The fifth trend to watch is influencer marketing and employee advocacy
Marketing Social Media

No. 5 Trend: The Ins and Outs of Influencer Marketing in 2016

“We all see those sad sacks walking down the street clutching their Starbucks in one hand and their sugar-loaded Chobani yogurts in the other. Don’t they know they’re being lied to? Don’t they care that those products, while branded as being so New England or the healthy breakfast alternative, are actually laced with the same chemicals found in regular Coca-Cola. NOT EVEN DIET COKE! Such sad sacks.”

This monologue plays out in my head every morning commute to work. It usually starts after I pick up my coffee from Starbucks and my Chobani Greek yogurt from Roche Brothers. Yes, this monologue is a self-reflection on my own purchasing habits. See, I’m not sure why I gravitate toward these items or why they’ve become essential to my own essence. Wait, yes I do, because I’m in marketing, and it has basically altered my outlook on reality. (The sass is for emphasis…)

I buy Starbucks coffee every morning because my friends buy Starbucks coffee every morning. I’m a bystander in the movie Mean Girls, and I really just want Regina George to notice me. I also buy Chobani yogurt every morning because…you guessed it, that’s what all the cool kids do.

This mini-rant leads me to Trend No. 5 to watch in 2016: The advancement and sophistication of influencer marketing. This is the second-to-last installment of my 6 trends to watch in content marketing series, and follows articles on content promotion, interactive storytelling, episodic content, and fringe social media platforms.

In this post, we’ll explore the odd phenomenon of “influence,” and how your customers, industry experts, and employees are the key to your content amplification success next year.

Eroding Trust

Earning someone’s trust isn’t always easy. We come to the table with prior experiences that often dictate how willing or unwilling we are to open up and let a person into the inner circle. This same hesitation applies to the products we buy and the services we use.

I used to visit the same coffee shop every morning before work. It was this local café a block from my apartment, and the staff was friendly and helpful. But on one particular day, I entered around the same time, and the coffee I was served didn’t meet my expectations. It had grounds in the bottom, and the milk tasted kind of sour. When I asked for a replacement, the server served me a large cup of sass. I haven’t been back since, and now I only go to Starbucks.

Consistency is important in marketing, but it’s not the only differentiator you can leverage in marketing. Perhaps just as essential as a consistent product or service is the frequency of praise you get both internally and externally.

With the business world rife with competition, your brand marketing cannot tell a 360-degree story without the right storytellers. And more and more research shows that consumers gravitate toward social posts and editorial penned by people just like them, not a brand’s CEO, nor its awesome new advertising campaign that features Derek Jeter.

According to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, 63 percent of surveyed respondents indicated they trusted a “person like them,” 49 percent said they trust a brand’s employees, and 43 percent said they trusted that brand’s CEO. Without spending more than two seconds reading the last line, it should be obvious who needs to be telling your company’s story. Your customers and your staff.

Edelman Trust

The Outs: Influencer Strategy

Every marketing team panders to the influencers in their field. The challenge is in identifying who within an industry is actually influential and who just has a lot of spammy Twitter followers.

In a May 2015 study by Schlesinger Associates for Augure, 84 percent of marketing and communication professionals worldwide said they planned to launch at least one program involving influencers in the next 12 months.

When the Altimeter Group polled marketers in Q2 2015, the independent research firm found that 35 percent of social media professionals worldwide said they had a mature or optimized influencer relationship management program.

And according to Tomoson, 59 percent of marketers are planning to increase their influencer marketing budgets over the next 12 months.

Tomoson Data

So in the next year, we’re going to see a higher volume of enterprise organizations leveraging people’s social influence, with a more sophisticated management process in place, and with a higher price tag for results. This makes influencer strategy easily one of the fastest-growing practices (22 percent rated it the fastest, according to Tomoson, the highest in the survey).

When a marketing tactic begins to show meaningful results, it’s not long before every brand is testing out ideas on its audience. Unfortunately, that means if you don’t already have an influencer program in place today, you’re behind, and you need to catch up fast.

