How to win friends and influence people online

Kate Gillingham

Katie Gillingham (our amazing intern/writer) interviews Mel Kirk of Tribal Media about the importance of relationships when promoting your products and services.

What are influencers?

It’s universally acknowledged that adverts are the marketing equivalent of stepping on cracks in the pavement: to be avoided at all costs.

Whether by installing a plug-in to stop ads on YouTube videos, pausing a telly programme so we can start watching it 10 minutes later and fast-forward the ad breaks, or by keeping our arms firmly crossed whilst someone desperately tries to thrust a leaflet at us, there really is no end to the possibilities when it comes to avoidance tactics.

Founder of Tribal Media, Mel Kirk, thinks that this skepticism is the catalyst for the recent trend in social media marketing. People talking to their friends about products is an authentic way for brands to earn people’s trust, with “word of mouth recommendations being of utmost importance”.

One way for a company to get the word of their brand across to lots of people simultaneously, is to collaborate with ‘influencers’ such as bloggers, who already have the trust and respect of a large group of people. If a popular beauty blogger recommends a certain brand of lipstick, for example, the brand’s message is more likely to spread than it would from a static advert badly pasted on to the side of a bus.

The key word here is ‘collaborate’. With influencers realising that they’re the ones who hold the power, it just isn’t possible for brands to use them to make a quick buck, and then run away.

This is Mel’s take:

“Too many brands do it badly, seeing it as a way to get some ‘free exposure’ at the end of a marketing campaign.”

“Influencers in particular want to establish longer-term relationships with brands which means that they fully understand what the company is trying to achieve. By doing this, they are able to buy into the brand and to get a sense of ownership for wanting to help. This means they’ll feel more passionate when they’re talking about how awesome a brand is to their friends, on and offline.”

Where can I find these influencers?

Influencers are everywhere. Bloggers, people who create YouTube videos, podcasters. There’s no shortage of content creators on the internet; someone credible who has built an audience around authenticity, trust, and engagement is perfect.

As Mel points out, not all influencers will be helpful.

“Too many influencers are getting into the blogosphere to try and get free stuff – we say that there are two categories, bloggers and blaggers.”

Sometimes people realise what a good deal influencers are getting, and enter into the world of blogging because they are purely out to get free stuff. A blogger isn’t likely to be able to promote your brand if most of their posts are thinly veiled attempts to push products.

Finding an influencer who loves what they do and fits with the brand you’re trying to promote is important, but getting to know them before jumping straight in and asking them for their help is paramount. Mel is all about building lasting relationships with influencers.

“We spend the time fully researching each of the influencers to prove to them that we have a genuine interest in what they’re doing.”

Building a healthy, collaborative relationship between brands and influencers is so important, and Mel offers some practical advice for making that happen.

“Spend time searching the web to find out who is talking about your subject area. Then, follow them closely, read their blogs, engage in conversations with them on social media. Don’t be afraid to reach out to introduce yourself and to compliment them on their work – ask if there’s any way of working together in the future. Influencers appreciate collaboration and so the earlier that you can engage them, the better.”

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How do influencers work?

Promoting brands through bloggers, is basically a web-savvy way of having some influence over word-of-mouth advertising. This doesn’t mean that it’s a low cost, low effort option. For influencers to be interested in the first place:

  • The product must deliver.
  • Their audience has to be able to gain something from it.

For advertising campaigns to be successful, the product or brand being pushed almost has to take a back seat. Building relationships may take time, but it will eventually provide a person or network of people who are willing to talk about your stuff and who may also be interested in further things you’re looking to promote in the future.

“I wanted to do something genuinely different- we put influencers at the core of everything that we do, above clients– the relationships that we have with them are our value after all.”

What this approach does, is really promote authenticity – something which is often overlooked when it comes to the creation of advertising content. Influencers who already have an audience who trust them, their content, and their judgement, aren’t going to jeopardise that by promoting a product or brand which they don’t feel warrants an endorsement.

Influencers understanding objectives of the brand that they’re working with is important. As Mel said, it will make them feel a sense of ownership which empowers them to talk about the brand in a truthful way with their online audience, as well as their personal friends.

This insight is not only important for bloggers, it’s also crucial that the people reached by a campaign get a real sense of the brand’s identity through storytelling.

“There is so much competition in every market now that it’s important for consumers to understand a brand’s story, what they’re trying to achieve and why they’re doing what they are in order to set them apart from the competition.”

So there we have it. The answer to effective promotion in collaboration with influencers isn’t to force products and brands upon as many people as possible hoping one or two of them might notice and engage. It’s to engage with people, find out what they like, let them play a part in what it is you’re promoting and then let them tell people about it in their own way.

If you ask Mel what her favourite thing about her job is, she’ll tell you:

“Talking to people that I’m lucky enough to consider friends on a daily basis as work. That’s pretty EPIC.”

If everyone in marketing jumped aboard the influencer engagement ship, the internet would be a friendlier place. And as an added bonus: ridiculous press releases could walk the plank.