Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Social Media Influencers - Who They Are and How to Recognize Them?

With a disproportionate ability to spread information and add credibility, influencers are human TV stations and magazines.” Jay Baer, Founder of Convince & Convert, Co-author The NOW Revolution

Smart marketers have started taking a serious note of social media influencers. With information overload from various online and offline channels, today buyers trust opinions of friends and experts, more than the advertising campaigns by brands.

As observed by Ian Carrington, Sales Director for mobiles at Google UK, during the Google+ event at Social Media week in London, “Consumers were 300 percent more likely to buy a product recommended by a friend.

So who really are the social influencers? Celebrities with hundreds of thousands of fans and following? Friends and colleagues whose opinion we tend to trust more? Experts in a particular field? Well, I would say that social influencers can be any or all of these – depending on the product and brand.

For example:
1.    For a medical instruments brand, a well-known doctor’s opinion will be valued more than a well known personality’s opinion.
2. At fashion shows, celebrities have started making their mark because for young generation, those are the fashion icons.
3.  For baby food, organic and earth friendly products, credible Mommy bloggers have become real movers.
4.    A grocery store once sponsored a cooking show where the show chef used items from the store and made exotic dishes. Now, for the store, the chef was the social influencer.
5.    After the Tsunami, Japan Tourism saw a sharp decline in visitors. Therefore, to make an impact, Japan tourism had proposed to start a project inviting bloggers and people who are active on social media to come and visit places in Japan by offering them free flight. The proposal was that the bloggers will visit the places which had got affected by Tsunami and then write about how the places been recovered successfully.

Considering the variety in the types of influencers, the question comes to mind is that how to know if you, as a marketer, are choosing a right influencer? Well, I think the real social media influencers have some common characteristics such as:
  •  They have a very engaged network. They are in touch with their network well. They don’t just broadcast messages but are well-connected with their network and they are able to influence conversations. 
  • They are credible for people to take notice. They opinions are valued because they ‘know’ what they are saying – either because of their professional expertise or general experience.
  •  They have reach – The reach could direct or indirect. Either they are able to directly reach out to masses or they can reach out to people who can in turn reach out to masses.
  • They have their own style and people appreciate them for their style and with that style, they can keep the people engaged.

It is undoubted that in the coming years, a major trend in marketing is going to be social influence targeting. As brands are realizing the value of social influencers, they have started forming more close relationships with them. But I believe that social influencers should never ‘endorse’ any brand. That makes them loose their credibility. Then it starts appearing like advertising. Social influencers should maintain clear, unbiased, informed and well-thought of opinions to retain their credibility.  

What is your take? Have you ever made any purchase decision because of social influencers? Share your thoughts, experiences and comments.