The voice of the customer is louder than ever, thanks to that giant global PA system called social media.
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If you need a quick reminder of the power of social media, cast your mind back to Women’s Day when pen manufacturer Bic posted this celebratory message on its Facebook page: “Look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, work like a boss #HappyWomensDay.”
The ad was swiftly condemned by South African tweeters and attracted global news coverage for its unfortunate messaging.
The incident highlights how the balance of power between brands and customers has been upended because consumers are paying more attention to peer reviews than marketing messages.
A McKinsey study has shown that marketing-inspired word-of-mouth generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising, and there is a 37% higher customer retention rate.
Simply, when a customer has a positive experience with your brand, that word-of-mouth can influence purchasing decisions for other consumers.
Imagine what happens then, if that person is an influencer – a person who has above-average impact on a specific niche, such as consumer groups, industry associations or community tribes?
Defining influencer marketing
Influencer marketing is not a new thing; in the past, companies paid celebrities to endorse their products. “With the explosion of social media over the last decade, ordinary people have suddenly become ‘pseulebrities’,” says Mike Stopforth, CEO of communications agency Cerebra.
“It’s thanks to their ability to create and share content, and build audiences around that content on blogs, YouTube, SnapChat and Twitter. Companies of all sizes are seeing this relatively new channel as a cost-effective, highly measurable way to market themselves.”
Stopforth warns that social media audiences are smart, informed, and incredibly sceptical. They quickly switch off to messages that are clearly insincere or inauthentic.
Effective influencer marketing happens, Stopforth says, when a company:
- Identifies existing and potential customers with a genuine interest in the product and a degree of authority as a social influencer on topics relating to that product.
- Builds meaningful relationships with those customers, understanding their specific needs and requirements which extends beyond giving them free stuff.
- Links those relationship-building efforts to measurable business objectives so that efficacy can be tracked and reported on.
Monetising social influence
Making money from having built an audience is an influencer’s right. The trick, for both the influencer and the brand, is to ensure that the authenticity and credibility of both parties remain intact.
Murray Legg, co-founder of Webfluential, which connects influencers with brands and agencies to promote campaigns, takes the guesswork out of influencer marketing by linking popular influencers on a single platform, and then tracks and analyses traffic data from active social media accounts to connect them with marketing agencies.
It’s not an entirely new concept, but provides a portal for both influencers and marketers to connect.
How it works
Legg says people who have built a solid online community and are trusted by their followers deserve fair reward for giving brands leverage.
“It’s an opportunity for people to turn their passion for social media into a revenue stream, depending on how much time they have to devote to being an influencer. We give influencers the ability to accept or reject projects and brands according to their suitability. Detailed reports are provided for marketers so they can accurately measure ROI.”
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The key element is symbiosis between the company and the influencer. As Legg puts it, “One of our influencers reviewed the speed of an SD card in a high-end camera for a small niche audience of gadget freaks. As an expert user, the influencer maintains credibility, while the client gets to interact with exactly the right target market.”
Jacqui Mackway-Wilson, MD of GoSocialSA, stresses that influence is not about how many followers you have.
“An avid fly fisher who has a few hundred followers who share that interest, is far more valuable to a specialist fly fishing retailer than a celebrity with thousands of fans. It’s a question of alignment, authenticity and credibility. As US social media marketing strategist Ted Rubin says, reputation is what people remember; it’s the trust you build that leads to loyalty. That is the ROI of social media.”
So where to for traditional marketing?
Companies that see influencers as a genuine opportunity for sincere dialogue and value exchange, are shifting traditional approaches to marketing.
“For them it’s changing marketing principles from broadcast to conversation, from prescription to inclusion, and from targeting to participation,” says Stopforth.
“It forces the entire business, from your most junior customer-facing staff to your most senior executive, to think about the impact of the customer’s voice on the organisation. Brands such as Amazon, Starbucks and Zappos show us every day just how effective this mentality can be.”
