencers, whether it’s to participate in the contest or sweepstakes with them or to play an advisory role.
By designing the promotion to require social influencer participation (it needs to be positioned as friends participating), the specific
promotion may get a lot more attention than it normally would have.