Influencer marketing as practised today has several issues, one of which is ‘fraud’. Globally it is estimated that Influencer marketing fraud will cost companies $1.3 billion or 9000 crores, which is more than the total digital media spend in India. At the heart of the problem is paying influencers based on reach, as measured by a number of followers on social media, notably Instagram. However influencers sometimes buy fake followers, or count followers who no longer engage on a given platform, meaning brands pay for eyeballs that don’t exist.
Brands should demand integrity and transparency from social media influencers, to ensure that they are paying for actual reach. But this is not enough. Brand owners need to recognize that trust is a critical foundation for influencing consumer behavior, and people trust their peers many times more than paid social media influencers. The next frontier for Influencer marketing thus is engaging with real users of a product and service in a sustained manner so that they advocate and influence their peers’ purchase decisions.
Here are 3 things to consider as companies develop the trust pillar in their influencer marketing mix, powered by real users of their product/service
How To Convince The Decision Makers
Like all new initiatives, there will be inevitable to push backs internally. Most human beings especially managers in big companies are risk-averse and want to follow a “proven trend”. Nobody wants to invest time in proving or creating a new paradigm.
So, reduce the risk and highlight the potential benefits and ROI. Few managers will say no to the following pitch, “There are several studies showing that trust in real users of a product is more than trust in paid influencers. Right now we are spending X on Influencer marketing. I suggest we spend 20% of that budget to add trusted everyday influencers to the mix. It is complementary to social media influencers and will improve the ROI. We should at least try it”
The image below sums up the synergy and complementary nature of the 3 type of Influencers we need for every product or service.
In summary, to get internal buy-in start small and highlight the synergy and thus ROI impact
What To Plan For Before Launching A Community Of Your Users
Post the internal buy-in, the main question to answer is –Why will users join the community? What value will be offering them? What will make them come back regularly? This is the most critical element and a make or breaks for your community initiative. Thankfully there are enough learnings and best practices available to guide you.
The big point is – While the main benefit of the community to the business/brand is peer to peer influence and advocacy, for users to advocate the brand to their peers their needs to be a value exchange. They need to get some value from joining the community.
This value does not and in fact should not only be payments or free product, like it is for social media influencers. Brands can deliver value to their users by giving them useful information, tips, hacks in a related area and also recognizing the users. For example, the community our company WOOP is managing for Philips Avent is helping new moms handle breastfeeding better.
The reason moms are coming back to the community is to get advice not just from Avent and experts on breastfeeding but also from other new moms in the community. We are also recognizing moms who are helping other moms who are giving them a sense of recognition and achievement.
Through this process, we have created a group of moms who are not just very engaged with the brand and the topic of breastfeeding but have also been able to segment the community. Now when the brand needs support for an initiative it is easy to choose and activate the right set of peer influencers from the community.
In summary, get the purpose and reason for the existence of the community right. It has to add value to the consumer’s life. Else it is not a community. It is just a database of users to whom you are sending messages expecting them to support the brand. That is old fashioned interruption marketing.
How To Recruit, Engage And Manage The Community?
Once we have arrived at the purpose of the community it is time to operationalise it. Community management is a huge domain and tomes have been written on it already. A few simple pointers to get it right.
First is recruitment. Follow the process of SEED, SPREAD, REFER.
Seed your community by inviting users in your database, by doing targeted social ads asking users to join, by getting your social media influencers to ask people within their followers who use the product to join the community. Then spread the word -all the touchpoints of your brand online or offline eg packaging, purchase receipts should be inviting users to join the community. This is free recruitment. Once there is a reasonable base and users see value in the community, ask them to refer friends to join. You will be pleasantly surprised by how effective and efficient this is.
Next comes engagement. Key here is to strike a balance between brand to user and user to user engagement. Your community is not for broadcasting messages. Brand’s role is to be the facilitator by providing triggers for engagement but the bulk of the action on a healthy community is user contributions and peer to peer. Running polls, posing questions is a good and non-intrusive way to trigger community engagement.
Last but not least is the question of how to manage the community efficiently. There are enough platforms available for community management with a pretty standard stack of features. This should be the least of your worries. A simple google search will unearth many tools including some free options.
However, it is easy to get dazzled and confused when presented by so many options. One important decision to make is, creating a new web destination for the community (website or app) or running the community using something like Facebook groups – already on most phones, familiar UI. There are pros and cons for both, but our view is – It is better to be part of an ecosystem with which consumers are already familiar.
Influencer marketing is here to stay but it needs to evolve beyond a reach mentality to add trust to the mix because people ultimately buy what they trust. To build trust, it is essential to have peer to peer advocacy and this can be achieved by nurturing a community of real users of your product or service.