The Many Faces of Digital Influence

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I’ve been in the search and social media space long enough to know that without a doubt the two most vexing topics year in and year out are how best to leverage a brands presence in social media and how to engage with influencers. In my opinion, influence in social can have many faces. The face we see the most isn’t an influencer but what I like to call a “frequencer.” This person isn’t as much a thought leader as they are someone who pushes out content like they’re a bot. In fact, they just might be a bot, but what we need to stop doing is calling them an influencer and relying on their influence to help our brand. There’s a better way. You see at the end of the day, it’s all about eyeballs and traffic. If it’s “influence” that drives them, then so be it.

Look Beyond the Numbers

If we look at Twitter for example, what does 600,000 tweets mean to you? Does that mean influence? What are they influencing? How to schedule a post or a tweet 100x a day? They aren’t influencers, they’re conduits of someone else’s information. They’re facilitators of someone else’s thoughts. When do they have time to take a meeting? When do they have time to formulate their own POV?

A thought leader, in my opinion, is sharing their thoughts, their opinions, their fears, their predictions and their point of views on a topic or discipline that they’re deeply familiar with in a space that they’re deeply tethered to. These are people that drive traffic.

Recently Onalytica came out with their Top 100 Influencers in digital transformation, a space that I am deeply familiar with. I don’t necessarily consider myself an influencer in the space, but I am acutely aware of what is happening in the space, who the players are, who the companies are, and who the wannabe influencers are.

If we are going to determine influence by frequency and ‘hashtagery’, then the Onalytica lists are spot on. If we were going to base it on thought leadership and actual engagement, then you’d have to pare the lists down by half, maybe more. This isn’t an indictment on Onalytica or those that are on the list as much as it is a suggestion to brands and those that manage social media at the highest levels, to understand more of what and who you’re measuring. Or better yet, what the end game is.

Brands and orgs can not get caught up in an equation that looks something like this:

Visibility x Frequency = Authority

Readers have to take the content that is pushed out on all social platforms and do the following: Consider the source, consider why it’s being shared, consider what the end game might be, and then determine its value to you and your org. At the end of the day, give me the thought leader, not the influencer.

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The Key to Success in Enterprise Social Media

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Lately, I’ve been thinking way too much about organic B2B social media marketing. For obvious reasons, it’s where I play and have played for the last eight years. In that time, I’ve worked for some of the largest companies in the world and If you were to ask me what keeps me up at night it would vacillate between how can I do more with the tools and resources I have available to me and what am I missing? This is the great struggle for the enterprise in social media. Where does it fit? Does it fit?

I can tell you answering any of these questions requires some soul searching. The bottom line is that creating a solid, measurable, B2B social media strategy is extremely difficult, and to say that the enterprise just doesn’t have a clue, though it makes for great copy, just isn’t true. They know what’s up, to a degree. Whatever their degree of understanding is, the stark reality is that the pressure is on every CMO to make something of the potential that social media might offer the organization.

Let’s talk about business value

That clock you hear in your cube at the office? That’s for your benefit. It’s ticking and you need to figure out real quick where social media fits within your org. I’m of the opinion that social has to be part of any org; and where the rubber meets the road is the understanding or lack of understanding of those that are entrusted with managing it. My quick and dirty argument is that if you don’t use social then what are you going to do?

But let’s back up. You see, the challenge in your organization as it is in every other B2B organization, is that solving for X in social media, boils down to closing the chasm between conversations and conversions. It’s brutal at the B2B level.

Conversions in social media in general, in the purest sense of the word, can be few and very far between. But the same goes for conversations. Can we get people to click on content? Yes. Can we get people to talk about that content? Not really. We can get them to like, share and retweet but those are passive activities. They’re easy and lazy forms of what everyone defines as engagement. Now snap B2B on top of that. Uh-oh.

To put this in terms we can all relate to. A home run in B2B social media from an engagement standpoint for some companies might be 1%. That’s right,1%.

Time to temper those expectations or time to innovate.

I have a suggestion though. Maybe we need to look at B2B social media metrics differently and perhaps weight them differently. If you can get the data right, you can get the analytics right, right? Maybe I’m suggesting that conversations at the the B2B level, are so tough to come by, that maybe we need to measure them differently? Quit looking at them through a B2C lens.

