We increasingly hear the term ‘online influencer’ bandied about. But what does it really mean? And would you know one if you saw (heard, or read about) one? Here we look at what makes an influencer – and why your organisation might want to get to know one.
1. A power affecting a person, thing, or course of events, especially one that operates without any direct or apparent effort: relaxed under the influence of the music; the influence of television on modern life.
2. Power to sway or affect based on prestige, wealth, ability, or position: used her parent's influence to get the job.
3a. A person who exerts influence: My parents considered my friend to be a bad influence on me.
3b. An effect or change produced by influence.
Put simply, from a business perspective, an influencer is a person who has the power to affect the way your brand is perceived by those who matter most to your organisation. Today, influencers tend to be active in a variety of media channels, with social media perhaps the most rapidly changing and important.
In fact, with the ability to reach thousands of people in a very short period of time and open an interactive conversation in ways that traditional media cannot, social media is the prime platform for influence, be it to the benefit or the detriment of your brand.
When Barack Obama was elected President for the second time, for example, his “Four more years” Tweet – which went to his more than 34 million followers – was retweeted nearly 800,000 times. In fact, when the TV networks called the victory, Twitter went into manic overdrive, with election-related tweets rising to an average of 327,452 a minute.
Why have one? (And what we can learn from the mummy bloggers)
Given this enormous (and hugely cost effective) potential to connect with the many, it’s not surprising that more and more companies are actively seeking those with the ability not just to reach – but to affect the behaviour of – potential customers. Because it’s that ability to affect behaviour that is the hallmark of a true influencer.
In short, true influencers can be advocates and differentiators for your brand. Although Obama is an extreme example, he does exemplify the power and reach of a social approach to branding.
However, Obama is one thing. But clearly he’s not something that comes along every day. The question for many organisations toying with the idea of connecting with potential influencers is how to find one – and how to persuade him or her to join you for the ride. Because one thing a genuine influencer will not do, is be ‘bought’.
A true influencer must speak with a genuine voice, not be driven by commercial imperatives. A true influencer must invite trust – the most sought-after currency for most brands, especially financial services. The alternative is to invite cynicism – which is to be avoided at all costs.
Which brings us back to the question of ‘why have one?’. Theoretical reach is one thing. But what about reality? And how can it work for your brand?
We are often asked by our clients: ‘Are our customers really online? Do they really seek advice or talk about these decisions online?’ Increasingly, our answer is that, yes, they do.
We’ve conducted a number of ‘social listening’ projects, in which we tap into various online spaces to get an idea of who’s talking about what, to whom – and where – on behalf of our clients. And the answers have surprised more than a few of them.
In addition to some enlightening information about the nature of insurance and superannuation decisions and purchases – about which we can’t say more, we also know that people are increasingly seeking the opinions of others online before making purchase decisions about other products.
A prime example of this is the power of the ‘mummy blogger’. Recent research has shown that 46% of mothers read blogs regularly, and 63% of social networkers read an average of six online reviews before purchasing an item. It’s clear that people do seek the opinions of others online before buying a wide (and sometimes unexpected) range of products and services. Given the increasing uptake of social networks, this is a trend that’s only likely to continue. The question is – what is your company or brand going to do about it?
And while seeking the support of an online influencer is only one of many potential courses of action, it is one worth considering in an industry where trust is paramount.
How do you identify a genuine influencer?
Influencers speak to the same audience as you and move in the same area of the marketplace. They have relevant credentials and are respected by your target market. They possess the power to change behaviour and impact on the way people think and therefore act.
Thinking about influential people from throughout history can help you identify the hallmarks of a genuine influencer. Whether this is Martin Luther who translated the Bible from Latin back in the 1500s and (controversially) made it more accessible to the masses or Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple, whose products and ideas really did change the modern world.
The common denominators are that these people were trusted, they changed behaviour and had an impact on society. Genuine influencers often contribute to moments that change the world.
And while we’re not suggesting another Martin Luther, Steve Jobs (or Barack Obama) is likely to come your way, there’s certainly much to be learned about genuine influence from studying those of their ilk.
What an influencer isn’t
Finally, let’s move to look at the other side of the coin – what an influencer isn’t.
First, he or she isn’t necessarily well known (to the wider world). There is a distinct difference between celebrity and influence and it is important not to confuse the two. Many celebrities have thousands (in fact millions) of social media friends or followers. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the power to change behaviour – or not in the manner that your organisation might desire.
Second, as outlined above – he or she is not driven to advocacy by commercial imperatives or the prospect of material gain. He or she must be a genuine advocate for your product, services, ideas or values. There must be an element of altruism and selflessness – a commitment to some kind of ‘higher purpose’ that aligns closely with that of your own organisation. If it so happens that he or she is wildly successful in his or her own right, all the better and the higher the credibility.
But there must remain a distinction between what they do or achieve in their own right, and the direct benefits they may receive as a result of their advocacy of their brand. Subtle? Yes. Important? Vitally.
Finally, a word about financial services. While the role of online influencers is yet to take off on a large scale in this space, there’s absolutely no reason why the above principles can’t be applied to a financial services or wealth management business. In fact, there’s every reason to believe that the nature of financial services and its reliance on expert commentary, trust and advice, may well lend itself even more to the power of online influence than other industries. So watch this space.