Just 20 short years ago, marketing was pretty easy. You got your budget, you allocated it to the media buy (TV, print, radio, direct), and away you went.

If you were conscientious, you’d collect results and give them to your clients. If you weren’t, you’d correlate any increased foot traffic to a store or business to your awesome marketing efforts.

Everyone was (kind of) happy, and marketers went about their merry way of sitting in a lofty seat, controlling the message and how that message was disseminated.

Then everything changed.

With the advent of the World Wide Web in 1990 by Tim Berners-Lee, consumers now had a legitimate way to take a little bit of control back from the marketers.

While it was still in its infancy, and search wasn’t as advanced as it is today, private forums and message boards soon sprung up and consumers could connect with peers and fellow customers, and offer true feedback and advice versus the limited face-to-face conversations taking place in the home, workplaces and bars.

Jump forward 15 years, and the growth of Facebook, Twitter, enhanced forums and real-time review sites, and now the marketer’s game – or at least, the bad marketer’s game – was pretty much truly up.

Messaging was no longer the domain of the few – now it had to live up to its claims or be shot down in public, in the full gaze of a paying client. Not only that, but now the power of the budget was being taken away by the introduction of social influence – and the marketer’s dilemma began.

If Everyone’s an Influencer…

Before social media, if brands were looking to truly get their message in front of a certain group of people, they’d buy celebrity endorsements.

From Paris Hilton in a bathing suit washing cars to Madonna being paid $5 million for an advert that was pulled by its sponsor, celebrities have been big draws when going after a certain demographic.

The problem with this approach is when a celebrity takes a fall and the brand takes a hit because of it (or would do, if action wasn’t taken on their behalf).

Think about Tiger Woods and his extra-marital problems; or Lance Armstrong and his recent doping scandal. When heroes fall, they taint a brand too – if you don’t take action, you’re seen as endorsing wrong-doing or questionable behaviour.

Additionally, consumers are much more savvy now and aware of how advertising works – do we really believe that Celebrity X drives Automobile Brand Y? No.

Instead, we move back to where we’ve always been prior to the golden age of advertising and marketing – peer recommendations and trusted resources. In social media, these trusted resources are the new influencers, and brands are now looking to connect with them versus celebrity endorsements.

That in itself leads to the next problem – when social media can empower anyone to become an influencer, who do brands connect with?

It’s All About the Four A’s

Thanks to some social scoring sites, anyone can appear influential. Increased activity on Twitter and Facebook can see your score on the likes of Klout skyrocket.

For brands that can’t afford to put the legwork in that truly identifies the real influencer for their audience, social scoring sites offer a quick overview of who may be the right person, and let you filter out only those that meet a certain score and above.

While this can give you a quick introduction to the kind of people you’re after, it can also see you miss these very people as context and relevance can often be missed by a simple score.

Additionally, whether social scoring helps you identify people or not, to truly get your message out there you still need the Four A’s:

The Four A's

  1. Audience – It used to be the medium was the message, but now the audience is the driver – without knowing them, the message is useless, no matter what medium it’s on.
  2. Acceptance – You can have the greatest product and message ever, but if the audience isn’t ready to accept it, will it even be heard?
  3. Application – How you’re perceived can define your success, and how you approach us defines how you’re perceived.
  4. Amplification – The golden ticket, and not just for brands but for social scoring and influence: how far can you get your message?

These four tenets are core to the marketer’s success – but without knowing how to identify true influencers, how can you get all four aligned and working together?

The conversation is just starting on that one…

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  1. says

    I find the best way to identify influencers is still whitepages.com.

    Seriously though, I think this all really comes back to listening. While engagement isn’t the be all/end all it certainly does play a large part. If you’re plugged in to your audience, the rest tends to take care of itself.

    • says

      You know, it’s ironic you mention White Pages, mate – the amount of research I used to do in the book version of that site back in the day. :)

      But yeah, a good marketer isn’t a promoter; a good marketer is a listener and researcher first, and then armed with that information, can target accordingly. Funny how that works… πŸ˜‰

  2. says

    Great question. Exactly who are the proper influencers for your brand? Is your target market itself the best influencer? Really connecting with (and helping) your target market and niche would probably be the best strategy for encouraging your influencers if they are one and the same.

