Social Marketing Is More Than Just Influencers

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Social influencers are a hot topic in social marketing circles. They are top of the agenda at many social marketing conferences, there is a growing list of books about them and they underpin popular metrics like Fred Reicheld’s troubled Net Promoter Score. But I am beginning to wonder whether the search for the influencers isn’t just more inside-out thinking from an industry in trouble.

Three core reasons.

Firstly, as Watts’ work has shown, it may be that the readiness of the social network to be influenced by others is just as important as the influencers themselves. I don’t see much work being done on the characteristics of influence-ready networks nor on the mechanisms needed to make them so. And this in spite of all Rogers’ work decades ago on social diffusion.

Secondly, as Kumar’s work has shown, not all those likely to be influencers actually do as much influencing as is expected. His recent study looking at WOM propagation in Financial Services and Telecoms customers showed that only a minority of potential influencers actually did any influencing at all, that they won very few new customers and that the majority of the new customers won were actually unprofitable.

Finally, as Reicheld’s work has shown, not everyone who might be a natural influencer is a raving fan of a company, its products or its service. That either means reducing the size of the pool to customer advocates who are also influencers, or resorting to marketing trickery to try and generate messages that influencers can play with. This doesn’t make much sense in a marketing world increasingly dominated by the need to be open, honest and authentic.

I would like to see a more rounded approach to social media development, rather than the influencer-driven approach that seems to be the dominant model at the moment. Let’s not forget that the tragedy of the social marketing commons is only a few poorly-thought through social media campaigns away!

What do you think? Are influencers the way forward for social marketing? Or do we need a more rounded approach that considers other factors too?

Post a comment and get the conversation going.

Graham Hill
Independent CRM Consultant
Interim CRM Manager

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