By Paul Armstrong
Influence is one of the big "issues" this year I am interested in. I will be poking it with a big, scratchy stick as the mucky, murky world needs a damn good prodding. Got something to say / think I should know? Get in touch.
A report called "Influence 2.0" by Altimeter and Traackr landed with a thud in my inbox. This +30-page report does not particularly help crystallise the how but perhaps it does the what and the why, per its author, Brian Solis, "[The report] offers a [call for a] new mindset and approach to customer experience where influence become the driving force for change."
Definitions and quoteporn aside, the report is a solid start for someone looking to create a POV for their company or just grapple with the issue a bit better. However, throughout the report I was struck that this is just another term for public relations. I grilled Solis further and asked if we are just seeing another unneeded term; "The truth is that any time this topic comes up it is aiming to put a pretty bow on an old way of thinking about engagement. The inference with influence 2.0 is to make a formal push into a new era of engagement that ties more specifically to customer experience or the experience the experience of anyone who is looking for useful information or relationships to make decisions." Whether you believe this or not, "Influencer Relations" is the term du jour across agencies. Some are doing "it" (the "industry" is so amorphous) well and others are simply extending reach - slash that - most are simply extending reach.
According to the report - 1/3 of marketers have a low opinion of influencer relations; Solis is surprised this number isn't higher; "The truth is that marketers don't know what they don't know and therefore they cannot see the value of influencer relationships if they don't understand what influence really means - not just to marketers but more importantly the impact and the relationships people of influence have with their community. When we traditionally think of influencer marketing we think about old methodologies and perspectives and applying those to new tech platforms. But here we are not really doing anything new. Therefore we cannot expect anything new." A sentiment echoed in the goals of influencer marketing;
The report does call for a more professional approach - which I am 100% behind - but ultimately I believe brands/clients/agencies and the public are better served with more straight talk, honest insights and a focus on the end-user than more terms, wishy-washy extensions and flaky approaches to new...anything. A topic (warning: book plug) I cover ruthlessly in "Disruptive Technologies; Understand, Evaluate and Respond". Budgets are of course mentioned in the report and I asked Solis why they were so low (STAT). He agreed that the lack of ROI and maturity of the industry are key issues; "Influencer marketing is immature in that it hasn't tried to expand its horizons beyond traditional marketing tactics and measurement and this is because it has lacked vision and ambition from marketers everywhere. A lot of marketing is still routed in outdated principles and it is difficult to break those norms when that is what marketers are paid to do today. The budgets are a reflection of the values that they carry to the business and until marketers think like business managers or owners marketing will always be just that….marketing."
After talking with multiple brands and agencies on this subject "we" are still happy with just giving access or money to "influencers" and not demonstrating any (or very little) ROI. We continue to skirt around the issue of... gulp...being a better business that people like... Solis is optimistic we are at the beginning of something big here; "The point of this entire paper and this entire conversation is that we are inviting 'influencer marketers' to add value to their work and to their companies by thinking more holistically and approaching engagement and relationships with influencers and customers and any stakeholder for that matter based on mutual value, respect and a hope to continue engagement over time. This is not about paying people with followers event though that will continue as a practice. This is a call for a new era of marketing beyond influence to improve the journeys for customers and stakeholders everywhere."
It will be interesting to see these figures next year, I expect a lot of money and tech to move into this area in 2017 but ultimately little will shift that will mean big changes for businesses. Per Solis, expect a more practical guide to follow but you can download the full report here [email signup required].
Paul Founded HERE/FORTH - the emerging technology advisory. Follow him on Twitter here and check out #social_lens (a Slack product) if you want neutral advice when big tech news breaks.
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