IDC DataIn the B2B space, decision makers told the International Data Corporation that trusted peers and colleagues (95 percent) influenced their decisions more than trusted independent content (86 percent), and vendor content on websites (81 percent). More, RhythemOne found that the average earned media value from US influencer programs was 1.4x higher in H1 2015 than the overall average in 2014, at $9.60 of revenue per $1 spent. Twenty-two percent of respondents told Tomoson that influencer marketing is the most cost-effective online customer acquisition method today.

The most interesting aspect of influencer marketing to me is that it’s a practice being used by businesses of all sizes. By logging onto Instagram, it’s easy to find retailers working with social celebrities to promote products concurrent to enterprise organizations partnering with YouTube stars. It’s a melting pot of influence out there, and no one is doing it better than Unilever and Fidelity. Below are two influencer-marketing examples worth studying.

1. Unilever’s TRESemmé

The holding group has gone all in with influencer strategy, partnering with social media influencers to help generate conversation around core products, contests, and brand messaging.

In a recent case study produced by Crimson Hexagon, the organization sought to measure the impact influencers had on TRESemmé during a specific time frame in which social campaigns had launched. The firm noted that between July 1, 2014 and March 8, 2015, the brand totaled 21,438 posts on Twitter. However, between August 24thand 30th, the brand saw a massive spike in mentions and conversation. The majority of the new mentions came from the AmpUpYourStyle and VMA Prize Pack contest that launched during that time period, but what’s most interesting is who drove those mentions and spikes in social chatter.

Crimson Hexagon

Over the three day spike, TRESemmé’s Twitter handle received a 4 percent increase in followers, the brand was mentioned in more than 960 posts, and the #tresemmehashtag was used more than 6,450 times. Over the broader time frame measurement, 36 percent of TRESemmé’s total conversation includes at least one of six influencers tracked within the company’s influencer program.

TRESemmé was able to generate a massive volume of new social chatter by partnering with no more than six Twitter influencers. This proves that a sophisticated influencer program doesn’t need scale, it simply needs working relationships with people who can actually sway followers to action. It’s important to have a clear sense of a person’s relevance and resonance on social media platforms. A large number of followers won’t generate results if the messaging misses the mark, so recruit wisely.

2. Fidelity

In highly regulated industries, marketers run up against insurmountable obstacles. It takes a savvy team and unique technology to find creative and kosher ways to reach and connect with customers on an emotional level.

At Skyword’s Content Rising Summit in June 2015, Fidelity’s EVP, Retirement and Investing Strategies, John Sweeny spoke about a unique “conversation engine” it developed with the help of its partner Traackr.

A conversation engine is defined as a series of processes and methods applied to promote a brand’s point of view in online conversations.

Fidelity’s journey toward influencer strategy started with 2008’s financial crisis. The company realized that major media publications like CNBC and The Wall Street Journal were talking about the crisis, but they weren’t speaking to individuals. Investors wanted to hear from Fidelity directly.

John Sweeney

To handle this challenge, Fidelity hired an ex-journalist to launch a three-stage program:

  1. Get Fidelity’s point of view out about the crisis.
  2. Make Fidelity’s content more accessible by making editorial part of a representative’s dialogue with their clients.
  3. Go beyond the walls of Fidelity by leveraging Web influencers.

When it came to the influencer step, Fidelity had to not only identify influencers to track, but also the topics those people were discussing on social media and that Fidelity had a POV on. From there, the Fidelity team began to feed its unbiased content to influencers and saw immediate pickup and traction. This also created opportunities for Fidelity executives to guest blog on influential blogs to further the organization’s reach and messages.

From this initiative, the Fidelity team built in-house expertise, learned how to operate in a highly regulated environment, balanced earned media and paid media, and aligned its content strategy with relevant social channels. The business has continued to use the “conversation engine” methodology to further solidify relationships with a community of influencers and reach audiences across emerging social channels.

