The many-faced god of marketing persists into what is yet another installment of how to orient brands, products, experiences and ideas in the mind of potential consumers who are now fixated on identifying individuals that carry influence within a target audience, rather than marketing to the crowd. The kids call it “Influencer Marketing” but its roots are in a practice understood by businesses long before the Internet was a thing. Who doesn’t remember food critics being wined and dined by local restaurants for a favorable review as their grand opening neared? Reporters and photographers invited to attend plays, movies, concerts and events, with a car waiting out-front and exclusive access, in return for a column and spread in the local newspaper or magazine? Yes, the recommendation game is alive and well, and with social media, more so now than ever, people are seen as their own publications, ripe for intervention.
To get a better handle on the field of Influencer Marketing, People Pattern went out and cold-called a bunch of...
No. We didn’t do that. Instead, we began by defining a search for profiles matching job titles relevant to our goal of developing brand awareness in their market of influence (i.e. Influencer Marketing). Including titles such as Chief Marketing Officer, Brand Manager, Email Marketer, Media Director, Head of PR and Social Media Consultant, we fired up People Pattern’s Portrait Database and found over 300k identical profiles. To be sure we’d have context into the audience’s discussion of Influencer Marketing, we collected posts from Twitter mentioning related keywords and phrases such as #InfluencerMarketing or #Influence #Marketing, amassing close to 100k posts since January 2014. Finally, we overlapped the title-based and conversation-based audiences, and filtered to profiles classified as people located in the United States, leaving us with a significant audience of 1,000 individuals.
Studying the audience's demographics, conversations and associations naturally helped us recognize their distinct characteristics as we prepared to tailor our approach. This is where Influencer Marketing really starts, with research.
At 53% female, 83% white, 90% between 25 and 34 years old and predominantly located in New York or Boston, our target audience of marketers indexes higher than the Twitter U.S. benchmark in almost every demographic. When you consider demographics as a trending function over time based on the audience’s Influencer Marketing conversation, it's good to see the ascension of males discussing the topic, up 23% since January 2015, as although they are still a minority segment, their increase signals a return to a mean U.S. demographic distribution (which can also be said for the audience’s race and age trends), and some proof of the fields’ now mainstream appeal.
Focusing on the audience’s activity over the last year, the up-and-to-the-right swing in the number of unique members posting about Influencer Marketing each month is unmistakable (+480% since January 2015). Surges in engagement are easy to point out, in this case, mapping pivotal moments in the rise of Influencer Marketing that can be attributed to a handful of articles published around each period, as we’ll review later on. More recently, the audience's bi-weekly engagement pattern as of February 2016 is worth noting for content creators who, like anyone trying to reach this audience, could take advantage of what appear to be “down” weeks in which there is less noise in the space vying for individual attention (hint: this may be a good time to reach out and a schedule to plan your content calendar around).
Topics discussed by the audience no doubt center on our searched-for keywords (#influencermarketing, #marketing and #influencer), but apart from those, #contentmarketing and #content are used frequently, and align with tips for Influencer Marketing found in the audience's links shared; since without good content for an influencer to get excited about and circulate, what's the point of Influencer Marketing? Clearly, we are already learning so much :)
Trending topics since 2015 describe the current state of Influencer Marketing through #growthhacking, #infographic, #webinar, #brands, #roi and #blogging, representing what should be ideal themes and formats the audience prefers. One such infographic found in an article shared by the audience via Sprout Social does a nice job in defining Influencer Marketing visually and could act as a model for your own content. A number of apps and services cropped up in accounts @-mentioned by the audience in association with Influencer Marketing, pegging @tapinfluence, @toprank and @traackr as those most discussed. Have you tried these? The absence of @peoplepattern I’m sure was equally troubling to you as well, but underscores the goal of our campaign to sign this audience up.
