Are you targeting the wrong online influencers?

Are you targeting the wrong online influencers?
Fabrice Etienne is EMEA marketing director at Lithium Technologies.


The majority of consumers trust friends, peers and family more than brands. But who do consumers listen to the most online? If celebrity names and high-profile personalities spring to mind, think twice. Consumers are a more discerning bunch than some brands may realise.

While many consumers follow celebrities with huge social media audiences (Katy Perry has a whopping 73 million Twitter followers at present), it’s doubtful they’ll rely on these “mega-influencers” for real estate or financial advice. They’re more likely to trust influencers who have specific expertise in their areas of interest.

Research released last month by McKinsey shows that social media buzz and recommendations play a larger role than previously thought in persuading consumers to make a purchase. It also reveals that the pool of the most effective influencers is largely untapped. The study of 20,000 European consumers revealed that social recommendations encouraged an average of 26% of purchases, with two-thirds of the impact taking place at the critical point of purchase. 

McKinsey found that while the role of digital influence is expanding, a small number of active influencers accounted for a disproportionate share of total recommendations:

So how do marketers locate and engage with the experts consumers trust most?

Logic would assume that more followers equal greater reach for a brand. However, this doesn’t always ring true. Experts with hefty followings often speak to diverse audiences with varying interests and values. Take political parties, for example.

Let’s imagine you get a mega-influencer on board to endorse your brand via their social media platforms. Their messages will likely be seen by a large number of consumers – but how many of them will actually care? Will you be reaching your target market or just making noise that audiences don’t want to hear?

These types of scenarios have led brands to rethink their engagement strategies with online influencers. Many brands have discovered that focused experts with specific topic expertise can be far more powerful in influencing consumers than mega-influencers.

Some focused experts may garner less attention due to their lack of affiliation with large organisations or media outlets. However, this independence is a powerful asset. Consumers often perceive focused experts to have greater objectivity, which can help to bolster trust and engagement levels.

Locating focused influencers

Up until a few years ago, it was difficult for brands to locate focused experts online. The Web abounds with opinions, recommendations and reviews, making it challenging for both brands and consumers to know who is credible and trustworthy. Brands must therefore find strategies to identify and engage with online influencers who can speak to their target markets effectively.

How can brands identify these influencers? As a starting point, it’s important to define exactly who your customer is. Who buys your product or service and where do they reside? Consumer data, demographics and interests will help you map out a path for meeting your consumers where they are on the Web.

Following this, you will need to ascertain whom your consumers trust and listen to. Until the advent of focused-topic influence trackers, this used to be a tricky task; brands were required to take stab in the dark or undertake their own complicated and time-consuming research.

Nowadays, there are tools that enable brands to more easily identify the influencers with expertise in their consumers’ topics of interest. In obtaining this knowledge, brands can gain much closer insights into who and what matters most to their consumers in terms of ratings, reviews, marketplaces and communities.

It’s important to remember that focused experts may not have as many followers as some other online influencers or celebrities; but the followers they do have will be dedicated and interested in their areas of topic expertise.

Promote your brand through focused experts

Once you know which focused experts your consumers listen to the most, you can begin engaging them. Ideally, you want your relationships with these experts to appear as objective as possible. It’s important that endorsements don’t appear paid-for, as this will diminish the trust that consumers feel towards the influencer and their messages.

Despite this, some influencers will likely expect some compensation for their endorsement. In these cases, you can be creative with your approach, offering special incentives, perks, experiences or non-cash rewards with your brand or product. For example, you might offer to help them build their reach and credibility by featuring them across your brand’s marketing and social media channels.

Another great way to encourage endorsement is to offer experts a VIP experience of your brand or product. This could, for example, entail giving them a first trial of a new product line, and beta-testing or digital promotions, such as discounts. In doing this, you can get them engaged with your brand whilst also creating subject matter for them to write about.

Brands shouldn’t be wasting time, staff and money on trying to push their messages out through “mega-influencers” online. This approach achieves less cut-through and return on investment (ROI). Through pinpointing focused experts that consumers already trust, you can ensure that your social marketing efforts are highly targeted, and therefore more likely to deliver real results.

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