THE BLOG
03/25/2014 11:25 am ET Updated May 25, 2014

How Should Brands Choose Online Influencers?

There has been a lot of talk in the early months of 2014 about how influence marketing is going to make the leap into the mainstream this year.

Given the state of content shock that consumers are in, the idea of finding individuals who can move the needle for a brand makes a lot of sense.

In a world where we are exposed to thousands of advertisements a day, yet we don't trust a single source of advertising at a rate of even 50 percent, earning and maintaining the attention AND trust of consumers is imperative for the long-term health of a brand.

In reality what it comes down to for brands is they need to gain trust, and they need to do it quickly. Knowing that consumers will trust a referral from their personal network at a rate of 90% and they gain that referral online more than 81 percent of the time, what better ways to expedite trust than to pay content creators to blog, tweet and share their strong sentiment for a brand?

It is like shooting fish in a barrel, yes?

Not so fast. While the idea of finding influencers to support your brand seems easy -- and more and more brands are doing it each day -- I want to caution brands looking to use this tactic.

There may be more to influence than meets the eye.

Finding The Right Influencers Is More Than Metrics

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend the Social Intelligence Summit in Las Vegas. One of the speakers was Penny Baldwin, CMO at McAfee. Her stand-out moment was when she said, "80 percent of the Internet's impressions are driven by just 6 percent of its users."

Score one for influence, but with this statistic another challenge for brands is born: Who are the right influencers for their brand?

Many brands are turning to data to figure out whom they should bring on to their influence team.

They look at metrics like followers on Twitter, likes on Facebook or Alexa Rank of their blog. All of these numbers have some meaning, but not necessarily as much as one might think.

This is where brands must do there homework and figure out how connected these supposed influencers are to their community and can they move the needle for the specific brand in need.

To figure out whether a specific influencer can move content and drive improved brand sentiment, brands need to go beyond just the raw data to determine what they are trying to do. Is it better to find an influencer who can connect the brand to 20 or 30 really meaningful decision makers, or are 10,000 page views more important even if the vast majority aren't really potential buyers?

The 30 meaningful relationships can mean millions of dollars in revenue (product dependent), whereas 10,000 page views will do nothing more than impress people that probably don't care.

If you consider what your per-customer acquisition cost is versus what the typical investment looks like for a brand-influence campaign, I suggest brands seek out the influencers who can make a handful of meaningful connections over broad reach any day of the week.

Buying Influence Vs. Earning Trust

While brands can buy influence, brand influencers cannot.

Much like the premise of brands buying reach, influencers can do the same through a number of tactics, not all of which lead to highly engaged communities.

However, brands looking to build advocacy through influence campaigns need to steer away from the temptation of reach and instead turn their attention to what the numbers mean.

If brands seek to use influence campaigns to build trust, then those chosen as brand influencers must have the ability to deliver meaningful content that drives brand sentiment within their community upwards. Having an engaged audience is the only way to do this. Reach means nothing if nobody is listening.

We have legitimately reached the point where consumers have run out of time to consume content, making it more important than ever for brands to focus on quality as a means to separate them from the pack. Influence marketing is undoubtedly a way to earn and keep more eyeballs where brands want them, however this can only be done if the influencers can transfer the trust they have built with their community to the brands they choose to support.

Influence marketing will work for brands that understand the connection between their target audience and the influencer and they focus on working only with those that can strengthen that connection not only for the short run, but also sustainably into the future.