The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) has recently released the Influencer Handbook (hat tip to Stein Communications). It has sections covering:   

  • Definition of an influencer and influencer marketing
  • Types of influencers
  • Methods to engage and thank influencers
  • Guidelines for influencer self-regulation
  • Bibliography of influencer communication research and practice

The guide is well timed as it provides me with a framework for thinking about influence. Over the last week I have done quite a bit of reading around this topic, absorbing the smart thinking of Mike Arauz, Dina Mehta, Allan Young and Julian Cole and even revisiting my bookshelves.

Why Nothing Ever Gets DoneYears ago, I read Bob Cialdini’s, The Psychology of Influence. I remember being impressed from the very first lines where he states “I can admit it freely now. All my life I’ve been a patsy”. Ever since that first reading, I have been interested in the way in which influence can be created, managed and employed. It might even be argued that marketing is all about using the “weapons of influence” to achieve business outcomes.

However, in the Age of Conversation, such naked techniques are easily spotted and counteracted. As consumers it is easy to research and receive unmediated commentary from a business’ other customers, suppliers and even employees. We can ask questions, find answers and make decisions independently of a brand’s best marketing efforts. Interestingly, it is Cialdini’s concept of “social proof” – a technique used so effectively AS a marketing tool that is the undoing of this “old style” influence.

Social proof is where an expected behaviour is prompted and reinforced in the moment in which we experience it. An example is “canned laughter” in a sitcom – we hear the pre-recorded laugh track, realise it is fake, but engage in laughing anyway (and research shows that we laugh longer and more often with canned laughter). But in a networked world, we are connected to, and in some instances by, mob behaviour. The difference is, that in a social network, we actually CHOOSE to participate – to use what Mark Earls and and Alex Bentley call “directed copying” – enacting social proof while simultaneously demonstrating another person’s influence:

If we view the influentials phenomenon as a special case of directed copying, then usually it is we who decide to copy an individual, creating their perceived influence in the process.

Mark and Alex suggest that rather than focusing on HOW ideas spread, we should look at WHY (check out their excellent paper entitled “Forget influentials, herd-like copying is how brands spread”). By understanding the two types of copying (directed and random) we can produce content and strategies that are designed to facilitate the type of behaviour we want to see.

Furthermore, by understanding the dynamics of various social networks, it is possible to not only map the behaviours that you want to establish, you can also shape and amplify them – which is where marketing really becomes interesting.

All this, of course, leads back to the need for good planning, for focused insight, and strategy that takes into account the nuances of digital and social behaviour. Perhaps all this talk of influence really is overrated – and we should look at what I called the Promiscuous Idea and leave the tribes to sort it out amongst themselves!