Influence is the ability to drive action, and marketing through influence is something that brands have been doing for decades.

Purely Machiavellian, its aim is to drive you to engage with the brand, through using the intangible and (hopefully) positive qualities associated with that ‘celebrity’ to manipulate your aspirations, emotions and subsequently, your behaviour.

Both offline and online marketing leverage influence in exactly the same way. With one exception; social media. As social media influence continues to grow and change, so too does influence marketing.

In terms of social media, influence can be a variety of different things; number of followers/fans, frequency of posts/tweets, the connections someone has, or the value of the content they share. In reality, gauging the influence of an individual is an assessment of all of these things combined, and most importantly, the context in which you are operating. For instance, Justin Bieber has a huge following on Twitter, however, he would not be influential when it comes to a subject such as computing or crafts.

It’s important to think contextually in order to target the influencers that will bring the most value to your audience, and therefore your brand. It’s important to get the right ‘fit’ – the wrong influencer can ultimately end up doing more damage than good, as has been seen time and time again, when celebrities go bad or are simply the wrong match for a brand.

So, finding the right influencers is clearly important. But how best to do it? There are a number of tools available that measure various aspects of ‘influence’. Each tool will measure different factors in a slightly different way, so it’s a good idea to use a variety in order to thoroughly mine your audience for influencers. Klout, PeerIndex and Kred are amongst the most popular tools out there – but still these vary slightly in their metrics and how they implement them. Broadly speaking, however, metrics for measuring influence include:

  • frequency of activity
  • content and context of interactions
  • level of expertise on various topics
  • the types of groups/communities you have membership to, and the level/content of participation in each
  • the types of influencers you have, and other connections

Across the different social platforms there are a variety of ways to engage and build relationships with influencers; this post gives some good pointers for the individual sites, but overall there are some golden rules:

  • Spread the love – show influencers that you’re a fan by liking/favouriting/retweeting their posts/tweets. Share articles directly from their site/blog, along with your own positive comments about it.
  • Engage – ask questions. This shows you value their insights and view them as an influencer; it’s something they may not realise they are to you.
  • Follow the money – if your Influencer has a business page/account, follow it. You’ll get their latest insights, which you can then like, share and comment.
  • Participate – there are many events which have live chats, group discussions which take place purely online and other methods to communicate and ask questions of the speaker and other group members. These are good opportunities to connect with influencers and others who are interested in similar topics.
  • Face off – if you have the opportunity to go to social media conferences, blogging conferences, or other industry related forums, go! Speaking with someone face to face immediately makes a relationship more solid, even if you have exchanged plenty of social media niceties in the past. Make sure you keep in touch through social media after the event – follow up with the above tactics so they can see you’re a proactive fan; spread the love, engage and take an interest in them professionally.

Brands that do social right understand these rules and will embrace contact with their audience. @adidasoriginals is one example of a brand that has the rules of engagement down to a ‘T’, and leverages influence in a way that isn’t forced, fake or purely a marketing message – all big turn-offs for potential consumers. They proactively mention and positively comment on the achievements of influential individuals from a variety of related industries in which their audience is interested (music, fashion, art), and, in the name of transparency, even have a public list of brand ambassadors. With 1,273,036 followers currently, clearly Twitter is benefiting the brand, enabling them to bring stakeholders and therefore consumers into the conversation and keep their fanbase engaged and growing all the time.

Does your brand/company leverage influencers on social media? If so, how? What’s the best interaction you’ve had with one of your influencers?