Okay marketers, it’s time to get something straight… when you buy into influencer marketing, what are you really buying? Media. Influencer marketing is really just another form of media, but can be a much more effective form in my opinion… if done with forethought. And my definition of the term influencer is not a celebrity endorser. While those may be well-known in the wider culture, their influence comes from star power, which in most cases isn’t really going to move the needle on a regular basis when it comes to truly influencing purchasing decisions. Today’s influencers, on the other hand, are frequently talented content creators, with the unique skills necessary to create a community and a willingness to serve the community they build.
Influencer Marketing as Media, and the Impact of Micro-Influencers
So we’ve established that influencer marketing is a form of media, and that it’s more effective for marketing than most traditional media sources. What does that mean for your marketing? It’s important to look beyond the cliché of influence and think about what that word really describes. How many people truly influence your purchasing decisions in a meaningful way, and where does that influence come from?
It Comes Down to Trust
Like most consumers, I’m much more willing to listen to someone who has given me a reason to trust what they have to say. An influencer who seems like nothing more than a mouthpiece for brands is not much different than a celebrity endorser who “loves” the product/service of whatever brand pays them the most. They may have some superficial influence, but ultimately their message falls on deaf ears for most consumers because it lacks the authenticity and substance that builds trust.
Back in 2009 when John Andrews and I were building communities of bloggers to support our own, and other brands, we took note of early social media veterans Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s book called Trust Agents. In it, Chris and Julien describe the impact that the Internet has had on business and how companies have to re-think the way they market to consumers:
“There’s no question that the Internet has changed the way we do business—especially when it comes to marketing. Consumer environments are short on trust and populated by consumers who are cynical, savvy and informed. Though it’s easier than ever to reach your customers, it’s less likely that they’ll listen. Today, the most valuable online currency isn’t the dollar, but trust itself.”
They go on to say that today’s marketers need to become agents of trust—digitally savvy people who use social media tools to foster transparency and honesty and build genuine relationships.
I’ve been saying this for years, but in today’s hyper-digital world and lingo, a “trust agent” has come to be referred to as an “influencer” And you’ve heard me say that we are all influencers—everyone influences someone. And while that’s true, no matter the “size” of the influencer, their influence ultimately comes from the community that they build. And building a community is hard work! Trust doesn’t happen overnight, so the best influencers are willing to prove again and again why you should listen to what they have to say. They do it through engagement, informative, valuable content, and the type of authenticity that only makes itself clear after countless interactions.
The Impact of Micro-Influencers on Decision Making
While a big-name influencer who I’ve come to respect can certainly have an impact on my decisions, it’s often the micro-influencers – the people I really know well – who make the biggest difference. Friends, family, long-time colleagues, people I’ve built relationships with over years of online engagement, are who influence me the most.
Even though those people may not have the same sized network or reach as other influencers, they have a much bigger impact on my decision-making process. The same is true for most consumers, who turn to their most trusted sources when they want to find out what a brand truly has to offer. Successful big-name influencers are able to create a similar sense of community and trust, though never quite as much trust as someone with a more personal connection.
Leveraging Employee Influence
Employee Created Content (ECC / #ECC), and Community Created Content, is the emerging marketing trend that many marketers are beginning to deploy as part of an integrated marketing mix. This robust approach unlocks the relationship and creative value of an organization’s most valuable asset… its people. Your employees are the ones nearest to your customers and know the most about them. All the smart marketing systems, AI, Deep Learning, and Neural Networks, combined can’t match the personalization, and influence, of a single employee’s direct interactions. Simply put, if you want to maximize personalized, contextual marketing, and scale “influencer” marketing, Employee Created Content is for you. Note: employee GENERATED content is not the same as employee CREATED content.
At Photofy, we believe that Employee Created Content (#ECC) has tremendous potential to fill in some of the gaps in current digital marketing stacks and lend employee influence to help scale relevant, contextual content. ECC leverages the personal influence of the content creators, thereby delivering substantially higher engagement rates than corporate branded content… we call it “Personal Influence Media.” For larger organizations, such as franchises and retailers, ECC helps to localize and personalize content in a way that isn’t possible with geo-targeted advertising alone. Deployed at scale, crowd marketing, via Employee Created Content and Community Created Media, can significantly augment corporate digital media efforts…. AND it allows the organization to empower their employee base, and related communities, in this effort as well.
Photofy is the most friction-free tool for Employee Created Content (ECC) and Community Created Content. The easy to use, mobile-only platform, enables anyone to create great looking branded content from corporate approved assets. The platform is uncomplicated and designed for non-creatives… it’s like a box of digital branding Legos your collaborative teams can use to create authentic, on-brand content for digital channels. Marketing teams use Photofy’s portal to manage available assets and track all users creations and shares in real time, giving a comprehensive view of what channels employees are sharing to and which assets are the most popular. This data adds to an overall brand analytics stack, and gives marketers better insights on where to allocate media investments.
Community is Key
Make no mistake, when marketers buy what they are currently referring to as “influence,” what they’re really buying is media, which when used to its best effect, can build a community and have a huge effect on local search. Harnessing the power of a network of trusted micro-influencers to build a dedicated community takes effort, but it’s one of the most effective ways to build your brand and your business. A network may give you reach, but it’s the community that ultimately gives you power—the power to influence decisions on a deeper level, and to connect with people in a way that fosters long-term relationships with your brand.