Let’s simplify this. Would you agree that essentially, B2B marketers, are relying on a definition of engagement that a) really doesn’t mean much anymore in social media and b) shouldn’t apply to them? One could argue on behalf of both points.

The way engagement is and has been measured has been fairly consistent from the very beginning, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. What I’m really saying is that in place of more quantifiable metrics, the best that we have or the best that is presented to us as metrics by various tools and platforms, is how we’re measuring success. Likes, loves, mentions, favorites, follows, shares. expands and clickthroughs are our barometers for success in social media. Those are good but we need more, we need better.

For myself, I look at all of those things the same way, they’re good metrics and they give me a glimpse of something, a taste of something, a start, a start to something, something that could turn into something more. That’s it. It’s a pulse and it might be the closest we can get to a customer, client, prospect or partner, short of being with them in the flesh; and that’s pretty damn compelling. However, if we want to move the needle, then we need to do a better job of measuring customer engagement. Why? We need a better snapshot of who does what with our content. Should I care, that you took a millisecond to share, like or re-tweet a piece of my content? Not really, but if I know more about you. then maybe I can gauge and measure your INTENT.

You’re only as good as your content

The driving force behind this will be content. Content is driving everything. Great content, bad content, middle of the road content. All of it, in all its many different forms, is driving e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g…. We call it content, but back in the day it was a newspaper insert, a magazine ad, a radio spot, a 30 second commercial on TV. The form has changed but not the function. Get our attention.

What’s consistently baked into that content? A brands message. The point of that message? Buy our stuff.  And Social media? What’s its form? What’s its function? Buy our stuff.  The difference between the old and the new,  social can be a more direct conduit to the customer. The problem? One voice to two ears. Multiply that exponentially and what do you get? A funnel with noise.

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Social media marketer doesn’t mean social media analytics guru

If we can’t get comfortable with a firm definition of engagement where the only thing that matters is, if there is some type of conversion behind it, then we need to at least get a better idea of who our followers are; or who is most engaged with our stuff. The keys will be your content and how your audience is engaging with it.

The bottom line will be the data that’s derived from your content. Quality data, not just likes and mentions. Once we have the data, then we can make better decisions and informed decisions on what’s working, what’s not and how we’re going to reach those that matter. I’d also like to suggest that having a robust and separate social media analytics practice would be one of the wisest investments the enterprise could have going forward. Translation: Just because you might be a CMO or a director, doesn’t mean you’re a data scientist. Maybe you are but in my opinion, it’s the only way the enterprise is going to move the needle forward in 2018 with social media. Take the analytics side of the equation seriously and fund it properly.

With social media and its various platforms  we do what we do and it is what it is; and because of that, you can do anything, try anything and say anything. For brands, that’s the great potential.

Conversation Gained-How to Determine Influence in B2B Social Media

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I don’t know a marketer out there that would say that influence in social media is not a commodity, if you know how to leverage it.

I do however, know a lot of marketers out there, who struggle with determining and identifying influence in social media and because of that, can not leverage it; and that’s NOT a commodity!

Discussions on influence in social have been around since social began. For me, those postulations and assumptions began back in 2006, so I’ve got 11 plus years of data and experience on what I think and what I think I think. Yea, we were forced to think about it just as much back then, as we’re doing today because influence mattered. Then and now, and thus, the more data a marketer has, the better the decision they can make. Right? Especially in a B2C setting.

Now B2B marketing? B2B influencers? Just as important. Just 5X to 10 X more challenging.

It’s amazing to me that in 2018, the questions on influence in social are still pondered as if it were the latest work-out fad, “Yea but will it give me abs?” The reality is that we shouldn’t be surprised that the questions still persist. Over the years, the definition of what true influence is, has kind of changed, at least in the context on how to measure it and what the criteria is to measure it. The bottom line is this:

Influence is a nebulous but nevertheless, powerful “thing” in B2B social media, and you my dear marketer, need to understand how to determine it, identify who is influential within your space, and then decide what you’re going to do about it.

Pro Tip #1: If your org is using social media of any type, you should have some type of social media influencer strategy. Even if it’s low impact. 

