Should Businesses Treat Influencers Differently?

Little brown bag of Shopping ! © by Andy Hay (2009)

I dare you: go into a room of community managers and start talking about influence. Watch how quickly the conversation heats up. I was recently on a panel about community and influence at SXSW and it really got me thinking about the assumptions and rhetoric that gets thrown around when influencers come up. Here are some myths I've come across:

Myth #1: Companies can’t treat people differently. It’s not fair. Companies DO treat people differently all the time. Airlines have loyalty programs that allow people who fly a lot to stay in special lounges and stand in special lines. Stores often have special deals or rewards for their best customers. This makes sense to us, no one is surprised by it, because business is about the bottom line. Someone who contributes more to the bottom line means more to the company.

Myth #2: Since companies really only care about revenue, they should only care about how much someone spends. There's more than one way for someone to contribute to the bottom line. If one person goes and spend $500 in a store and another only spends $50 but brings 20 of their friends who each spend the same, who’s worth more to the company? This isn’t a trick question, it’s just bringing to light the fact that a customer's value should be their lifetime spend plus referral power, i.e. their ability to bring in other customers who will spend money. Both of those matter.

Myth #3: It’s impossible to tell who’s an influencer so you might as well just give up. Yes, it is hard to tell who's an influencer. No existing metric is perfect, whether it be Klout Score, follower count, friend count or anything else widely available online. Sometimes, someone with a small social presence will tell a story about a company so beautifully (often in a negative way) that it will go viral. Does that mean we should throw our hands up in the air and give up on influencers? No. Because someone with a Klout Score of 70, over 100,000 Twitter followers and a well-followed blog in your industry is someone you care about. You want them to share positively about your company and you want to do everything you can to make that happen. Influencer metrics matter not because they're perfect, but because they're close enough in many cases. Knowing on average where someone stands is much better than knowing nothing.

Myth #4: So you’re saying you should treat people with low Klout Scores like crap? Definitely not. You should have good customer service for all your customers. Zappos is a great example of how to implement this in a sustainable way. Taking care of your customers is good business. When you start talking about influencers, it should be about how to go above and beyond to engage with them or speak in their language. It is not a reason to give everyone else bad service.

Myth #5: Influencer marketing is about bribing influencers. Influencers are smart. They have become influencers because they can tell marketing crap from reality. So here's the thing: for this to work, you have to genuinely engage these people. You have to care what they think and listen to their feedback. You have to get to know them and help them. It doesn't have to all be 1:1, but influencer marketing is not just sending free stuff, it has to actually add value for them. Getting the inside scoop on your new launch is meaningful (if they care about your industry), but getting a special discount coupon is usually not.

So where does this leave us? Influencer metrics are not going away. Influence will be one piece of data we look at when trying to understand our users and customers. Now is the time to understand it and get good at it. Call out the times it's done cheaply and poorly, but don’t take it as a sign that you can completely ignore it. Instead, be the one to get it right.

Megan Berry is the founder of LiftFive, helping startups get social. She was the fourth employee at Klout where she led marketing for two years.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads  #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.

About Megan Berry

Megan Berry is the Director fo Community at RebelMouse. Previously, she was the fourth employee at Klout where she led marketing and community for two years.

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