Does that signal the death knell for traditional marketing? Not at all. The key is to make sure that all budget spent has some measurable objective attached to it, and that all those different channels – print, TV, radio, digital, social – are working towards the same goal, with the same aligned brand message, and the same tone.
What about SMEs?
Legg sees the successes influencer marketing has achieved for big brands as a proving ground for SMEs.
“Smaller businesses are able to choose how much they are willing to invest in influencer marketing and tailor their campaigns in line with their budget.”
By building relationships and interacting with people who are influential in the online space, SMEs can get exposure to the markets they want to reach, says Mackway-Wilson. “It’s a lot like making friends with people, because in the online world reciprocity is key.”
She adds that although influencer marketing provides SMEs with an opportunity to reach large audiences with smaller budgets, the myth that social media is free must be dispelled. A campaign does not need to break the bank, but there are costs involved.
“Any social media campaign must be integrated into an overarching PR strategy,” she adds.
“Whether you want to build brand awareness or increase foot traffic to your brick-and-mortar store will determine how much you have to spend. If you are targeting the upper LSMs, a digital campaign is great. If your target market is township-based, traditional media will be far more effective.”
Be in it for the long-haul
Reputation building is a marathon, not a sprint. Just as in the offline world, people have many facets to them. The only way to find out if you or your brand will resonate with an influencer is to strike up a conversation.
If you’re a florist, engage with influencers in the wedding space. Liron Segey, TheTechieGuy, has a mere
5 600 followers on Twitter, but if you run an IT business, he’s a specialist you’ll want on your side.
Mackway-Wilson cautions against using the same people over and over.
“There’s a limited number of influencers because we are a small market, but it’s advisable for businesses to engage with people that really fit into their niche.”
And one more word of advice: She’s come across quite a few celebrity accounts where a large number of followers have been purchased and are fake.
“We wondered why we were not getting the reach and impressions we expected after engaging with some sports celebrities, so we ran a Twitter audit, which can be done free, and found that half the followers were fake. If you are going to pay influencers for a campaign, make sure that you are getting what you pay for.”
Putting The Brakes On Insta-Fakes
A huge following means nothing where there is no trust.
Is it possible to buy friends? In the realm of influencer marketing, some brands seem to think it is. Let’s call a spade a spade: paid-for likes and shares create what is essentially a fraudulent illusion of high product endorsement.
“Sponsored” tags embedded deep within posts’ comments sections are inevitable. And because higher following means more attention, everybody feels the pressure to keep up. However, once an influencer is exposed as excessively using bots to generate traffic, they are black-listed. So it’s a catch 22 for brands who lack true grit. Most importantly, consumers value brand authenticity. A huge following means nothing where there is no trust.
Keeping it real is the new deal
Brands may find themselves treading a fine line, because influencer marketing has gone mainstream and is highly lucrative, bringing in almost $2 billion revenue in 2016, often delivering an 11x higher ROI. Of course, paid endorsements are almost old school now; they are common practice, and marketers have come to depend on this tactic.
32% of marketers say they cannot live without them. Nevertheless, there needs to be a balance between showcasing high-end popularity, but also communicating brand experience from everyday people. Relatable feedback builds connections between consumers and brands. Trust in a brand is invaluable in the long term.
Living the dream?
With great power comes great responsibility. If you could buy likes and followers at a vending machine, would you? Well now you can, in Moscow, via credit card none the less. This seems a far cry from the good old days of word of mouth brand recommendation. What happened to an endorser epitomising what the brand stands for, having actual connections to and experience of the brand? Consumers want true stories, relatability, and can tell the difference between what’s hot and what’s “bot”.
New measures are being taken in an attempt to weed out fake media frenzies. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sent “reminder letters” to some major influencers due to inadequate disclosure of bought advertising. The FTC now requires that more restrictive guidelines be followed, including disclosure in the first three lines of text of a post. Sanctions of up to 20 years have been imposed for inadequate disclosure.