The whole reason is simple. The more you know about your space,  the easier it is to decide how to market it to it. And… Having some type of influencer strategy will allow you to know more about the space that you’re marketing in and to. It’s a reciprocal arrangement that mutually benefits both parties.

By “owning your space,” individually, organizationally and operationally, you become the true master of your business and social domain. Knowing your industry backwards and forwards becomes one of your biggest strengths; and yes, ideally industry expertise should extend from the c-suite all the way down to the lower junior or new hire levels.  For your newbies, it should be about continuous training and boots on the ground experience so that they can become SME’s ( subject matter experts).

Additionally and theoretically, by ‘owning it,’ you should now know by default the answers to the below questions that slightly resemble a SWOT analysis:

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  • What makes your company great?
  • What makes your company and its products or services better or different?
  • Who is your greatest threat? Which competitor do you pay attention to?
  • What does your company not do well?
  • How can we improve the #CX? The #UX?

Ironically, The challenge to this pragmatic, common sense thinking is that we’re all situated in a unique moment in time in which, whether you like it or not, there’s a high likelihood that your organization might be in the midst of  some type of digital transformation. Which means that your company might be culturally changing its  digital capabilities as it pertains to process, product, services, technologies and assets in all to improve operational efficiency, enhance customer value and the customer experience, manage risk, and uncover new opportunities to compete and make money. That’s a mouthful…

The translation? The key to being a good social media marketer is what? Exactly! It’s your ability to answer an expanded list of the above questions:

  • How well  do you know your space? Posed as a question and a statement
  • How well  do you know your company,  your service, your product and its people?
  • Do you have a social/digital mindset? You’ll probably need to be somewhat adept at that aspect or understanding. Do you know what that means?
  • How “good” are you at social media engagement? If you can’t hold a conversation, don’t understand context and are taking yourself too seriously-this might not be for you
  • Do you know what you’re doing? Like, really know what you’re doing? Managing your personal social accounts helps, but this is different.
  • Do you know what the strategy, tactics & goals are for your organization?
  • Can you execute a social media marketing strategy?
  • Do you know what success is? Can you define it?
  • Do you know who the players are? Do you know who isn’t?
  • Who moves the needle in your space? *Hint: These might be (are) your influencers
  • Can you measure your results?

Keep in mind that anyone can “do” social media marketing especially in a B2C setting but can you be the special person that can own it in a B2B setting?

Pro Tip #2: You don’t need any tools to do B2B social media marketing effectively.

So the grand point of all that I’ve been saying up to this point is this. If you know your space, you’re a social media marketing worker bee, you’re managing some initiatives and you’ve been doing it for over 9 months, then you should be able to tell me pretty right away…Who your industries’ influencers are. Could you do it?

You don’t need a tool, though it can and could make it easier in identifying some ‘people’ that may not be as active and yet are still effective and impactful within the space. Point being, if you’re actively engaging, managing and participating, and you are the owner of the branded social media accounts of your organization, then you know what’s up. You’ll be able to answer the above questions. You will be and are the master of your social domain and you’ll know who the influencers are.

Pro Tip #3: Influence needs to be qualitative not quantitative

Here’s how I measure influence in social media. particularly Twitter. I look for those that are authentic voices and experts within their space. Authentic Voice being the operative term. I look for practitioners. I look for ‘normal’ activity. Not ridiculous participation. I’m looking for success not excess.

If you’ve written a book on Big Data and analytics in social media for example, and that’s what your interests are, and that’s what you talk about on social platforms and you share things that pertain to that on social platforms, and your feed shows a balance of content mixed with conversations and your numbers, i.e., your number of followers,  the number of people you are following and your number of tweets, are balanced, I would consider you an influencer. I would follow you. A big key for me going forward, however, would be how well do you engage?

Should we consider the person that has tweeted over 600,000 times, has a 150,000 followers and is following 150,000, an influencer? Here’s more context. Is that same person an influencer if they occasionally write or tweet about the Internet of Things, AI, VR, AR, MR, machine learning, digital transformation, digital disruption, design thinking, 5G and cloud computing? Are they an expert in all of those things? Are they an expert in one thing? What if they don’t engage?

