The new golden rule in social marketing is social influence. We often think of online celebrities as having influence, but often times they simply have many fans or talk too much. Real influence means having the ability to make people act or respond. An influential person can inspire people to act, based on shared passions and convictions. Companies who effectively leverage social influence can lead conversations, promote their brands, and lead customers into action – recommendations, loyalty program participation or purchase.

influence definitionRecently, singer Taylor Swift provides an example of social influence in fashion. When young-adult clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch released a t-shirt mocking Swift for her number of boyfriends, Swift’s online fans rushed into action. Using YouTube videos, emails, Tweets, Facebook messages and phone calls, these devoted fans convinced A&F to discontinue the t-shirt.

So how does a company harness this power of influence?

Step One: Identify Influencers in Your Space

Many brands pay big bucks for the coveted celebrity endorsement. Yet a lukewarm endorsement from a paid celebrity is often not as effective as real people who believe and advocate for a product. Many times, the most influential people are not necessarily the ones you would think of. Influencers can come in many forms, beyond the celebrity archetype. Many influential people are best known for: giving great advice, sharing relevant information, connecting people, analyzing trends, solving problems, reporting on issues, advocating a cause, or calling for change.

Brands use a variety of services and approaches to map out Influencers – often called “Influencer Mapping”. Yet even compiling a list of supposed “influencers” can be controversial. Forbes came up with a 2013 List of Top Social Media Influencers, but not everyone agreed with their picks. Forbes based their list on social media scores but necessarily accomplishments. The list was panned as being too limited.

Step Two: Use a System to Manage and Track Their Influence

Many individuals and brands actively work to improve their social influence scores. You can track and analyze social influence, using Klout scores and other social tools. Although experts don’t always agree if Klout’s score are truly accurate, they do offer some insight into a person’s influence on the Internet. According to Forbes.com, “Because outsiders were unsure of how scores were achieved, they questioned their validity. That issue was allayed thanks to a major redesign late last year that offered a more accurate calculation of scores as well as transparency into how they are measured.”

Also, consider context when thinking about social influence. A leader in one space may not be influential in another. According to searchengineland.com, “On the social web, a person may be influential for a particular topic, or a set of keywords (such as “Kinect” or “Birding”), but not at all influential for something else (“Wine Tasting”).”

Step Three: Encourage Influencers to Use Their Power

For brands, finding people with social influence means reaching certain key demographics. Although many brands have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, they may need to look beyond these networks. Some companies make the mistake of overlooking influential bloggers, but the data from recent years has shown that consumers turn to blogs for trusted advice.

According to Technorati Media’s 2013 report,”With regard to overall sources for information on the internet, blogs rank among the top five “most trustworthy” sources. According to consumers, blogs are more influential in shaping opinion than Twitter, and when it comes to affecting purchase decisions, more important than Facebook.”

Blogs are particularly important for certain demographics. For example, a mom looking for gluten free products will consider recommendations from a knowledgeable blogger who understands these issues. This has given rise to a new service around blogger relations – companies who can recruit bloggers and nurture them in a community and have these bloggers produce content that brands benefit from. For instance, Collective Bias taps into a special community of influencer bloggers called “Social Fabric” to create and syndicate content for shopper marketing campaigns.

In today’s world brands cannot ignore the power of online, social influence. They must educate themselves, learn the pros and cons of various approaches and experiment with it.

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