With the rapid rise of social media, buyers are placing growing trust in the opinions of new sources that use blogs, online forums, and sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to spread their message; by doing so, they have morphed AR into a broader category we call influencer relations (IR). Today’s influencers come in all shapes and sizes; they live both outside of an organization’s walls as well as within them, when evaluated as a whole, they fall into four categories, including:
1. Traditional. Just because buyers are placing weight on new groups of influencers doesn’t mean they are ignoring analysts, journalists and associations, particularly when it comes to their most important purchases. The well-respected analyst firms typically carry more weight than individual analysts that have set out on their own; rosters within both categories must be tightly maintained. Gathering feedback from sales will help in understanding when in their processes that buyers are relying on traditional influencers, as well as tracking any changes in behavior. Understanding how traditional sources of influence are using social media means to expand their reach will help ensure your organization is properly monitoring all of the ways that these influencers are talking about your organization and its offerings.
2. Social media pundits. From influential bloggers to Twitter personalities, new groups of pundits regularly come and go, and exert different degrees of influence over buyers that must be monitored. Create a list of criteria that will help set the level of engagement that particular influencers require, using the quality of content, their relevance to your business, search engine ranking data and buyer surveys to understand the degree of influence they exert. It’s not enough to look at quantitative measures to rank influencers; there may be bloggers that gain notoriety simply by being negative all the time; thus, no amount of engagement is likely to change their opinions. When your list is complete, consider how this group wishes to engage; some may only want to be dealt with electronically, while others may be willing to attend live events. Work with local representatives and communications agencies to identify any regional social media influencers under your online radar, as well as how these influencers prefer to be engaged.
3. Customers. Existing customers can have a significant effect on shaping the opinions of prospects in the late stages of the buying process. While traditional case studies and other reference components are certainly valuable, nothing will have as much weight as a happy customer who goes public in forums such as live events, online events and social media vehicles from blogs to communities. The rise of social media means that buyers can now have a network to leverage throughout the buying process to ask specific questions about a vendor. Pay attention to the sentiment and tone of customer postings, and don’t neglect the value of a customer community. Buyers want to engage with other buyers; give them platforms for discussion.
4. Employees. Particularly from a support standpoint, employees who are engaged and forthright have the opportunity to promote positive interactions with a wide range of customers and influencers through social media. Organizations should promote employee use of social media to encourage their potential impact on other influencers. By having a centralized policy to govern the use of social media, organizations can support employee involvement with customers while maintaining policies and procedures on the types of information and content that can be shared publicly. Not only does this strategy act as an early warning system for identifying potential issues, it also heightens the possibility that a company can impact influencer views by engaging quickly and leaving positive impressions in the public space.
While it may be easier to maintain a simple checklist of the usual analysts and journalists to interact with, having a wider influencer universe can help get your message out to a larger range of prospects. The evolution from AR to IR, however, means that communications executives must be more proactive in identifying and engaging new categories of influencers on their turf, and on their terms. Due to the nature of social media, the credibility and influence of individuals can change rapidly; the better you understand your customers’ habits and requirements, the more you’ll know who to engage with and how. Canadian Marketing Blog - Canadian Marketing Association by Albert (Ally) Motz