By the way, that’s the description of an actual person on Twitter that brands and sells themselves as an influencer. You can come to your own conclusions on that but here are some more qualifying questions that might help you decide and determine true social media influence

  • Do they enhance your experience?
  • Do they engage?
  • Do they share your content?
  • Do you get the sense that they don’t even pay attention to their feed?
  • Are they a SME? An expert?
  • Are they an industry resource?
  • Who do they work for?
  • Do they push out their own though leadership?
  • Could they solve your organization’s most difficult problems?

At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, “What do I want out of my relationships with the influencers that I have targeted and or have followed in social media?” Once you’ve narrowed down who the influencers are, once you have thoroughly vetted them, then you can start thinking about your influencer strategy and tactics in order to get the most out of your B2B social media marketing initiatives and the influencers that are in your space.

Internal Social Networks Versus Social Networks-Where Should You Spend Your Time?

The tug-o-war for your time when you participate on multiple social networks can be difficult. Who get’s it and who doesn’t?  Who get’s the honor of your participation can also affect your impact because THAT will be where you spend the bulk of your time. Where should you spend your time? On the networks that matter to you or on the networks where you HAVE to participate?

Does it matter if you create content or if you lurk?  It might, though either exercise require an investment of your time. The fact is, the more networks you’re in, the more likely that your content is going to suck in some of them. It’s the law of averages. You’re going to devote more time and effort to the networks that matter. For those that are of less importance, the content you create, should you even bother, will be diluted. So does the internal corporate network win then?

It Depends

You see,time, your precious time, is the primary commodity here regardless of where you spend the bulk of it and what you specifically do with it. The less time you have, the more likely you are to mail in your participation in networks that matter less. Your day is already full and now companies want you to participate in and contribute to these new growing internal networks. But what about your Facebook page, Twitter account and your blog?

If you are part of the 70%  who just read and watch stuff, though your time is still sacrificed, it won’t really move the needle on the quality of your limited contact with others in any network. So who get’s it? The benefit of your quality time that is. For those that are part of  internal corporate networks, it can be an issue. There might be the sense of obligation to participate. Even though the reality might be that you’re just going through the motions of participation, because it’s… work stuff. It really depends on what type of social media consumer or influencer you want to be, how you want to move the needle and who wins in the competition for your attention and time.

It almost seems like in the end, it’s a push and no one’s get the benefit of the best of what you might have to offer.

The New Paradigm-Everyone has a Voice

The new paradigm. Everyone has a voice. The new reality? Even a 12 year old has the power to make things happen, quickly. Everyone has the ability to create buzz. Everyone has the chance to tell a story. Everyone has the platform to have something go viral.

Case in point: 12-year old Maddi Jane — who has been lighting up YouTube with covers that have racked up over a 145 million total upload views on her YouTube channel. Not limiting herself to just YouTube, Jane, back on Sept. 10, crossed the threshold of 400,000 fans on Facebook-with 500,000 not too far off.

As I tweeted yesterday” You can’t plan viral. Viral is an accelerated manifestation of itself. It’s something that takes on a life of its own”

 

The secret sauce of social is selfishness-and that’s not a bad thing

Excuse me while I say the following: If  it wasn’t for social media, you wouldn’t be anywhere near where you are right now in your career. To put it more succinctly, social media has made a lot of you. Yes I know that’s like saying if it wasn’t for the internet Bill Gates wouldn’t be anything but another coder, but let me back up. You see, for a lot of us, and notice I said us, social media added that missing layer. That missing dimension, that lens  into our personal, private and public lives.

Social is the accelerant.

In a way, using social is very much like wining and dining to get what we need.  For some, utilizing social media to “court” others and market ourselves, is the same as drug reps taking doctors on ski trips to “earn” their business.  Or going out on a date where we both talk about ourselves. It’s an interview. It’s the handshake and the introduction. Social is the empty seat next to you on an airplane that soon will be occupied by someone you can talk to for 3 hours. Or not. The potential is there should you choose to engage. The seat is the tool or the platform for discussion..

People have been using each other for centuries. In social media, the same holds true. People are using each other because they’re seeing that our social selves  can be so easily intertwined into our ability to create, and curate; and yet it’s also dependent on consumption, its dependent on sharing, dependent on broadcasting the message, the message that is you and me. Some of you may or may not know this but we are feeding off of each other. We’re sitting across from each other on that plane and we both have the same opportunity to talk to each other and take it to another level.

