Crossroads of influence marketing

Influence marketing is at a crossroads. As we know it today, influence marketing is primarily defined by social scoring platforms like Klout, Kred and PeerIndex.

However, while these platforms are decent starting points for brands looking to identify influencers, they don’t really go deep enough into contextual and situational human relationships to offer a true metric of influence.

What’s needed is a bigger understanding of how the human psyche works; what makes us tick as people; what impacts our decision process; and where we can predict paths of influence based on transactional relationships, where historic interactions can be merged with current knowledge and the likelihood of a future action based on that knowledge.

To get to that level, though, we need to move to the Third Wave of Influence Marketing.

The First Wave of Influence: Celebrity Endorsements

While Dale Carnegie can arguably be called the Grandfather of Influence as we knew it before social scoring entered the fray, it was the late Dan Edelman and his championing of celebrity endorsements that ushered in the First Wave of Influence.

Edelman saw the value in connecting celebrities with brands to share that brand’s message. The middle of the last century saw Edelman employ people like movie star Vincent Price to be the voice of the California wine industry, and people like baseball legend Nolan Ryan and activist Gloria Steinem.

This type of brand recommendation resulted in several successful campaigns, and turned Edelman’s fledgling self-named company into a global public relations powerhouse.

However, in recent years, the sheen has started to dull with celebrity endorsements. In 2008, Bloomberg BusinessWeek published an excellent article on the dangers of celebrity endorsement, which included (lack of) relevance of the celebrity to the brand.

On her agency blog, Margie Clayman took it one step further and highlighted the worst case scenario for brands when using celebrity endorsements – that of the celebrity “going rogue”.

Tiger Woods and his infidelity; Lance Armstrong and his doping scandal; Oscar Pistorius and the killing of his girlfriend (drawing comparisons to the OJ Simpson murder trial).

The combination of dangers associated to celebrity endorsement, as well as consumers becoming smarter when connecting the dots between endorsement and context, paved the way for the next wave of influence.

The Second Wave of Influence: Social Scoring

The social web has opened up a veritable treasure trove of opportunities for individuals to become the “new celebrity”, or influencer. By having access to social networks, blogging and more, everyday web users can grow a sizable audience and loyal following.

Brands began to take notice of this and naturally wanted to connect. There was just one problem – old school broadcast messaging didn’t quite work on the new web. Instead of connecting with influencers, brands came across as spammy. They needed a conduit.

Enter social scoring.

Early movers in the social influence space like Klout, Kred and PeerIndex saw the opportunity to create a platform that could connect these social influencers to brands looking to use them to promote their goods.

Soon, public scores were attached to individuals, with the higher scoring ones being invited to accept free products from brands, in the hope of exposure to that influencer’s audience.

This was all well and good, until the cracks started to appear.

klout no profile

Questions arose over the validity of the data being used, since it was just based on publicly available information versus more in-depth conversations happening behind closed networks and privacy settings.

People also questioned the right of these platforms to create a public profile and attach a score to you, without your specific content.

Privacy violation was also a hot topic, as well as the creation of profiles of minors – a big no-no for the social networks where the scoring platforms were scraping information from.

Perhaps the biggest crack was the resulting shift in how influence was perceived. Instead of context and micro relationships, influence was now judged by a score and how well a user played into the algorithm of the scoring platforms.

Even today, after improvements to the data, people with social scoring profiles can see their scores drop if they stay away from the likes of Twitter and Facebook for a few days. This “you’re only influential if you’re online” approach has left people questioning the validity of scoring as a method of influence.

Much like celebrity endorsements before them, social scoring platforms are being questioned over the context of how their influence is measured, and where the true transactional influence – that where trust, relationship and more comes into play – sits in their algorithm.

Which leads us to the next wave.

The Third Wave of Influence: The Business of Influence

The biggest problem facing brands today when it comes to influence marketing is the actions and end result that come from their campaigns, and did they result in leads and customers.

While there are various aspects to an influence campaign – short term buzz, new product awareness, donation run for non-profits, etc – the long tail aspect is often forgotten: customer acquisition and loyalty.

The reason for this can be attributed to many things, but the biggest overriding factor is clear – brands are still using influence marketing campaigns as one-offs, and with a campaign mindset.

Influence Marketing survey key insights

This means they find their influencers, agree on the promotion, let the influencer do his or her thing, and then analyze how successful that campaign was.

However, this misses a huge opportunity – to turn influence into true advocacy, and build a loyal and engaged army of fans that are also customers. To do this, brands need to start looking beyond the short-term (potential) viral effect of an influencer, and instead address the needs of the customer via the influencer.

A CRM platform like Nimble can help in this process, and taking influence beyond buzz and into true actionable business return is the natural next step.

Otherwise, the current direction of influence may erode brand trust. The recent indifference to the Kred and LinkedIn Top 1% emails showed early signs that perhaps consumers are getting tired of where we are today.

Instead of generic, we need to address complexity.

But most of all, we need to place the customer at the heart of the influence circle, and understand their needs; where they are in the purchase life cycle; and who immediately impacts their decisions based on their current situation (financial, emotional, etc).

The stage is set for The Third Wave of Influence Marketing – all it needs now is you.