Monday, January 4, 2010

Influencers, Advocates, and the Mainstream

We've all heard the hesitations on social media - "I don't use it", "my peers don't use it", "our buyers don't use it", etc. Even if these statements are taken as true, the need to engage in social media in a B2B marketing context is just as great because of the effect of influencers and advocates, and their effect on the mainstream audiences.

On this blog, much of the discussion has focused on the ability to get an idea, message, or piece of content, based on its own merits, to be discovered by an intended audience. This is indeed the main challenge of today’s marketers. However, there is often a core audience of influencers, advocates, and fans who can be of significant assistance in this effort.

With the decline of the mass publishers, and the advent of micropublishing online, whether through industry sites, social media, communities, or discussion forums, marketers are faced with a highly fragmented set of audiences to deal with. Each individual who writes has a unique set of motivations, ranging from building their own audience and reputation, to being seen as an expert in a community, or developing a business.

By carefully building relationships with this set of influencers over time, and understanding how you can help them achieve their goals, you can develop a friendly crucible for each of your messages. Each of these individuals influences an area of the market , and collectively may influence a larger area of the market than you can influence directly. Many of the key influencers in a particular market space are also watched closely be the mainstream media.

As B2B marketers, involved in social media, we are all aware of the commonly stated goal in social media to "join the conversation", "help others", and "contribute to the community". However, it can occasionally be challenging to see how these philanthropic actions tie back to the metrics that we are all measured on by the companies we work for. It is with this audience of influencers that this connection becomes clear.

The value of contributing to, helping, and engaging with this audience of influencers and advocates is in forming a friendly launch pad for any of your messages. Each story, and each message, must still stand on its own merits and be appropriately non-salesy, but an audience of advocates and fans, carefully nurtured, will give each message a more open-minded look, and may be among the first to share it with their own audience.

When explaining the value of social media to individuals who do not participate, and believe that their peers don't participate, this "indirect" model is the important one to explain. I have seen more than a few "aaaah, I get it" moments on social media, when this indirect model is explained.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
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Josh Reynolds said...

Truer words have not been spoken - leveraging the influencers is the key to building an awareness for your message, but do you have examples of HOW to do so and case studies of WHERE the influence is working?

Steven Woods said...

That's a great question... although not an easy one to answer. It comes down to the classic measurement challenge of social media. You can measure mentions, links, search rank, etc, but they are only very loose proxies for influence.

How to do so really comes down to relationships. Identify the key people in your industry (they write/speak a lot, they are followed and mentioned). Then, add value to their lives, build a relationship with them, brief them as appropriate, ask their opinions, etc. Similar to working with analysts and media.

Mitch said...


I sort of agree, but one piece is troubling.

"The value of contributing to, helping, and engaging with this audience of influencers and advocates is in forming a friendly launch pad for any of your messages."

It does not seem open nor transparent if the objective is to simply create a launching pad for your own messages. If your actions are truly altruistic, this may happen, but if it is all about an end game, it just does not feel right.

Steven Woods said...

it's a good point - and that's probably the most controversial point in the post. I think though, that most people involved in social media is doing it to "get the word out" about something. Perhaps it's a cause, an issue, an area of expertise, or a business - it's something.

Given that, having a group of colleagues/friends who you have built a relationship with, who will read your post to see if it's interesting - and forward it on if it is - is a key part of that.

How do you see the inner circle of relationships that writers/bloggers/etc maintain contributing to that individual's overall effectiveness as a communicator?

Mitch said...


Agree, in that context it seems better, and it really helps focus the message. We (#scrm - Accidental Community) have that, and it works well. Getting new folks into the mix is the new problem. There are a lot of conversations going on, but more and more we seem to be talking to ourselves :-)

The real challenge then becomes that we start speaking in our own 'language' with an almost unique lexicon. This may be digressing from your core post thoughts - but getting those that actually influence the market - not just the community is the fun part! Being able to write in a way that everyone 'Gets it', is the real challenge - Thanks for the post and conversation