Without those elements, you are nothing but a product of what we were prior to the boom of the internet- a product of the 80’s and early 90’s. You are static. Social has added flash to your being. It’s added substance to who you are or… who you want to be, should you so choose.

It starts with Linkedin

Think about this.  Linkedin is and became one of the initial gateways into people’s lives; and for a lot of people, who were never into that “social thing”, and who are still not that social, Linkedin is their gateway into social media.  In fact, if we go by the 90-9-1 model, Linkedin might be as social as some people will ever get! But at the end of the day, is Linkedin a social network? Perhaps. It has elements of social. But what Linkedin really is, is it’s our vetting tool. It’s  our way to learn more about others, and have others learn more about us. But really it may have evolved with Linkedin, but it started with blogging.

Bloggers were considered outlaws

Social has a quid pro quo nature to it. In fact, today’s social elements were born out of the early days of blogging which were veiled in a sensibility of  “us versus them”  camaraderie. Essentially it boiled down to a  “if you show me yours I’ll show you mine” mentality of reading, commenting, and sharing each others blogs. It was almost the manual defacto way that you grew your readership. But it also allowed us to show each other and others our many layers in ways in which we never were able to before.

Blogs allowed us and allow us to say whatever we wanted when we wanted, and we used each other, and then we used someone else, and they used us too-and we let them, if it grew our readers. It’s how blogging works.  Funny but in the non-blogging world, we indirectly and directly use each other every day by associating ourselves with new people and entities that we think can help us get where we want to go. It’s not sacrilege to say this but people use each other all the time; but it might be sacrilege to say this though…Using each other is the nature of social media.

We call it social media but it could easily be called useful media.

Social has added that dimension of vetting the who, search added the dimension of vetting the what. Yet we still have to work, we still have to pay our bills, and eat, drive, sleep and do that daily mundane life stuff; because the  human element still weaves its way through all of that offline stuff. The new difference is, social media is adding that dynamic layer of personal utility. It’s adding the layer of creating who we are, so that someone might see who we are. Social is selfish. It helps us. It connects us. And that’s not a bad thing, it’s more just the reality of where we are going.

Social Media Conundrum #12: Justin Bieber is popular, but he’s not influential?

I can’t believe I’m going to weigh in on this, but I saw a tweet from a notable social media analytics consultant in which the following was stated for the umteenth time.

Popularity does not equal influence…

I immediately thought, “Could Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga sell product”? Isn’t that influence?I then had to go look up a quick definition of influence.

in·flu·ence

ˈɪnfluəns/ [in-floo-uhns] noun, verb, -enced, -enc·ing.

the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others

First I wanted to check something on Twitaholic: The top 15 people being followed on Twitter.

This is a list of the top 15 most “popular” people on Twitter. Let’s look and see who could sell or who does sell product. Let’s pare the list down first.

We have Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Kim Kardashian, Ashton Kutcher, Ellen, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Oprah, 50Cent, Ashley Tisdale and Selena Gomez. 12 Celebrities from the world of entertainment. Immensely popular. But are they influential? Can they produce a compelling action on someone to buy product? Could they change behaviors and opinions? Can they influence people to buy stuff?

Lady Gaga sells video sunglasses for Polaroid, headphones for Beats by Dre, phones for VirginMobile, and a host of items and services via product placement in her videos. All this adds up to roughly $5-$10 million per year.

Rather than quote the whole  article from Guy Kawasaki, read about Guy’s experience at a Justin Bieber concert and the machine behind his persona.

Britney has deals with Elizabeth Arden and Candies. Taylor Swift has deals with Sony and CoverGirl. 50 Cent has deals with Reebok, Vitamin Water, Right Guard, PlayStation, and Steiner Sports.

We could easily go through each celebrity on this list and view the products that they sell. They sell the products because they can influence buyer behavior based on their celebrity, based on their popularity.  Am I wrong? I know sales are one thing and fame is fleeting, but because of their celebrity and popularity they can influence buyer behavior right now. Right?

How can you possibly say no? Isn’t that influence? What am I missing here? Help me out.