Brands have used “influencers” for as long as I can remember to promote their products, just think back a few years to when Michael Jordan was at the top of his game and quite possibly the most popular athlete in the world, Nike signed him to a contract to endorse their brand and to release one of the most popular lines of tennis shoes ever created, the Nike Air Jordans, which if I am not mistaken, is still in production years after Michael has retired. Another prime example of where influence can easily be seen is in the fashion industry, remember the 80′s movie ‘Top Gun’ where Tom Cruise wore a leather naval aviators jacket w/ patches on it? Chances are if you grew up in the 8o’s you probably owned at least one ‘Top Gun’ inspired leather jacket, possibly even a pair of Ray-Ban aviators too. Have you ever thought about why we were so drawn to the Nike Air Jordan shoes or the leather bomber jackets? It’s simple, we looked upon Michael Jordan and Tom Cruise as being the coolest of the cool, the height of popularity, and we wanted to be just as cool as they were…
In this day and age I think Athletes and even movie stars have less of an influence than they once did. Musicians, especially from the hip-hop genre probably still have an influence over their fan base moreso than other music genres, but for the most part I think this has been on decline slowly since the fifties in the entertainment industry. Think about it. In today’s society we have so much reality television and real life interaction via social media with everyday people that I think we are finding people that influence us from within our own communities.
In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the way new ideas are transmitted by social influence. New products or fashions are introduced by innovators, who tend to be creative and nonconforming. Then early adopters join in, followed by the early majority. By this time, a substantial number of people are using the idea or product, and normative and informational influence encourages others to conform as well. The early majority is followed by a second group that Gladwell calls the late majority, and then finally by the laggards, who tend to be highly conventional and resistant to change.
I couldn’t agree more with this assessment and I think most brands are finding this to be true as well. Think about this, remember the popular kids in high school that all sat together at the cool table in the cafeteria? What kind of influence would it had had on you if you saw each of them wearing a Whitesnake t-shirt? I think once you form this mental picture in your head you will agree that the rest of the school would eventually want a Whitesnake t-shirt too, and granted peer pressure comes into play here but I won’t go into this too far. I think you would also agree that in addition to wanting a Whitesnake t-shirt, the remaining student body would also look upon Whitesnake’s music favorably, probably most without ever hearing one of their songs. Again, this is influence…
Today, with just about every person you come into contact with having at least a Facebook account, and quite possibly a Twitter account too, it’s safe to say we are all connected on a daily basis, just like school kids in a cafeteria. Yes, I know this is a hokey analogy but play along. We interact with each other socially on a daily basis whether it be through Facebook or Twitter. There are obvioiusly people out there that have more friends or followers than others, and there is nothing wrong with this at all. In fact some people who are very outgoing in real life might have limited social engagement because their strong suit is real life interaction. This is something we have to keep in the back of our minds when marketing to the masses, especially through social media. With this being the case, these people who might have a larger following could be considered to be “influencers” or “thought leaders” inside their own circle or community. Also inside that community you will also have followers, or feeders, who’s actions can sometimes be led by the actions of those they look up to, ie. influencers.
It’s for this reason that companies like Klout have a really important role in the future of marketing for brands that engage socially. I feel as if these companies are on the bottom floor for what will be an even bigger push over the next decade by brands to win influencers by marketing to them directly, almost obnoxiously to try their products. Is this bad, well sort of, in the eyes of a consumer who sees a brand going after their friend aggressively to try their products simply because they have more friends on twitter or facebook I can see how this might not go over too well. But what if a brand is able to win over an influencer, and in turn this prized consumer in turn promotes that brand to their friends or followers religiously, what do you think the results would be?
I have people call me all the time because they know that I have worked in the IT industry for the biggest part of my professional life. Most of the questions I get pertain to what kind of computer they should by, or what do they need to do to fix their computer? They look to me as a person of authority when it comes to IT / Computers, etc. As an influencer, I have a moral obligation to shoot straight with everyone and let them know my honest feelings toward a product or service. What if I have been contacted or somehow compensated by a manufacturer who provides a similar product or service to one that I would normally recommend, even though it’s inferior I would be obligated to recommend them. You see where this is going?
As a community that is starting to learn more and more about identifying influencers, we have to be extremely careful not to allow this data to be misused in marketing by big brands or it could have a serious impact. The company with the most money (ie. influencers, endorsements) would eventually be the only show in town, and this could be dangerous.
I’m just curious, how do you feel about Influence Marketing?