Influence Isn’t Who, It’s What

There’s no question that the value of social media marketing is the power it has to give a brand credibility by leveraging a consumer’s closest personal connections. This is taken at face value, but it really isn’t as simple as that, is it?

Harvard researchers conducted a study that tracked college students’ Facebook relationships and evaluated how their connections affected their tastes in music, movies and books. The study found that, contrary to popular belief, friends really didn’t have too much of an affect on user tastes. This was focused on college students and can’t be generalized across every type of consumer. However, it does mean that it requires a deeper understanding from marketers when it comes to taking the belief that consumer actions are spread through social connections at face value.

It’s Not Who, It’s What

There’s been a lot of discussion this year on who is and isn’t an influencer, and this conversation will likely continue. But that merely scratches the surface. “Who” is only part of the equation.

The true power comes from understanding what influences a consumer from the people they’re connected with, the groups they’re part of, the content they consume and the context in which a message is delivered.

Go Deep With Understanding Influence

It’s easy to base influencer marketing efforts on influencer scores (Klout, Kred, etc.) by sending influencers products to try out or inviting them to an exclusive event. However, it may not be effective because the understanding of what influences the consumer is focusing on the “who”, not the “what.”

What truly influences a consumer can only be understood with extensive research, but as marketers, we can execute some key strategies to influence purchase decisions through social media.

  • Identify the purchase path. What causes a consumer to want or need a product? How do they get from the beginning to the purchase to the post-purchase stage (when they refer their friends). This can partially be uncovered by monitoring online conversations for mentions related to a product category or brand.
  • Find out what does have influence. Maybe peers have the most influence over the consumer when it comes to certain products. For others, it may be the professional opinions that matter. There may also be third-party resources that need marketers’ attention. Set up monitoring to understand who is being referenced in referrals for products and services.
  • Be present at the crossroads. Understand the story the brand has to tell and the consumers who want to hear it. Then be present on the platforms to provide value in the form of information, support and entertainment. Being present may not mean the brand actually has a presence. It may be a blogger writing a review, for example. Identify the presence that will have the most sway over the consumer.