One suggestion is to shift the focus to incentives for disclosing paid-for sponsorship; for example, boosting posts that make disclosure. Instagram is moving towards a standardised disclosure process. Posts may soon include a tag disclosing paid partnership which also allows partners to view data relating to engagement.
Bot spotting is easy for the savvy consumer. Extreme peaks and lows in comments and engagement disproportionate to the number of followers per user generally indicate misleading marketing ploys.
Instagram has unfortunately created the perfect environment for “pod problem”. Some influencers use Instagram’s algorithm to increase their visibility in Instagram’s Explore tab. This is done by joining with other influencers in a mutually beneficial relationship to make daily comments on each other’s posts. This increases engagement numbers and visibility. False brand competition and, ultimately, a disconnect between brand and target market are the undesirable results.
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The most vital element in the brand-consumer relationship is authenticity. This is not a new concept, but it is refreshing to step back and recognise what matters. Brands with foresight see further than likes and shares. People want integrity and ethics from brands that are relatable to real lifestyles and needs. Quality brands will generate engagement because of what they stand for, without the need for grandstanding.
All we can hope is that with any new trend, the kinks get ironed out and these #ad posts get less #annoying and more #authentic.
Crisis Management: Fail To Prepare, Prepare To Fail
The secret to a successful reputational risk management programme depends on leaders’ ability to move with agility as they respond to the immediacy and uncertainty of social media-fuelled crises.
The always-evolving communications environment has intricately linked reputation management with the digital world, and executives must now realise that brand perception functions more like a real-time trading desk with 24/7 news, social media and online conversations shaping brand perception without the participation of organisations.
Put simply, managing your reputation must be an active, ongoing strategic investment that starts well before any risk or crisis begins. Plans and procedures will prove useless if introduced as a crisis erupts. Preparedness planning needs to start at executive level with reputation management practices being built into the fibre of every business at every level.
The secret to a successful reputational risk management programme depends on leaders’ ability to move with agility as they respond to the immediacy and uncertainty of social media-fuelled crises, which cannot be overstated as social media gaffes are occurring faster than we can write case studies to learn from them.
Establishing a preparedness programme
Handling a reputational challenge or crisis effectively starts with recognising the warning signs early. With an established programme, guidelines and procedures in place, your organisation can keep its finger on the pulse of conversations. This allows you to begin what’s known as the OODA loop (observe, orient, decide and act), quickly and nimbly during a crisis.
Recent data shows that 28% of crises spread globally within one hour. The very action of participating in a crisis exercise helps build “muscle memory” and organisations that effectively navigate a crisis are ones with detailed crisis management plans that they are familiar with.
Establishing protocols and systems ahead of a crisis, and then testing and training on them provides discipline and structure.
If the first time you’re reading through a crisis plan is during an operational or reputational crisis, you’re going to be behind the curve and with the pace of today’s digital age, it will be hard to recover.
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Building a digital foundation
In times of crisis, reaching out to those who count the most to your organisation is critically important. This goes beyond determining who has the most followers on social media as people often confuse influence with reach. The former can be defined as the degree to which someone can inspire others to do something.
To prepare, first identify core groups ahead of time: loyal fans, industry influencers, key opinion makers such as journalists and bloggers, and those who aren’t fans. Knowing potentially negative influencers such as those who might be sceptics or critics is equally important as knowing positive influencers.
Consider online monitoring to be your first line of defence to gauge messages about your organisation. When set up in advance, this monitoring provides an understanding of your overall perception and it allows you to adjust quickly to conversational trends.
There is no “one size fits all” content strategy for a crisis. The sooner you can identify and engage with those who matter, the sooner you can begin tackling the situation directly.
When you’re at the centre of an unfolding risk, you must demonstrate a strong voice to counteract the forces of social and traditional media that will quickly shape the narrative. Press releases and news conferences are insufficient to meet expectations for content that exists online.
Leveraging strategic content within the context of a crisis forces you to question how you are engaging your key stakeholders and audience beyond a simple text response.
