"Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam." Besides being one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies, these words from Peter Cook, the priest in The Princess Bride, are a fitting introduction to the "dream within a dream" promise of influencer marketing.
Though perhaps as old as the notion of marriage itself, influencer marketing is suddenly getting showered with fresh attention from brands, agencies, and service providers alike. Having talked to authorities from all three in preparation for this piece (and an upcoming panel discussion on the topic), I can offer you these 10 laws (more like in-laws, given their codependences) to guide your efforts, should you, too, decide to engage with influencers.
1. Divine Your Strategy.
As it turns out, influencer marketing programs, like marriages, are not a one-size-fits-all proposition and thus require differing strategic approaches. Explains Teresa Caro, SVP at Engauge, who advises clients like Wells Fargo and Food Lion, "Because there are so many different types of programs, the first thing to do is define your objectives." Additionally, Caro cautions, "Don’t allow a tactic to drive your strategy."
2. Pick the Right Partner(s).
Despite the generally polygamous nature of influencer marketing, brands do need to carefully select with whom they partner. For example, mass marketers who only align with "mass" influencers may find their efforts falling short. Notes Caro, "Choosing an influencer based solely upon reach is a missed opportunity at best and serious strategic misstep at worst." Relevance to the topic and relationship with the brand are two important criteria that should take priority over reach.
3. Get to Know Your Partner(s).
A common theme among influencer marketers and those they seek to influence is the need for a long-term commitment to relationship building. Tami Cannizzaro, IBM Global Director, Social Business, orchestrated a highly successful love fest with 25 influencers (including yours truly) at IBM’s Smarter Commerce conference earlier this year. Advises Cannizzaro, whose carefully cultivated influencers yielded almost 300 million impressions, "The program needs to be nurtured by someone who will invest the necessary time—it’s not a one-shot event."
4. Be Prepared to Morph.
They say that couples that stay together long enough start to look, talk, and think alike. Similarly, one of the interesting by-products of investing time to build relationships with influencers is that you might become one yourself. After two-years of intimate contact with a diverse range of "prolific social influencers," Cannizzaro has seen her social clout rise as well. "Becoming a member of an influencer community has enriched my knowledge of the industry and paid me back in a number of ways," she remarks.
5. It Really Does Take a Village.
While quality one-to-one relationships are essential, many a lasting marriage is enhanced by a supportive extended family. And talk to any influencer marketing pro, and you’ll hear the word community over and over again. Cannizzaro’s program for IBM allowed time for fellow bloggers to get to know each other and even continue the conversation in a closed group on Facebook. As she expounds, "It sounds hokey, but there is tremendous power in building community, and that to my mind is at the core of an influencer program.
6. Walk in Their Shoes.
Only talking the talk is the quick path to divorce court in influencer marketing. Kelly Tirman, who is currently the Enterprise Social Marketing Strategist at Wells Fargo, walked the walk by blogging during her time at Walmart "as a way to better understand how women were running their businesses." Adds Tirman, "As I blogged, I formed friendships, and it was actually those relationships that taught me what I needed to know."
7. Give to Get.
Common sense tells you that sustainable partnerships are all about give and take. According to Tirman, the advantages of such an approach go well beyond any given program. "As I participate and collaborate with other bloggers, my mind is able to use those experiences as a jumping-off point for new ones," she notes. As both a blogger and marketer, she concludes, "Technology changes fast; it is the power of your tribe that keeps you all ahead of the curve."
8. Look Below the Surface.
As the popularity of influencer marketing has grown, so too have scoring tools like Klout and Kred as a means of helping marketers pick their "brides." Unfortunately, influencer scores, like beauty, are often only skin deep. Matt Hixson, CEO of Tellagence, a social analytics company that helped a Fortune 500 company identify some hidden gems, remarks, "There were people who had fewer than 100 followers [on Twitter] and a low influencer score but were critical and would be overlooked by most."
9. Renew Your Vows.
Marriages tend to go south when one or both partners stop investing in the union. Not surprisingly, the same goes for the relationship between brand and influencer. Explains Hixson: "Marketers have to remember that you are constantly earning the right to have your messages consumed and passed along." He concludes, "If you are not providing them value, they [influencers] turn the relationship off."
10. Have Faith.
While the promise of marriage is always boundless at the start, the reality is not quite as predictable—and so it is when embarking on influencer programs. Engauge’s Caro advises that, "Success is in the eye of the beholder—the metrics depend on what you are looking to achieve." IBM’s Cannizzaro is slightly more sanguine, noting, "The hard part is that you have to depend on good faith that the investment will yield."
Samuel Johnson defined marriage as "the triumph of hope over experience," which may also be the case for those marketers dreaming about a quick influencer success story. All I can say is that I hope that you tap into the experiences of Caro, Cannizaro, Tirman, and Hixson, all of whom I thank for their extensive insights, which you can now find in full detail on TheDrewBlog.com.
[Image: Flickr user Juan Antonio Capó Alonso]