Under the influence: Using social media to reach out to niche groups

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It should come as no surprise to learn that the purchase patterns get effected by the ‘consumers’ voice’. More than the experts, celebrities and the marketers, people listen to the views of other people like them. Some consumers are looked upon as the brand advocates, the people who are seen as fellow-enthusiasts for a particular issue, hobby or lifestyle.

In other words, your current social media strategy may consist of setting up costly, high-profile celeb endorsements. It may also be based on tie-ups with leading bloggers and internet personalities. Then, it’s high time to file your strategy in the circular filing cabinet in the corner of the room, the one some people like to call the wastepaper basket.

Instead of getting swayed by the new breed of often self-appointed online stars, we’ve found that it pays to take an analytical approach to identify the bloggers, twitter users and so on who may not be online celebrities but are actually influential in relevant niche topics. These individuals are easier to reach out to – you can involve them in trials, or in idea-generating exercises that go beyond the generic request for consideration that you’d send a more high-profile target. Hence, these niche topic influencers are the people who the big aggregators are keeping their eyes on the new content ideas anyway.

All this is tied into a key insight we’ve had about how things work in the new medium: everything’s a form of word of mouth. It moves bottom-up just as fluidly as it moves top-down. In fact a story that works its way up through the social media value chain will only gain more momentum and credibility with each mention at a higher tier of the influence chain generates attention and notice both higher and lower in the ecosystem at the same time, setting off a ripple effect that can culminate in a tide of interest in your offering.

Kodak’s ‘Time To Smile’ online promotion last summer was a case in point. Kodak’s aim was to involve bloggers and twitter users in creating and sharing content that spoke to universal human emotions, adding value to brand Kodak. To find the right online individuals to target, Kodak had to analyse user data based on a complex set of parameters, including relevance, reach, link-backs, participation in conversations and records of initiating dialogue with other users.

There isn’t one quick fix to finding an online influencer. As Brian Solis puts it in his recent blog post , Online influence is ‘about the investment you make in the creation or curation of relevant and useful content. It’s about the power and unsaid significance behind a retweet on Twitter, a ‘like’ on Facebook, the friending or following of someone to extend a social graph. It’s also expressed through the explicit act of commenting on posts and updates, engaging in online conversation, sharing the contributions of others as well as linking. Ultimately, it’s about being engaged in a complex, multi-directional and mutually beneficial social network that just happens to be online.

Another important lesson, that we’ve learned about engaging with online influencers: think long-term! Once you’ve engaged with influencers, they become advocates for your offering, when enthralled by your brand’s wow factor. As a result this ends up becoming the best marketing investments you can make. In case, if their enthusiasm is captured, you don’t have to spend on fancy communications to achieve the kind of credible, positive influence they can bring to bear on your behalf. But what do you do with that energy? Driving a one-off sale is good start, but it can’t be all. We’ve found that using a social media engagement exercise as a springboard to a longer-term engagement with niche communities and their influencers pays off more in the long term giving you a growing pool of advocates who can promote your brand ideas as well as giving back in the form of ideas and insights that help refine your offering.

There’s no real secret to any of this – it’s about being a part of a dialogue, not just a broadcaster. About giving something to a community rather than just shouting about yourself. However, good data and even more importantly, good analytics can give you the edge to find the right influencers. The rest is all about keeping it real, one-on-one. So when that celebrity spokesperson’s office calls you back to negotiate endorsement fees, you can tell them, ‘Thanks, but no thanks! We’ve found someone more influential than you. No, you wouldn’t have heard of them!’.

References:
http://www.briansolis.com/2011/04/how-do-you-increrase-social-influence-dont-think-about-the-score/
http://www.creativemagma.com/blog/our-creative-work/branding-services/how-marketers-use-online-influencers-to-boost-branding-efforts/
http://www.slideshare.net/pgillin/how-to-find-and-court-the-new-online-influencers

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