Who Wins in the Battle of Influencer VS. Advocate Marketing - Social Media Explorer
Who Wins in the Battle of Influencer VS. Advocate Marketing
Who Wins in the Battle of Influencer VS. Advocate Marketing
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The headlines are scattered with the aftermath and debated value of the social influencer. Kim Kardashian made network news headlines with the story where she and the manufacturer of Diclegis, a morning sickness drug, were warned by the FDA for Kim’s glowing one-sided promotion of the drug with blatant disregard for the minefield that is pharmaceutical advertising. While her millions saw the post (since taken down), the story in the news was how they didn’t follow requirements stating the side effects. The end result – the post is down and the news media has left people with the question “what are the side effects?” effectively acting as an anti-advertisement of sorts.

Situations like these have led many to question the effectiveness of influencer advertising. Placing the reputation of your brand in the hands of a social media celebrity, inexperienced in advertising, may not be a great idea. Today we’ll dive into the detailed differences between influencer and advocate advertising.

Who Wins in the Battle of Influencers VS. Advocates

In this corner we have…influencers

Last week, the New York Times had an article about how cool influencers are now being careful with their endorsements bringing up the story of Ricky Dillon. A social celebrity with millions of followers who, when he posted a photo of a couple personalized Coke cans, comments included queries if it was a paid sponsorship. It was. Audiences are keenly aware of this form of advertising in their midst and are definitely intelligent enough to recognize it.

Let’s be clear about what social/celebrity influencers are – they are the new paid reach, a different version of an ad. Much like an ad, you pay, they post. The length of the relationship is as long as the brand is paying for it. To the FTC, it is enough of an ad that they want to make sure the unsuspecting consumers are aware and recently updated guidelines that posts like this should indicate #sponsored (read #igotpaid).

Can this type of marketing be effective? Yes, it definitely can and has the capacity to create instantly large reach to a relatively targeted audience based on your choice of influencer. I’m unsure of the demographic makeup of Kim Kardashian’s 42 Million Instagram followers…but there are 42 million of them. All indications are that this type of advertising is more effective than a traditional paid ad, but I have yet to see a sizeable test on the business impact or efficiency of influencer vs. retargeting/programmatic.

The influencers dilemma

Let’s be equally clear as to what social/celebrity influencers are not. They are not trusted like a peer or advocate. Likewise, the facts regarding advocates do not translate to influencers.

  • 92% of people trust peers and advocates…not influencers.
  • 84% of people trust peers and advocates before ads…not influencers. The trust factor goes notably down for influencers.
    • Does anybody trust a celebrity influencer that actually uses a Samsung phone? After Manny Pacquiao, Ellen Degeneres, Kate Upton and David Beckham all tweeted their love of Galaxy followed by tweets from their iPhone, probably not.
  • People are 4-10x more likely to act on the recommendation of a trusted peer or advocate…again, not influencers.
  • An influencer impression is not worth 5-250x a paid impression like a word-of-mouth impression. It is simply a paid impression featuring a social celebrity.

Finally, when talking about the social/celebrity influencer, let’s examine the word ‘influence’:

in·flu·ence ˈinflo͝oəns/ noun. the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something.

To have an effect on behavior – in the case of influencer marketing…get people to buy stuff. But, if people don’t trust it like they trust brand advocates – how much are they buying? How much actual influence do they have? Very few, in my opinion, meet the definition of true influencer. Oprah is probably the best example of a true influencer – if she talked about a book on her book club, sales went wild. Bonafide influence. But even she fell prey to influencer mishap when tweeting about how much she loved her Microsoft Surface…from her iPad.

The advocate right hook

By comparison, building brand advocates and a brand advocate community avoids many of these pitfalls. Real brand advocates have a passion for your brand and while influence can’t be taught/built/manufactured, passion for your brand cannot. They’re trusted by their peers and social networks and are viewed as there to help. You build a two-way relationship with your advocates, they get an exclusive experience and you get to harness their enthusiasm. The most common question – “what’s in it for them?” or “how much do you pay them?” – has an unexpected answer: you don’t pay them. The playbook would say to surprise and delight them, give them something unique that others can’t have, but the relationship with the brand is what they cling to.

An empowered brand advocate creates a ripple effect that reaches out to 8! – not an exclamation point, but factorial – 8x7x6 etc. = 40,000+. These advocates will be those who are engaged in the 100 or so conversations about brand each day that you aren’t. Build a social brand advocate community and you can gain so much impact. Genuine reach that is trusted that people actually take action on. You can gain insights for marketing and product development, procure valuable user generated content and the biggest part of it – it’s sustainable. You don’t need to reload a new campaign next week or next month. As a matter of fact, remove the military terms from your advocacy plans. It’s a movement, not a strategy. They’re people, not targets.

At this point, many marketers would be reaching for the credit card wondering how much these advocate communities cost and how quickly can it be up and running. Herein lies the rub – you can’t just buy advocates – you need to find them, foster them and ignite their collective enthusiasm to become a community. While various tools can identify, nurture and build enthusiast relationships within your social audiences into an advocate community, it takes time.

In the time-warped world of social media marketing we live in, sometimes business demands immediate returns, which is why ads and influencer marketing will continue to exist and should be a part of your strategy. To truly scale the social word-of-mouth about your brand, it takes investing a little time, but the impact felt will far exceed paid media results and your C-suite’s expectations for years to come.

About the Author

Jeff Ernst
Jeff Ernst is the COO and Co-founder of Smync, The Social Word-of-Mouth Marketing Platform, providing the toolkit for brands to foster advocate relationships that grow business. He is a business and integrated marketing leader with over 25 years experience in developing and managing brands from startups to Fortune 500, including over 8 years in social media marketing. Ernst has been a marketing consultant and strategist for hundreds of brands, including world-leading brands like ConAgra and LodgeNet. Prior to Smync, Ernst was VP of Sales and Marketing at Netbriefings, as well as a Director at Minnesota West, where he won awards and spoke frequently on innovation in civic and private partnerships. He holds degrees from Augustana College in both Philosophy and Business Administration.
  • Mike Hill

    I don’t think that influencers are automatically destined for failure. My current company has had good success with affiliate influencers and I think that is because the influencers in our case are just honest about the product. It’s an honest review as opposed to a paid sponsorship. I think this article focuses a little too much on celebrity influencers. Most of the celebrity influencers don’t know the subtleties well enough to come off as non-biased and trustworthy. However there are plenty of other influencers in each product category that are capable of this.

  • “To truly scale the social word-of-mouth about your brand, it takes investing a little time, but the impact felt will far exceed paid media results and your C-suite’s expectations for years to come.”

    What strategies and tactics do you recommend then? Besides “engage”.

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