Working with external influencers can yield major results. But in 2016, brands will need to learn how to balance external and internal influence by mastering employee advocacy, too.

The Ins: Employee Advocacy

One of the biggest lessons I have learned in my two years at Skyword is that my ability to earn the trust of and credibility with my colleagues will affect my content strategy’s success exponentially. It is absolutely essential to give internal stakeholders ownership of some aspect of a business’s content marketing program by asking them to contribute editorial content regularly and sharing published information on behalf of the organization.

Leslie Poston, social media editor at McKinsey & Company, in an interview with TopRank Marketing, said, “Marketing must let go of social media ‘the concept’ and help the rest of the organization utilize social media ‘the tool set.’ Brands continue to miss opportunities in human resources and recruiting, customer experience, assistance, customer care, social good, education and other instances where they could use social tools to reach more depth and relevance—to be truly useful.”

How does this get done today?

According to the Altimeter Group’s “2015 State of Social Business Report,” employee advocacy is growing in importance this year. Forty-five percent of surveyed marketers said it was a top objective this year, compared to 16 percent in 2013. The research firm also noted that as employee advocacy becomes a more universal marketing objective, only 3.8 percent admit to having a scaled, enterprise-wide program in place.

Employee Advocacy

A big reason why enterprise organizations haven’t been able to scale their employee advocacy programs is lack of process, research, and technology. Data from Mindshare and Dynamic Signal found that 81 percent of senior leaders say they consider themselves “company advocates.” However, only 37 percent of those surveyed say they share company content across social media, and 74 percent say they feel that they’re missing out on company information and news.

A concrete employee advocacy programs gives enterprise marketers another method for distributing branded content. These internal influencers can often have robust and leaned-in social media networks. Developing a solution for 1.) Distributing content to advocates 2.) Measuring its effects and 3.) Rewarding those who impacted ROI is key to brands’ success next year.

Unfortunately, employee advocacy isn’t as easy as you might think. An effective program requires a fluid process that can adapt to new challenges and rewards those employees for remaining active in the program.

IBM BeehiveIBM miscalculated the challenge of running an ongoing employee advocacy program with the launch of its own gamification strategy. The enterprise organization sought to award points to employees who participated in the advocacy program as a way to encourage participation through friendly competition. The more employees posted and contributed content, the more points they’d receive. However, participation rates quickly wore off as a simple point and reward system wasn’t enough to sustain employees’ interest long term.

At the Content Standard, we see similar results. An initial contest or challenge will draw immediate attention, participation, and excitement. But try and launch that same program again next quarter, and interest is hard to come by.

Employee advocacy must be as adaptive as any other marketing strategy. By planning ahead, aligning games and contests with seasonal trends, with desired rewards, and other altruistic rewards will help pique employees’ interests throughout the year.

Another struggle many enterprise marketers run into is finding the perfect solution for communicating the guidelines for a given employee advocacy program and adopting a technology solution that organizes this program into a fluid system. Employee advocacy isn’t effective if a marketing team is only able to win over the developer team down the hall—they need to reach the developer team across the country and the newly established European team across the Atlantic.

I thought about highlighting a few employee advocacy programs to end this post, but decided to open it up to the readers instead.

What technology do you use to streamline the whole employee advocacy process?

Give me your recommendations in the comments below, and I’ll include a link to the solution in this post.

There’s No Reason You’re Not Influential

By now you should be convinced that influencer strategy, combined with savvy employee advocacy programs, will become an important way for you to distribute all of the great content you produce in 2016. Your brand has the potential to become the influencer in your industry—the organization that compels its audience to buy products, adopt new slang, and post ridiculously thirsty social media updates online. The only thing holding you back is lack of focus. So, get your head in the books, feet on the pavement, and let’s see you do something original for once in your life.

This is just one of the major trends impacting your 2016 marketing strategy. For information on the other five trends, don’t forget to check out the series round-up.

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