Every once in a while you meet someone who seems to be so much more productive than you are that you just have to stop and tip your hat. The recipient of my admiration most recently is Martin Jones of Cox Communications and as you will see in our interview below, Martin is a man who wears many hats from his day job as the leader of social/content/influencer/employee advocacy at Cox Business and the editor of CoxBlue.com to being a member of IBM’s Futurist influencer program, a program through which the two of us first met a couple of years back.
What brought us together again is the upcoming Digital Media World Forum (#DMWF) on October 18-19 during which Martin, Pat Zvick (GlassesUSA.com), Sean Garnder (influencer nonpareil) and I will be running a workshop on Influencer Marketing. The conversation below will give you a sneak peak at just some of the insights we plan to lay before the audience at DMWF. It’s going to be an amazing event so I hope you can join us.
SME: You wear a lot of hats as a marketer for Cox, Sr. Marketing Manager, writer, editor, speaker and influencer yourself. Do you ever sleep? Seriously, how do you juggle all of this?
Currently, I lead the social media, content marketing, and employee/ambassador brand advocacy strategy for Cox Business. I am also the editor/manager of the Cox Business content hub/portal, CoxBLUE.com.
It’s a position that requires wearing a number of different hats at any given time. Marketer, publisher, coder, writer, editor, community manager, etc. Although it’s a Senior Management position, I’m still very much “in the trenches” on a daily basis.
Some days it can seem like a lot, but I’m now in my 20th year with Cox, and I’m still excited to get up and go to work each day. I work for a great company; I’m on an amazing team, and I can honestly say I love what I do.
As for how I juggle the different roles and responsibilities:
- Start each day with a great attitude (coffee usually works well, too!)
- Clarify and list priorities at the start of each day
- Stay organized and use a great task manager app (Yanado is my favorite)
- Automate the things that can be automated
- Learn when and how to say no (or maybe)
- Identify and use platforms and apps that streamline many of the day-to-day and recurring processes
- Delegate and trust others
- Be proud of what is accomplished at the end of each day
SME: Can you talk about a specific influencer program you’ve orchestrated? What were the goals of the program? How did it work out? How do you evaluate success?
The influencer/ambassador program our team has created for Cox Business is one I consider to be a best-in-class program. Instead of simply selecting a vendor and going from there, we determined what our needs would be from the immediate to the next few years out, and we built the program around that.
We’ve spent close to a year building, testing, and receiving and incorporating feedback to ensure we built something that met the needs of the organization, our employee advocates, and our influencers/ambassadors.
The primary needs/goals of the program included:
- Creating an end-to-end influencer/advocacy platform that integrated and incentivized frictionless content sharing and message amplification along with real-life – offline social activities and events.
- Ensuring that the program aligned with and supported our overall business objectives, but would also be flexible enough to easily adapt to small, localized micro-influencer initiatives in each market.
- Allowing influencers, employees, and consumers to participate whenever and at whatever level they felt most comfortable.
- Ensure that the program would be a two-way street in value for both the organization and our influencers. We wanted to create a program that benefited our influencers in terms of extending their professional networks, increasing thought leadership in their industry or community, and opening the door to new opportunities.
We recently completed beta testing in a couple of our markets, and the full program is rolling out now.
SME: Sticking with this particular program, how did you identify your influencers, and what have been some of the keys to bringing them on board?
That’s kind of like asking The Colonel for his 11 secret herbs and spices! We use a variety of methods and tools to identify influencers including social listening, blogger outreach, hashtag research, and more. We also have a direct link to the Cox Social Ambassador program on our site, where anyone who is interested can apply to the program.
Different groups of influencers had to be identified for each local market, as well as for a number of verticals—start-ups, small business, digital health, higher education technology, hospitality, enterprise technology, and more.
Because of the diversity of the programs and the various influencer/ ambassador initiatives we will undertake in 2017 and beyond, identifying and onboarding a wide range of influencers will be our ongoing focus.
To successfully onboard these influencers, we’re constantly working to ensure that the partnership is a good professional and cultural fit for both sides. To retain these influencers, we need to build relationships with them in order to understand their needs, making sure that they are receiving benefit from the partnership as well, beyond any type of recognition or incentives.
From the start, our influencers are given a documented agreement that provides clearly defined goals and measurements of success for each initiative and the overall ambassador program. We’re also very careful about providing our influencers with the tools and assets needed to make their role as achievable as possible.
SME: Can you identify three essential “do’s” when it comes to developing successful influencer programs?
