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With the rise of social media and connectivity to friends, consumers place less faith in recommendations made by companies and celebrity endorsements. As a result, thousands of ordinary individuals have powerful influencers within their networks—a phenomenon we call "influence at scale."
In this article, we explore how companies can respond to this shift. We demonstrate how companies can harness this online community of influencers to affect buying behavior in today’s crowded, competitive marketplaces, and ultimately drive high performance.
Social media and the Internet have made consumers more connected than ever before, enabling an unprecedented and highly efficient flow of information between individuals. Think of it as an online, and highly amplified, word of mouth.
As an example, the average number of contacts a person has on Facebook is 229. This includes close friends, family members, co-workers and casual acquaintances with whom he or she can interact, whether by sharing updates, posting pictures or exchanging opinions about products and brands.
These contacts comprise the individuals’ trusted network, and they exert some degree of influence over these people as they makes their daily posts or indicates their likes and dislikes, even though they are not well-known celebrities or highly influential individuals (as identified by a Klout score). In fact, the mere point that they are “just like the rest of us” is what makes them trustworthy to their network. In this way, ordinary people have become powerful influencers—creating the phenomenon we call influence at scale.
In many cases, the opinions shared by people across their trusted networks also drive consumer buying behaviors. According to a study by Berger and Iyengar, an average consumer talks about 12 different brands on a given day over various channels, and these social transmissions can have a significant impact on what people buy and how they behave.
By contrast, many people have become cautious at best, and cynical at worst, about recommendations from companies.
This shift in influence is posing challenges for companies. Some are using celebrities to influence consumers, but this strategy has limited, long-term effect. A number of leading companies are going further by attempting to harness the influence-at-scale phenomenon by engaging with ordinary consumers, and by extension, with their social networks.
Although these companies cannot completely control these everyday interactions, they can:
Leverage technology to achieve scalability and extend their influence over ordinary consumers. Sharing on Facebook falls into this category, and companies need to provide consumers with the right kind of “sharable” content, such as interesting pictures featuring a product, or customized messages targeting a specific group. Technically, they need to integrate existing websites and mobile apps with online social networks so customers can seamlessly share the company-provided content with their contacts. Another key strategy is pinning, which means integrating with sites like Pinterest.
Analyze data and track metrics related to these conversations to measure effectiveness and refine the associated marketing programs.
Companies that have not yet incorporated the influence at scale insights and tactics into their sales and marketing plans are missing a prime opportunity.
To leverage strategies such as sharing and pinning, or to create their own ways to target ordinary consumers, companies should take the following steps:
Learn about existing social media technologies in the market. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and YouTube are all popular and well-defined social media and Internet platforms. But it is equally important to keep watch for emerging platforms like Houzz and Instagram, as the landscape is evolving daily.
Seek to understand which segment of your company’s customer base interacts with which platforms. For instance, 80 percent of the Pinterest users in the United States are female—whereas, the gender split of Facebook and Twitter users is much closer to 50 percent females and 50 percent males.
Identify what kind of content people like to share and when. Since these are ordinary consumers, as opposed to paid influencers, they will share whatever they want whenever they want. Combining this information with demographics will enable you to provide the right content at the right time, and maximize the engagement.
Look at customer behavior at a given social media platform. If they are sharing third-party content, what are the sources? Options include internal brand and community pages, or external websites and tools. Figure out the sharing patterns of these customers in terms of what type of content is shared when and by which segment. If third-party tools are heavily used for sharing, companies can employ these tools on their websites and social media brand pages.
March 4, 2013
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