A few seminal pieces of content can be credited to historic spikes in the audience's conversation as we saw earlier, providing us with a fairly robust lense into their perspective. "How Influencer Marketing Can Grow Your Business" by Juntae DeLane published on DigitalBrandingInstitute.com led to the first major swell in August 2015 under the guise that customers are more likely to buy with a peer recommendation than they are when exposed to traditional marketing tactics. Citing multimedia, and especially blogs as channels, influencers are already known for and thus a place to find them and create content accordingly, Juntae sets the groundwork for what would now be considered go-to strategies in marketing to influencers: affiliate programs, discounts, product reviews and swag.
Since DeLane’s piece however, the highest engagement came the week of April 4th, 2016 when "Influencer outreach is more PR than marketing or advertising” by Chris Abraham was published on Biznology.com. In the article, Abraham, who is open on having been a paid brand influencer, asserts that it’s not about the money, it’s about the relationship. Of course, the gift to an influencer must be of value to them, but determining what that gift ought to be and developing a solid partnership is all about knowing your influencer. Book-ending our understanding for Influencer Marketing between DeLane and Abraham, it's not hard to spot how the practice has advanced from pleading brand acceptance to more subtle and caring advice about the birds and the bees (aka: the brands and the influencers).
Ranking audience members relative to the number of others in the audience following them is a method we use to catalog outstanding individuals within an audience, or as we call them, “Internal Influencers.” For our target audience of marketers in the U.S. who discussed Influencer Marketing at least once over the past two years, Juntae DeLane, Digital Brand Manager for USC, rests comfortably ahead of his contemporaries as the top ranking influencer. As you’ll remember from before, Juntae was the author of one of the first articles on Influencer Marketing that gained traction with this audience and so his notoriety is undeniably defendable. What's curious about Juntae, and several of the other top influencers, is that he identifies himself as a content-focused marketer. Now, based on what we’ve derived from the audience’s conversation, we appreciate the importance of content in Influencer Marketing. Yet one can’t help but wonder what it takes before more titles related to and specific references for “Influencer Marketing” propagate. Where are the "Relationship Builders," "Influencer Whispers," or even "Influencer Marketing Specialists" because clearly the field is present and it’s odd, given the criteria we used to define the audience, that only a handful mention Influencer Marketing in their bios (although they purport to be an influencer).
Mashable, Social Media Today, Social Media Examiner and Ad Age are media outlets followed most by the audience and continue to specify their knowledge base. As such, these are all valid resources for those wanting to relate with the audience and begin to develop a shared industry understanding. Similarly, if your goal is to increase brand recall, ad placements on these sites, perhaps even native ads in the form of sponsored content, could make for a great first impression. Not wanting to read too far into the tea leaves, but there is something to be said for the fact that this audience, outside of a select group of media outlets and marketing products, doesn’t follow a lot of consumer brands, instead following individuals akin to themselves. This is unlike most of the audiences we study and supports the personal connections our audience encourages for successful Influencer Marketing.
Our initial efforts were to identify an audience suitable to our goal of developing brand awareness in the field of Influencer Marketing. After studying the audience's demographics, conversations and associations, our level of sophistication and sensitivity for Influencer Marketing was greatly increased, aiding us as we thought through our “first-impression” campaigns. In scoring and ranking audience members relative to each other, selecting those that should be qualified influencers within the audience as early prospects was fairly painless. What’s left was the proper content to message the audience because, “Hi! Would you like to try People Pattern?” was likely to be ignored. On the contrary, "You're a top influencer in the field of Influencer Market -- See how" felt more alluring and coordinated with their interests, offering them a resource they should want to know more about.
That brings us to the present.
Where we go from here is yet to be determined as our influencer relationships are only just commencing (which is exciting stuff), but a couple of whiteboard sessions so far have produced the next steps below in order of maturity:
Email conversations with each prospect
Engaging their content on social or linking to their blogs
Asking if they’d be interested in a demo
Inviting them to branded events (like our SXSW party)
Offering trial access to the application for review
Working through a mini, collaborative project
Running a webinar together
Developing an infographic-style how-to, report
Putting these best practices to the test (many of which stem from the audience’s conversation) will be closely analyzed by us, and who knows, hopefully a blog post to come that’s co-authored with @JuntaeDeLane et al.
Thank you for reading.