In addition to what I’ve mentioned above, here are a few other steps we’ve found to be helpful:
- Do support your influencer by promoting and amplifying their content and personal brand. As a brand or business owner, it’s important that you’re aware of what your influencers/advocates are up to and that you’re also supporting them, when and where it makes sense. Additionally, take time regularly to share and mention the content they’ve created for you on your social channels to support their efforts and increase exposure. Content, frequency and creativity, all increase when an influencer or advocate is being supported by brand he or she is working with.
- Do select the right influencers for your brand and initiatives. Choosing influencers that have the right audience and personality for your brand is critical to success.
- Do take a look at your prospective influencers’ social media channels to ensure not only that they are the right fit for your organization and have the followers you’re looking for, but also that they have an engaged, attentive audience. A high number of followers isn’t useful if those followers are not listening to and interacting with the influencer.
SME: Can you offer a couple of “don’ts” or influencer program faux pas?
- Don’t assume that every person who has a large following or is a recognized name in social media will necessarily be a great influencer for your business, event, or campaign. A good influencer is not measured by the size of their following, but rather by their ability to get their audience to take action.
- Don’t underestimate the power of micro-influencers. For example, let’s look at the IT industry. A CIO may only have 300-500 followers, but if many of those followers are also CIO’s and other tech leaders, that person could potentially become one of your most powerful influencers. This applies to any industry, community, or niche.
- Don’t overwhelm your influencers. This should go without saying, but it’s one of those things I’ve run into a couple of times and heard other influencers complain about. Don’t micro-manage influencers or try to get them influence “your” way. They know their audience better than you do, so let them influence by whatever methods are natural and authentic for them and their audience.
SME: You are among the IBM Futurists which is essentially an influencer program. How do you make sure you are helpful to IBM without seeming like a shill? Or asked differently, what kinds of things does IBM do that makes it easier for you to maintain the integrity of your personal brand?
I was honored to be named an IBM futurist. It’s an exciting program, and the opportunities I’ve had to network, learn, and participate in through that program have been incredible. Many of the things incorporated into our employee advocacy and influencer program are a result of what I have learned from the IBM team and their experience.
If I had to pick the one thing that makes it easy to participate, it would be that the activities that I’m invited to engage in are a natural extension of the work I that I am already doing.
I’ve attended a couple of IBM events as a futurist over the past few years, and each one has been an incredible experience. It has provided me with amazing learning opportunities in fields like business technology, start-ups, marketing, and digital trends—all the things that our audience at Cox Business and CoxBlue.com (our content hub) has a strong interest in.
I’ve come away from each event with an incredible number of ideas, strategies, and tactics. They make it a win-win, so it’s a very natural fit. The role of an influencer does not feel forced, there are no requirements, and I am not being paid to attend the events or share content. Instead, I simply do the same things I’m already doing every day: learning, writing, sharing, networking with our audience, and striving to bring to them the latest news, trends, and information that will help them grow their businesses.
IBM does an incredible job of connecting the futurists to conference speakers, experts, and others at these events, making it a truly a one of a kind experience for a business-tech-content guy like myself.
SME: How helpful do you think it is to be an influencer yourself when orchestrating influencer programs for your company?
In my opinion, it’s critical to the success of the program. As an influencer (although it feels odd to call myself that) I think it’s probably a bit easier for me to connect with other influencers and bring them on board than someone without a strong social footprint or experience.
There’s a comfort level of trust that influencers want from a brand. Having a personal connection—and knowing that person “gets” your needs and challenges—goes a long way in achieving that.
There are some things I’ve experienced as an influencer that have shaped how I have built and administered our program. Looking at things through the eyes of both the brand and of the influencer has helped us create a strong, well-balanced program that serves both sides well.
SME: Do you think more companies will try to do influencer programs in 2017? Should they? Since these programs often take a couple of years to gain momentum, what should their expectations be?
Yes. I believe more companies can and should jump on the influencer marketing bandwagon in 2017, simply because of the trends we’re seeing in organic reach.
While organic reach across most social networks continues to decline for brands, it has not declined for individuals. In 2017 and beyond it will become increasing important for brands to leverage both influencers and employee advocates if they hope to organically reach an audience.
Additionally, an influencer’s reach is going to be much different than that of a brand. The influencer will attract new consumers that the brand may not have reached through any other method. Better still, they’re coming via a referral from someone the consumer already trusts.
Like most successful marketing programs, building a strong influencer program does take time. An influencer’s primary objective is not to sell products, but to build or shape the perception of your brand in the mind of their audience. So while they will help drive traffic to your site or app, you can’t expect an immediate jump in sales. Think of your influencer program as an introduction to a new audience. It’s up to the brand to build the relationship from there, and that’s a process that takes time and nurturing.
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