The future of Influencer Marketing is… good old fashioned manners.

Today I caught Problogger Darren Rowse’s session at the Marketing Now conference. The session was called ‘Blogging 101 and Twitter’. The session was obviously aimed at those who are newer to Twitter / blogging (I should have picked that from the title), but it’s always good to see someone so highly regarded talk about their field of expertise. The final question at the end of Darren’s session had him a little stumped. It was actually a really good question that relates to my current area of work – Influencer Marketing.

THE QUESTION. First of all, I should explain the lead up to the question. Darren did a couple of slides during the session featuring tips on “How to Pitch to Bloggers” for companies. The discussion moved on, but then the question was asked ‘What does the future hold for companies trying to engage with influential bloggers, given that more and more companies are effectively spamming bloggers to get them to blog about their products?” (I’m paraphrasing of course, the question was much more eloquent).

 THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION – Darren’s answer was “I just hope that PR people and companies start to get it” – I’m not sure if he realised it,  but the answer to the question as I see it already lay in the slides Darren delivered on how to build loyal followers – I think the same rules apply. My main role at Microsoft is to work with Influencers in our technical communities every day. In all modesty, I think we’ve gotten pretty darn good at it. The difference in the way we work with Influencers as opposed to others out there is that we engage  more deeply, and invest in ongoing relationships with select Influencers, instead of focusing on single transactions with whoever the latest / greatest blogger is. Emailing bloggers on a whim to try and hit your numbers for a single campaign is not a good way forward, as everyone is trying to do this more and more… what will help you succeed is investing in Influencer Relationship Management. After all, how many times have you seen bloggers flame a company for trying to use them for quick-fix marketing campaigns? Building strong, ongoing relationships with key, targeted Influencers will result in them publishing better informed, more in-depth posts about your product, greater inclination on the blogger’s behalf to engage with you, and will it help build loyalty in those people who others listen to the most. There’s a fine line to be trodden around how much you can work with bloggers before their integrity is questioned, but thats for another blog post.

THE FRAMEWORK TO THE ANSWER- I see the best way to achieve this depth of engagement with bloggers (or indeed any Influencers) as a 4 step process (Well, maybe 5).

1 – Identify Influencers – I reckon I could write a book on the subtleties of this topic, but I’ll keep it high level here. What you want are Influencers who have been active for a while (no flash-in-the-pan bloggers allowed), who have good reach, who are highly regarded, who are nice people and whose audience are likely to be interested in your product.

2 – Identify Influencer needs– Every blogger blogs for a reason. Lets take your average IT blogger. I’m completely generalizing here, but in my experience they typically blog for one or more of a small number of reasons – for fame, to share information, to build a professional profile for themselves, to help the world with their IT problems etc. Some might do it to get rich – good luck to them. But they all have a need, a need that you can try to meet with free product, exclusive information, product training, giveaways for their readers,advance notice of press releases etc. OK, so once you know what your Influencer’s need is….

3 – Assess Cost of Influencer Need vs Value created – Is helping the Influencer achieve their need going to be worth it? Forecasting social media outcomes is like trying to pedict what the Melbourne weather will be doing in 2 hours , but you should have some idea as to whether the additional reach you achieve will be worth your while. If not, you may wish to go back to step 1 and find more suitable Influencers. If after returning to Step 1, it’s still not going to deliver good ROI, it may be that Influencer Markting is not the appropriate vehicle for your company.

4 – Help Influencer Fulfill their Need (and hold that position) – a free t-shirt might be good enough motivation for some bloggers (hell, if anyone from a tshirt company is reading this, I’ll hook you up a free blog post in exchange for a free shirt. It doesn’t even have to be a men’s shirt). But a free t-shirt every week for a year – now thats a good way to build loyalty. If you sneak out on a blogger after having them publish a post for you, like a one-night stand sneaking out the bathroom window, feelings can get hurt. At the same time, if you show the blogger that you are impressed with their work and value what they do, you might just become friends with them. After all, bloggers are people too (well, most bloggers). So, (A) engage over a longer period of time, perhaps working with said blogger on a number of campaigns or initiatives and (B) be transparent. Being open about what you are both trying to achieve and finding that common ground is critical.

5 – Re-assess – this is an iterative process. We use a 12 month cycle before we assess if our relationships with our Influencers is working out for both parties.

This is a more resource intensive way to engage with bloggers than many companies and agencies are used to – I recognise this. However, a long-term, more organised approach will mean you are more likely to be get Influencers to act as advocates, you can work with them on multiple occasions rather than for single campaigns, and generally have a better working relationship, where the gives-and-takes are much more elastic.

What do you think? Have you worked with bloggers? Which approach did you use – the “hit-em-hard-and-get-out-approach” or did you work to build a longer term relationship? If you used the former, what sort of results did you get?

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