Smart Targeting: Influencers Or Fans?

by Jason Falls |

Note: The following is a guest post from Jeremy Epstein, founder and marketing navigator at Never Stop Marketing, a marketing consultancy based in Washington, D.C. It is the second in a series of guest posts from social media thinkers working in agencies and firms around the world. Perspective from the front lines, if you will. The series was inspired by Chuck Hemann, the research manager at Dix & Eaton in Cleveland, Ohio. He wrote the first in the series called, “The Five Ws of Social Media.”

Conventional wisdom about how to “get the word out” about your products is focused on finding and relating to the “influencers.” If you do this, so we’re told, you will get the “big hit” from a mention in a powerful blog or mainstream media publication and that will drive traffic to your website, generating leads that turn into closed business. Now, there’s no doubt that a TechCrunch, Scobleizer, or New York Times can, sometimes, serve as kingmaker, but here’s the equation to consider.

Is the return on your effort really worth it?

Image by Gare and Kitty via Flickr

That was precisely the premise of a highly trafficked and tweeted post, where I challenged the notion that going after influencers was your best strategy if you have limited resources (and who doesn’t?) Instead, I humbly suggest that the ROI on identifying, cultivating, and activating your Raving Fans would be much higher.

I will take it one step further.

Raving Fans are so valuable that you will soon start seeing models to calculate their worth and, not long after that, you’ll see “Customer Evangelists” as a line item on corporate balance sheets.

Sound far-fetched?

Let’s look at it from three angles.

  1. theoretical and analytical
  2. anecdotal
  3. common sense ;-)

The Analytics Side

The analytics folks are already attacking the challenge and while it’s not quite ready for prime-time, they are headed in the right direction

The most advanced effort I’ve seen thus far (and there have been a few) comes from and suggests in the “Power and Value of a Fan” that 1 active fan is worth 445 people.

Believe me when I say that I am the first to admit that this whole hypothesis is far from scientific fact. We are all trying to figure this new world of marketing out and I’m just making an argument here, but now, let’s take it from the anecdotal side.

The Anecdotal Side

Most of the “social marketing” stories that you hear about are from big brands. Most of you (and most everybody) doesn’t work at a big brand company. So, this example comes from my friend, Russell Yearwood at I.T. Works in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Russell was part of a pilot program that I ran through Microsoft (full disclosure: client) which generated 559% ROI (here’s the case study) and focused on Raving Fans as the core of his effort.

He sells Business Software solutions (such as accounting packages) for companies in the Gulf Coast region.

His #1 Raving Fan is a man by the name of Clark Spencer.

Clark works for a company that owns 300 Sonic Burger franchises and would “go to the ends of the earth to help Russell spread the word about his business.”

So, what did Russell do? He:

  1. actually brought him to help create proposals and solutions for any deals associated with any restaurant or food related industry.  With his involvement, IT Works had a better insight as to what to propose, and if/when a deal would close.
  2. turned Clark into a “sounding board” for new ideas and products.  For example, when they started getting into the Hosting (SAAS) applications, they contacted Clark, got his input, and made the appropriate changes early-before going to market. (And a side benefit: since Clark was involved in the process of creating the solution offering, he has now become a customer of that solution and will soon be moving his applications to a hosted environment soon
  3. has enlisted Clark as a marketing asset. IT works will be attending the upcoming Sonic Franchisee Annual Convention and Clark is leading the charge in driving attendance to their booth/presentations.

and what happened as a result?

As Russell writes:

“With the help of Clark and the group at Sonic, we have been able to develop relationships with not only other Sonic franchise owners, but also many other fast food franchise owners, i.e. RPM Pizza, the largest Dominoes franchise. What’s more, we had stories that served as great raw material for our blog

And those stories became the “hook” that generated a phone call from a prospect that I had been nurturing for a couple of years. She finally reached after after reading one of my posts and said, “we need to talk, I need a proposal, we are ready to make a move.  Enjoyed your blog!”  With that, we were able to deliver a new proposal, are continuing to finalize details to complete the sale.  Total price of proposal – $167,000.

The “It Just Makes Sense” Side

And finally, let’s just apply common sense. Of course, my common sense is what you consider lunacy and vice versa, right? ;-)

But, let’s agree that know we can’t control our businesses with 100% certainty.

We do know, however, that there are certain things we can influence (deliberate use of the word) more than others.

For example, we can influence (not entirely, but to a great degree) the experience that our customers/clients have:

  • when they engage with our product or service
  • when they come in contact with the elements surrounding our product or service (customer service, website, whether your invoice is remarkable or not, etc.)
  • when we make it easy for them to share their passion for us with others
  • what information we learn about them to increase the relevance of our communications

None of these are simple, but listening (it’s cliche that this is a core part of social media, but heck, it is) and collaborating will make it easier.

Now, compare that with our ability to affect whether we get the attention of an “influencer.”

First off, you need to know that it’s the right influencer. According to Duncan Watts, this is a big assumption.

Second, you usually get a one-shot deal and timing may hurt you. I learned this the hard way back in 2001 when my fledgling start-up got a nice spread in the Washington Post — on September 11.

Third, you need to spend a cultivating the relationship and learning about them (see Jason’s series on pitches for what works — which still takes time) and sometimes you have to spend money with a PR firm that has the relationship (and can’t guarantee the placement anyway.)

Lastly, the high profile influencer is most likely not going to keep spreading the word about your product or service. After the one post or tweet or mention, it has become old news.

Your Raving Fans, however — they are with you for the long haul. It’s like the Long Tail of customer passion and you can ride it on down for a while.

As is often the case in the blogosphere, some of the best content on a blog comes from the comments and Andrew Mueller’s effort is no exception, so we’ll point to his (edited) thoughts to help summarize.

I just read the interview with Watts, and think that in the real world “influencers” for your product find you (not the other way around) because you create a brand distinction that drives an emotional attachment to your product service or company.

You can reach out to industry “influencers” to get the word out but in my opinion, it is the sheer numbers of raving fans that your brand distinction creates that will result in the greatest effect on ROI.  In conclusion, IMO it would be wise to focus energy on creating products with true distinction and communicating that distinction at every touch point.

In other words, take Seth Godin‘s advice and seek to “Be Remarkable“.

Then, work with those fans you’ve created, listen to what they suggest, and together, go out and spread the world. Marketing used to be about leading everyone to find the promised land of customer revenue.

Now, your job is to provide the strategic and tactical support that your evangelists require so that they can help find the new sources of customer revenue for you.

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).