Your owned media properties, particularly your website and social channels, serve as critical tools to provide information that frames the issue from your perspective, addresses misinformation and, if necessary, apologises for a situation with a clear action plan.
Our goal, as a leading communications marketing agency, isn’t to teach an organisation how to simply tweet through a crisis. Rather, we expect our clients to walk away with first-hand experience of working under rapid-fire crisis conditions that mimic an accurate scenario.
There’s a great deal of nuance around effective crisis and reputation management, including what corporate responses are suitable for different crises. Don’t go it alone. Invest in a partner, which has a deep understanding of the complex variables that have a long-term impact on the public perception of your organisation.
Five variables to address ahead of a crisis
- Who have we maintained consistent relationships with? You must make friends before you need them. Develop a list of important online and traditional stakeholders and maintain steady communications with this group during the quiet times.
- What is your threshold for who is influential? Be aware of the fact that there are people who reside outside your list of key stakeholders who are nevertheless influential and could have an impact on your business.
- How quickly does a conversation need to build up steam to warrant a response? The internet and social media now reflect thousands of smaller voices who can find each other and amplify a message. Recognising how conversations gain critical velocity is imperative to gauge when to respond and a crisis partner can help in this scenario.
- What is the timing of your response? You don’t always have all the answers and that’s okay. Often, a community just wants to know that you’re listening to them.
- Where will you publish a response and notify stakeholders? Sometimes, a response on Twitter, or Facebook proves sufficient, although other platforms such as a website or a blog helps to frame issues more comprehensively. A crisis partner will help determine the best way forward.
Why You Should Sort Your Social Media Policy (Like NOW!)
Strong social media policies are needed to prevent such behaviours and should always be considered when setting up and expanding your business.
With 2 billion active users on Facebook alone, sharing our toils, tribulations and triumphs online is becoming second nature. There are, however, downsides to the rise of social media. Habits online have the potential to affect your work and your business if not monitored appropriately.
Recent research combining a survey of 2,000 UK respondents and analysis of work-related Twitter posts has highlighted the behaviours of employees online that could lead to damage for the businesses who employ them. Strong social media policies are needed to prevent such behaviours and should always be considered when setting up and expanding your business.
The Risks of Social Media
Lost Working Hours
The average person now spends 25 hours a week online, with almost two hours a day (116 minutes) being used to browse social media platforms.
With so much time being spent online it’s almost inevitable that people will habitually reach for their phone to check Facebook during the working day. The survey research suggests the average person spends 52 minutes procrastinating every day, with most of this time being spent on social media.
Across the working year this amounts to 225 hours lost per employee, a total of 7 billion lost hours from the UK working population of 32,344,000. Failing to set clear boundaries of when employees can use social media in the workplace may cost you a lot in the long term.
15% of employees say that they have previously shared something negative about their work online, and a further 5% said they would do so in the future. This means that one in five workers think it is acceptable to take to social media to air their grievances with their company.
The volume of tweets found in Twitter analysis that contain negative work-related phrases illustrates how widespread the problem of employees complaining online is. In 2017, 8,186 tweets containing phrases such as #ihatemyjob, #worksucks and #hatework were sent, a 43% rise on the volume of similar posts in 2015.
It is not only negative posts from employees that pose a risk to your business – they might also be inadvertently sharing confidential information. Off-hand comments on social media about what they have done with their day may lead your employees to unintentionally reveal information about a client, future plans or other information that you would not want in the public forum.
This could result in lost business if a client feels their security has been compromised or may give your competitors important insight into your working practices, which they can use to their advantage. A clear policy on what is acceptable to post in relation to work will help prevent these risks.
How Can a Social Media Policy Help?
Social media policies should be issued and explained to all employees. Their purpose is to ensure proper usage of social media, in a way which will not negatively impact on your business.
A social media policy can set out when usage of the platforms is appropriate and what employees can share with regards to your company. The policy may not guarantee adherence, but it does allow you to set out proper practice to all your workers in a clear, accessible format, which can be regularly consulted.
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