    • says

      When you understand the audience, you understand who truly connects with them and how. Not in a mass numbers approach like some of the current practices, but from a true understanding of who you need to speak with and how to do that. Get that right…

      Cheers, mate!

      • AmyMccTobin says

        I agree with you here: if you understand your MARKET and therefore who your customer is, you’ll know who the influencers are in that sphere. If you’re selling Coke however, or something where your market is EVERYBODY, then I think the celebrities are still your best Influencers. Klout and it’s ilk sucks because it can’t properly measure the influencers of niche markets because you can’t build a program to do that… you need to study, measure and listen….. to that small market… and find out who the cool kids are in that playground.

        • says

          For something as mass market, for sure – but then you still take the risk that it’s going to blow back in your face (like the Pepsi/Madonna pairing). Of course, that’s the risk you take when you hand over the reins to an external partner. πŸ˜‰

          • AmyMccTobin says

            Well of course the really genius marketers create their own characters that become famous because of their brilliant advertising: Flo, the hot Old Spice guy… the little lizard. I’m not advocating celebrity endorsements – I never for a second thought that Derek Jeter pretending he owns a Ford Edge was a reason to check them out. My point is: if your target is a mass one, you don’t need Klout to tell you who is an online influencer. And if your target market is smaller, you need to get to know that audience, and the influencers will become apparent. I don’t see how an algorithm can effectively deduce that.

            PS: when you’re sick of trolling around the web tonight, head over to my blog where I revisit a conversation we’ve had more than once.

            • says

              There are some great tools around now that help the smaller guys identify faster. The GetSqueeze platform, that highlights which platform is offering the most bang for your buck, and who’s sharing. Or Trendspottr, which can essentially predict influencers (upcoming post on that one). Or the Tellagence guys over in Portland, although they’re more geared towards Enterprise.

              Definitely an advocate for getting to know your customers, but again (as we’ve discussed in the past), scale can play against that. Which is where an algorithm can help (at least, the good ones).

  3. says

    In a sense, we’ve become facilitators, rather than marketers. We have to build it and get out of the way, let the influencers do their thing, and be ready to hop into the conversation when needed.

  4. AmyMccTobin says

    Well I thought you were going to answer the last question for me: how do we identify the true influencers? Build that program and you’ll be rich. πŸ˜‰

      • says

        @AmyMccTobin:disqus great question. Klout has nothing to do with influence. @Chobani knows I am an influencer. Why? Because they got to know me directly vs just counting my tweets. They know I have converted strangers to Cho in the Supermarket Dairy Section. Not 1. But many. In the checkout line. None of which they will really see online. And when I used to Facebook I even would respond to people who posted on their page as a psuedo CRM champion. And while I admit to getting a few free cases of yogurt over time. Some I won. And I never demanded a thing. No need for a perk or anything.

        Talk with your customers especially ones you see often.

  5. says

    Great post and great question! I am glad the conversation is just getting started because this topic is starting to become very popular and there is a lot of bad info floating around.

    I know for me, it comes down to knowing your target audience. When you know them you can implement your 4 A’s you mentioned.

    If you don’t know your target audience, you will be spinning your wheels.

    Lastly, I am exciting about some new social scoring platforms I know that are in the works right now. They operate totally different than platforms like klout. From what I have heard these new platforms have much more of a common sense about their scoring. I know they have been testing with big TV and political brands. So we shall see what happens.

    Thanks for the great post Danny! :)

  6. says

    The more successful marketers in the “old days” also successfully understood and utilized the four “A’s”. They applied their understanding of “traditional media” and other communications tools to do exactly what you advise here, only in a different format.

    Social media introduced new tools. A generation of “experts” led so many to believe that they can use social media to market their businesses, even without a clear vision of the four A’s, much less with any real knowledge of basic marketing techniques.

    In my view, the only thing that has changed are the tools. The old ones still work and the new ones sure make the job easier – as long as you actually know how to do the job.

    • says

      Amen to that, sir – it’s why “old-fashioned” media like the TV and media spend still outweighs social media, despite what these “experts” said. Funny, that…

  7. says

    Your website changes more often than Lindsay Lohan misses her court dates.

