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Social Influence and The Marketer’s Dilemma

Social Influence and The Marketer’s Dilemma image photo 960x3501

Just 20 short years ago, marketing was pretty easy. You got your budget, you allocated it to the media buy (TV, print, radio, direct), and away you want.

If you were conscientious, you’d collect results and give them to your clients. If you weren’t, you’d correlate any increased foot traffic to a store or business to your awesome marketing efforts.

Every was (kind of) happy, and marketers went about their happy way of sitting in a lofty seat, controlling the message and how that message was disseminated.

Then everything changed.

With the advent of the World Wide Web in 1990 by Tim Berners-Lee, consumers now had a legitimate way to take a little bit of control back from the marketers.

While it was still in its infancy, and search wasn’t as advanced as it is today, private forums and message boards soon sprung up and consumers could connect with peers and fellow customers, and offer true feedback and advice versus the limited face-to-face conversations taking place in the home, workplaces and bars.

Jump forward 15 years, and the growth of Facebook, Twitter, enhanced forums and real-time review sites, and now the marketer’s game – or at least, the bad marketer’s game – was pretty much truly up.

Messaging was no longer the domain of the few – now it had to live up to its claims or be shot down in public, in the full gaze of a paying client. Not only that, but now the power of the budget was being taken away by the introduction of social influence – and the marketer’s dilemma began.

If Everyone’s an Influencer…

Before social media, if brands were looking to truly get their message in front of a certain group of people, they’d buy celebrity endorsements.

From Paris Hilton in a bathing suit washing cars to Madonna being paid $5 million for an advert that was pulled by its sponsor, celebrities have been big draws when going after a certain demographic.

The problem with this approach is when a celebrity takes a fall and the brand takes a hit because of it (or would do, if action wasn’t taken on their behalf).

Think about Tiger Woods and his extra-marital problems; or Lance Armstrong and his recent doping scandal. When heroes fall, they taint a brand too – if you don’t take action, you’re seen as endorsing wrong-doing or questionable behaviour.

Additionally, consumers are much more savvy now and aware of how advertising works – do we really believe that Celebrity X drives Automobile Brand Y? No.

Instead, we move back to where we’ve always been prior to the golden age of advertising and marketing – peer recommendations and trusted resources. In social media, these trusted resources are the new influencers, and brands are now looking to connect with them versus celebrity endorsements.

That in itself leads to the next problem – when social media can empower anyone to become an influencer, who do brands connect with?

It’s Still About the Four A’s

Thanks to some social scoring sites, anyone can appear influential. Increased activity on Twitter and Facebook can see your score on the likes of Klout skyrocket.

For brands that can’t afford to put the legwork in that truly identifies the real influencer for their audience, social scoring sites offer a quick overview of who may be the right person, and let you filter out only those that meet a certain score and above.

While this can give you a quick introduction to the kind of people you’re after, it can also see you miss these very people as context and relevance can often be missed by a simple score.

Additionally, whether social scoring helps you identify people of not, to truly get your message out there you still need the Four A’s:

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  1. Audience – It used to be the medium was the message, but now the audience is the driver – without knowing them, the message is useless, no matter what medium it’s on.
  2. Acceptance – You can have the greatest product and message ever, but if the audience isn’t ready to accept it, will it even be heard?
  3. Application – How you’re perceived can define your success, and how you approach us defines how you’re perceived.
  4. Amplification – The golden ticket, and not just for brands but for social scoring and influence: how far can you get your message?

These four tenets are core to the marketer’s success – but without knowing how to identify true influencers, how can you get all four aligned and working together?

The conversation is just starting on that one…

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