Social Media : It's Who You Know
6 secrets to leveraging social media influencers for direct marketingDecember 2012 By Lois Geller
I'm a big fan of social media. I jumped on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, etc., but it didn't occur to me until recently that social media could help direct marketers by leveraging influencers. In other words, I was a purist—I was communicating on social media for the pure joy of talking to people, meeting them and learning. I didn't think about it as leveraging anyone, but there is something to be said for targeting respected followers and encouraging them to recommend you.
There don't seem to be a lot of rules about leveraging influencers. Not yet, anyway. There are some suggestions, though. Before you begin:
• Sort out your social media accounts. For starters, efforts for big and medium-sized businesses should almost always be all business all the time. Personal and engaging, sure, but always about business.
Most small businesses are different, though, because there's often no clear line between personal life and business life. (I suspect it's often all personal.)
You also want to sort out the different social media. They all have specific purposes that can be quite different, although they're often linked.
• Social media networks are just a way to communicate. Revolutionary as these networks are, the traditional rules of communication still apply.
For example, most direct marketers consider relationship-building key to influencing others and encouraging consumers to buy. It's no different on social networks.
• Define "influencers." Who are they and what good can they do for you? The short answer is that they're people who can influence reasonably large numbers of potential customers to consider your business.
If you're new to social media and the entire concept of having influencers, read the sidebar on to the right first.
1. Vet the People Who Recommend You
One of the things you want to consider is the reputation of influencers. A great example is Scott Monty at Ford. When we needed a car, I tweeted him and he recommended the Escape. In return, I asked him additional questions about the Explorer, and in a few days we'd bought one. I trust Monty. He is a credible spokesperson for the brand without being "salesy."
Now here's the tricky part: Scott is in the business of influencing people to connect with Ford. He's an influencer with a great reputation. He's also a great guy. It occurred to me the other day that the simple fact that I recommend him often means I have leveraged myself into the position of influencing people to follow him. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it's a win-win situation.
As you know, win-win is ideal.
2. Provide Valuable Content
Some marketers or brands have great authority. For instance, I always read tweets from Harvard Business Review, because I learn a lot from them. And I retweet them. I look great because I'm recommending something excellent to my 19,000 or so Twitter followers. HBR benefits by reaching all those readers through me.
Some influencers have status. (These categories overlap, of course.) For instance, many direct marketers like to read copyblogger.com, so founder Brian Clark has status with people like me; not because he has a lot of followers, but because of the quality of his writing.
3. To Build Clout, Solve a Problem
Brands often get respect when they have hundreds of thousands of followers or high Klout scores—or both. So, if you want to build the number (and quality) of influencers for your company or brand, you need to engage influential people in key categories.
That can be a challenge for a number of reasons. For example, customers will reach out when they have a problem and suddenly the social medium becomes a back door for customer service. That's why I think it's a great idea to have two social media areas, and possibly accounts—one for your brand and one for customer service.
@Comcastcares did a great job of turning around the whole image of the company by responding with excellent service to issues it found on its Twitter page.
I once had a problem hooking Comcast cable up to a huge flat-screen TV in a cabinet in my living room. The top opened and the TV was supposed to emerge when I wanted to watch something. The cable didn't want to emerge with it. At the time, Frank Eliason (@FrankEliason) was heading Comcast's social media team and we knew each other from Twitter. I tweeted my problem and soon, thanks to Eliason, Comcast came to the rescue.
4. Have Wide-Ranging Conversations, Too
Some companies, like Bank of America with its @BOA_community efforts on Twitter, burnish their brand images by focusing on, in BOA's case, community outreach activities.
It's important to remember that social media is a two-way street—perhaps a million-way street. People will review products and services and post comments one way or the other—thumbs up or thumbs down. The way you react will drive consumers to your brand or away from it.
Perhaps that's why financial institutions are not flocking to social media these days?
5. Emulate Leaders, Then Turn Them Into Influencers
One of the best ways to pick up excellent social media techniques is to learn from the best. Follow outstanding social media practitioners and stay close to them—looking for opportunities to get some of them interested in your product or service.
Facebook (1 billion users) and LinkedIn (175 million members) present glorious opportunities for one-on-one marketing to just the right prospects for your business and, at the same time, to hook up with influencers.
It's a direct marketer's dream to be able to reach so many prospects and influencers so quickly, especially on Twitter. Maybe only a few thousand Twitterati can do you any good, but they're all there and waiting to hear from you and/or from the tweeters who influence their decisions.
6. 'Social' Means More Than 'Twitter'
There are a lot of other opportunities with social media influencers. For example, I run groups on Facebook and I invite key people in our target market to join them.
Recently, I started a group on LinkedIn called Marketing Matters More Than Ever. I invite key influencers—people I can learn from. Our online discussions give me insights about them and I can always direct message them with a query.
In a way, the whole social media arena is becoming relationship marketing on steroids, a place to cultivate friendships, create your own influence and have access to people you might never be able to meet in real life.
There are social media stars and they can become friends you make online. I'd never met @FrankEliason when he was at Comcast. He moved on to head social media at Citigroup. When I was giving a seminar at Citibank last week in New York, I tweeted him and we arranged to get together for a few minutes. When we met, we felt like old friends; which, of course, we were.