    I am going to rope in @jeffespo here and last year’s Brand Bowl. Jeff tries to predict the NFL games using his social listening. Radian 6 and Mullen tried to judge the most liked Superbowl ads. and lastly @jugnoome who predicted the Obama landslide (don’t think I missed that). The first two examples show that chatter doesn’t equate to success. Jeff has I think a 55% success rate, but then talking about a team and wanting it to win has nothing to do with if they will win in my opinion. The Brand Bowl winners 2 years back were commercials I deemed a waste of ad spend (VW the force, Chrysler M&M) where they either didn’t sell the car (VW) or for Chrysler their cars still suck and are ugly and have quality problems (guess M&M couldn’t fix that).

    In Jugnoome’s case you showed 1] enthusiasm was greater for Obama and volume was greater.

    So this has me feel that if you choose to go the influence route you are probably going to fail more often than not.

    Really comes back to my version of the 4 A’s: Great product. Great Quality. Right Price Point. Fills a need.

    • says

      Hey there mate,

      Ah, but you know the Obama landslide was only because of all these free gifts he gave the freeloaders, right? Otherwise we would have been spot on… πŸ˜‰

      The biggest problem about influence at the minute is we’re still using the carrot and stick approach – dangle a carrot long enough, and you’ll get enough people wanting to be the stick. The problem is, this just doesn’t work for individuals – there are way too many conflicting distractions, for a start.

      The good news is, there are some people that aren’t willing to just dangle the carrot anymore – they’re looking for more, and they’re doing some great stuff to try and make that happen.

      PS – Lindsay Lohan’s legal problems are but a minor blip on my design change agenda… πŸ˜‰

      • jeffespo says

        @dannybrown:disqus @howieatskypulsemedia:disqus fair points all around gents. I will not recant my love for Lohan.

        In terms of predicting elections, I think social is a decent measuring stick as vocal people tend to head to polls. It differs from the NFL picks because it is an action the tweeter, blogger or FB poster can control. And Howie, I do the NFL picks for fun and the percentage is closer to .600 but is interesting to see it against a random person who picks the game. It is more of a geek experiment than hard science – I don’t wear a lab coat or claim to be a scientist. You look back to earlier in the season and @GiniDietrich got a boat ton right by picking the team with the cuter QB.

        The big picture with influence is finding out who are the folks who matter to your, or your clients’, brands. This can be done manually or by looking at some of the cool tools in beta mode and would suggest giving Tellegence a look as they are doing some cool things.

  8. says

    Nice new layout. I got here and I thought to myself, Hey Ralph, someone is ripping off Danny Brown’s blog. But alas, it’s you, yourself who has created this elegant new layout. Smokin’. Looks like it takes a bit to keep ‘er going. Well, I don’t have much else to say other than it’s great. Cheers.

  9. marklongbottom says

    Should we look for instigators rather than solely searching for influencers.
    instigators may in the end give more return. So much hype around influencers and so do the sheep try to influence whilst genius just goes out there whatever, instigating change without worrying about getting recognition? Just a thought

    • says

      For sure, mate – instigation is very much in my thoughts (I wrote earlier this year on this topic), but I also believe we need to rein back in influence, what it truly means, and who it can really benefit. Interesting times!

      • marklongbottom says

        They are interesting times and just having people with mass followings sharing things we say shouldn’t be the ultimate goal of a business. Feels like some are just falling back on the Twentieth Century values they don’t want to move forward from. Change is an odd thing for some, and something they don’t enjoy being involved in.

  10. says

    Hey there Chris, great points, and this disruptor path is something we look at in-depth in the book. Like you say, it’s not as simple as just getting your message amplified.

    Cheers for the link, will check out shortly!

  11. says

    Hi Danny, nice post and surprisingly many comments and questions about how to find influencers.

    I agree that the starting point has to be the definition of your context or market. However I am surprised that no one has mentioned Traackr as the leading influencer marketing platform (PS: I am VP @ Traackr). We find people on line based on their relevance to your context. Dan, I’d love for you to check it our and let me know what you think.

    Looking forward to your new book.

    • Danny Brown says

      Hey there Nicolas, funnily enough I've used Traackr before, but I've always seen it as a monitoring platform. Have you guys recently made changes to it? Oh, wait, am I thinking of Trackur? I actually think I am – would love to check out what you're doing and perhaps have a call/chat to discuss more?

      Cheers, sir!