The key to online success is influence. This fact is clear, but identifying which people are influential presents a problem. For some people, celebrity endorsements are influential. But why don’t celebrity endorsements always produce sales? And why do free endorsements from ordinary consumers, stories from friends, articles from bloggers, and product reviews from shoppers drive business growth?
What Makes a Powerful Influencer?
Everyone knows the Kardashians, who dominate one segment of television programming and dazzle millions of social media followers. Since they influence so many followers, it makes sense that brands reach out to them as spokespersons. But while the Kardashians may be social influencers, the opinions they share about your product or brand may be meaningless in terms of business. They may not provide the social influence significant to your brand’s success.
While someone with large numbers of followers may be influential, real influence in terms of your brand, the type most likely to influence product sales, is more likely to be exerted by people who have a genuine connection to your brand than influencers like the Kardashians. The influencers you need often share beliefs, demographics, interests and passions with your market. While they may have fewer followers than the Kardashians, they are more likely to influence people to buy your products and services. Journalists, authors and bloggers who write about specific topics of interest in the market comprise the social influencers you need to support your brand.
Developing Bonds to Powerful Social Influencers
Building bonds with social influencers begins with spending time listening to and getting to know them. Perhaps they write about the markets that your company competes in. Maybe they write about other products and never mention your brand. Your job starts with identifying the information they require about your product, service and company that will allow them to share information. What do they need to know to communicate through a range of media, including articles, podcasts, videos, blog posts, interviews and comments, that their followers expect?
You win social influencers over by building an emotional bond, not just a mental bond. You need to ask questions, but, more importantly, you need to listen. What information do they need to start writing about you? Maybe you don’t have the right information on your website, or perhaps they have limited knowledge about your company, its service policies or parts suppliers. Perhaps, they lack awareness of your pricing and promotion or have never actually seen your product. What do they like and dislike about the brands they write about? While it may not be easy and frequently takes hard work and dedication, think about how you can form a strong emotional bond with relevant social influencers.
Developing Customer Advocates
Existing customers become customer advocates when they share stories, offer recommendations, engage in discussions and write or provide testimonials about your products and brand. Their importance cannot be overestimated. But creating customer advocates is difficult because you must develop strong listening skills to convert customer needs into actionable strategies that can be implemented and add value.
Brands listen to customer advocates in a variety of ways that include conversations captured by sales personnel, customer service and technical support personnel. In today’s world of Internet business and social media, brands also listen to what customers say in product reviews, references and referrals, user group forums, articles, blog posts and comments.
Today’s marketing managers face challenges of staying current with everything customers share online about their brands and knowing when and how to respond. While brands need to acknowledge and respond quickly and professionally to complaints, sometimes it’s better to refrain from entering discussions in online communities unless absolutely warranted and simply listen. Such restraint allows you to experience the unobstructed, free flow of ideas.
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Listening as Key to Influence
To understand the unmet needs and desires of a market, brands need to listen to customers and respond with features that address those needs and add value. Only by exceeding the expectations of customers can companies expect to develop powerful organic customer advocates who provide product rave reviews, referrals, user group content and blog comments that produce broad online exposure and increase referral customers.
If your company sells internationally, it should monitor communication across international, cultural and linguistic borders. Customers who speak English as a second language may be difficult to understand, but some useful strategies can be employed. These strategies can prove effective, whether reading the written opinions of customers online or by directly listening to customers on the telephone or in person. When customers communicate in a foreign language, a company’s most reliable strategy is to have translation services or interpreters available who can facilitate professional communication.
Brands also need to listen to social influencers who write online columns for sites catering to your industry. However, these influencers need an emotional connection to your company and enough information about your product or brand to produce the types of content their audiences value. Often the only means to understand the needs of powerful social influencers is to listen to and follow their content, participate in their discussions and make available to them the types of information and product features they focus on.
The Benefits of Better Listening
By becoming effective listeners, brands can capitalize on the unmet needs of social influencers and customers. The end result is a customer-driven company with additional customer advocates, increased profitability and strong competitive positioning.