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Interview: Alicia Russell on Measuring Real Influence Research

Research By Ruxandra Mindruta on April 28th 2017

Our influencer marketing interviews saga continues. In today’s edition, we’ve spoken to Alicia Russell, Digital Marketing Executive for Onalytica on measuring real influence.

Her job involves pretty much every aspect of the marketing mix, including everything from email, social media to event marketing, with a strong emphasis on content creation, particularly thought leadership on industry hot topics.

Our discussion focused on the role of influencer marketing in the marketing mix, the differences between B2C vs B2B, the complexity of influencer types and we also tackled one burning challenge that marketers often struggle with: how do you measure real influence?

We learnt a lot from her, and hope you’ll do so too. Have a read below for the most interesting highlights.

Hi Alicia – How do you define ‘influence’?

What’s so interesting about ‘influence’ is that it’s different to everyone; everyone is influenced in their own unique way on a personal level.

On a general level influence is essentially someone managing to make you sit up and listen to what they have to say; the messages they project resonate and make an impact. Their opinion is trusted and well regarded- whether this is because they’re an expert in that area, or simply because their audiences are able to easily relate.

However, a common misconception in the social media sphere is that influence is defined in terms of reach and reach alone, in the form of social media follower numbers.

Yes, reach is very important, but it’s a popularity metric. Of course, those with influence, have influence because they’re popular amongst a particular group of people, but is that really enough?

Influence in its truest, most genuine form is a proportional combination of what we call the 4 Rs: Reach (Follower/subscriber number); Resonance (How much their content is resonating with the rest of their community); Reference (How often are other influencers referencing their work? How well regarded are they?) Relevance (How relevant are the topics and issues that they address?)

What should marketers look for in an influencer?

Authenticity. Why would you jeopardize and waste all that time and hard work you have pumped into your branding, by working with an influencer who isn’t aligned with your brand?

Identify an influencer according to the above criteria, and ensure that they can effectively be an extension of your brand.

If we look on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, we are overwhelmed with product placements and celebrity endorsements. There’s no doubt about it that a B2C brand with the aim of gaining brand exposure may find this method effective with impressive ROI as a result.

However, let’s say you’re a B2B tech company- are reality TV stars’ audiences going to be interested in your offering? The answer is likely to be no.

As a brand, you need to understand and explicitly define exactly what you’re hoping to achieve from implementing influencer marketing or influencer relations into your wider marketing strategy; whether that’s brand exposure, wanting to be heard above the noise in your saturated market place, employee advocacy or brand perceptions/reputational issues.

You need to understand what topics are relevant to your brand so that you can identify influencers that are equally relevant.  Every brand’s requirements are different, which is great, because it’s not a free for all where you’re competing to get an influencer’s attention and commitment.

Why do companies need influencer marketing in their marketing mix?

WOM (word of mouth) marketing is the most effective marketing tactic. All other marketing tactics should just be in place to gain exposure and facilitate a WOM domino effect.

Millennials are the most prominent generation at current; they’re graduating from university or are already embarking on their chosen career paths. In the B2C world, they’re the consumers and in the B2B world they’re soon to be the decision makers – understanding how they think and how to market to them is more important than ever and the time is nigh to start. No brand is exempt from this. 

Millennials contrast to their parents’ generation of the baby boomers; they reject traditional advertising (print, radio and TV) as they naturally hold a scepticism towards brands.

They trust opinions from well-regarded sources; more often than not family and friends, but, also influencers. Influencer marketing holds both WOM and H2H marketing (Human 2 Human) marketing at the crux.

If the above reasons do not resonate, then how about the fact that for every $1 spent on influencer marketing, the average ROI is $6.50? I challenge anyone to argue why they shouldn’t be doing influencer marketing off of the back of that ROI stat.

What are some ‘red flags’ when looking for influencers? 

Both fortunately and unfortunately, being an influencer has become a very lucrative career. I say fortunately, as of course this is a positive thing for those with a strong knowledge base and passion for a certain topic.

They have an opportunity to educate, inspire and influence all while taking home an attractive pay cheque. Unfortunately, this means that many enter this field for all the wrong reasons; desperately searching for a way they can increase their influence in an area.

Even in the B2C world, all the highest paid YouTubers started their channels as a hobby and a passion. Could they have predicted just how lucrative this could be?

With this desire to deem yourself an influencer and earn the big bucks comes with the increased likelihood of gamification of the system. You need to understand not only how influence is defined (the 4Rs), but exactly how influencers can cheat their way to the top for each metric.

Some questions to ask yourself to spot the red flags are:

Reach: They may have a high follower number, but what is the quality of their followers? Are they relevant? Are they follow back or ‘ghost’ accounts? What is their engagement rate? What is their follower to following ratio? Is their follower/following number steady or sporadic? Have they achieved a significant follower number increase in a short space of time?

Reference: Who is referencing their work and are they relevant?  What quality are the twitter lists that they’ve been featured on?

Relevance: They may be ‘influential’ in a topic relevant to you, but how many other unrelated topics do they cover? What topic do they discuss the most- is this relevant to your brand? When they share other influencer’s content- do they comment on it or just retweet? Do they actually appear to genuinely know what they’re talking about?

Resonance:  Do they get real engagement on their content (i.e. comments, not just likes and retweets). Is some of their engagement down to automation on their followers part? Is their engagement reciprocal? Are signs of reciprocal arrangements/agreements?

I’ve covered this topic in more detail in a blog post entitled: ‘How to See Past Fake Influence’ on our site here.

In which ways is influencer marketing for B2B brands different to influencer marketing for B2C businesses?

B2B and B2C brands’ customers are entirely different, therefore, of course the approach taken for influencer marketing and influencer relations needs to be different too.

In fact, influencer marketing is more relevant for B2C brands, whereas influencer relations is more relevant for B2B brands. Not only are they selling to different people but they’re selling completely different things, too.

B2C brands may be able to better leverage conventional celebrities with popular Instagram accounts to gain brand exposure and increase sales; B2B brands not so much. B2B brands looking to engage with influencers of a higher status may find that the price tag that comes with it is not cost effective.

The focus for B2B brands should be on micro influencers; influencers that have a lower, higher quality follower number, along with bundles of relevant knowledge and expertise. These kind of influencers are more likely to engage on mutually beneficial terms rather than solely transactional/financial ones.

They recognize that by collaborating with your brand, they seek to gain exposure too- they’re in a better position to look at the bigger picture. The way in which you’re able to engage with influencers in this way, is by building organic relationships- hence the slight different term of ‘influencer relations’.

This isn’t a quick-win approach. Like any relationship it takes time to lay the foundation, build and nurture. It’s about understanding how the influencer community works and who’s connected to who. This way, you’re much more likely to facilitate influencers transitioning into brand advocates.

The motif and objectives for B2B and B2C brands can often be very different too. Of course, regardless, the end goal of any reason is increased revenue in the form of sales; but the way in which you choose to do it can be very different.

B2C brands will tend to focus on brand exposure and quick ROI. B2B brands may be more likely to have a longer term focus on: brand exposure, employee advocacy, brand and reputational issues and CSR for example. For these reasons, influencer relations in theory can be applied to any area of the business, not just marketing.   

What advice would you give to marketers struggling to measure the value of influencer marketing?

If we want to measure the success of influencer marketing, then we need to have something tangible to measure. It’s all well and good an influencer mentioning your brand at an event for example, but how can we measure this?

The key to successful influencer marketing is content, both yours and theirs. As a marketer, content should be a part of your digital marketing strategy anyway, as it is an optimum opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and educate, promote your offering, create consistent branding & messaging and last and most importantly capture leads.

In order to gain greater exposure and increase leads, you should be collaborating with influencers to co-create content. This will enable you to benefit from their expertise and to gain exposure to their audience too. You can then look at the marketing funnel- have web visitors, enquiries etc increased?

With this said, vanity metrics while insightful, what we’re really interested in is increase in revenue. With the help of Google Analytics, we’re able to create unique URLs so that we can directly monitor conversion rates.

Don’t go into influencer marketing blindly, simply because it is the latest marketing trend; don’t just engage and work with influencers for the sake of it and expect success. Once you’ve done the influencer identification, you need to have a strategic plan in place in which your KPIs are outlined and in line with your wider objectives.  

If increasing brand awareness is your objective, then this can be measured in web traffic and social media share of voice compared to competitors. If you’re aiming to improve your brand’s reputation, then in the same way you identified this as an issue, you can see if it’s working- analyze your customers conversations online to see if there’s been an improvement.