Social Influence Marketing: The New Way to Win Customers

Don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying that consumers can’t think for themselves. But they do influence each other when they decide who to shop from and what to buy.

Digital behavior has caught up with offline behavior. Consumers now seek advice through social networks, prediction markets, micro-blogging, location-based, networked mobile phone applications and even virtual worlds.

What marketers can do to tap into this phenomenon, and win new online customers? Shiv Singh, our vice president of social media and global strategic initiatives, recently gave me some ideas on how marketers can employ social media as part of the entire lifecycle of a marketing campaign—and beyond.

Here are some actionable tips from Singh on how to take advantage of social influence marketing.

1. Become your customer. The rise of social networks and blogs has allowed consumers to stay far more closely connected. As a result, they are more intimately watching each other transact online and offline.

As they observe, they also comment and directly or indirectly influence purchasing behavior. To influence consumers, you need to become like them and participate honestly in those same conversations in an ongoing basis.

2. Aggregate information for the consumer. People are blogging, commenting and rating, providing a rich base of knowledge for other consumers. Shoppers who tap into these blogs know more about your brand than you probably do. Rather than trying to control the message, serve as the aggregator of all information regarding the brand. Even if the conversation is negative, you win over the long term.

3. Articulate product benefits better. Recent research by eMarketer shows that 22% of U.S. online buyers always read customer reviews before making a purchase, and that 43% read them most of the time. Your job? To make sure you sell a strong product and articulate its benefits in a digestible manner. You’ll create happier customers who’ll then do the marketing for you.

4. Create multiple, authentic voices within your company. Social influence marketing is about providing the space for consumers to influence each other during the purchase process. As a brand, you want them to this to be a positive influence.

Create a network of multiple, authentic voices within your company. Empower internal constituents across the organization to serve as brand ambassadors. They’ll talk about your brand in their own voices to their own communities. They may not be totally on message, but they’ll be authentic, and they’ll have a strong, positive influence.

5. Amplify the favorite business stories. Your consumers would rather listen to each other than to you. But, you still have messages that you want to get out there. Do that by shaping, influencing and amplifying business stories that play to your brand’s strengths. Publish your favorite stories as widely as possible and direct consumers to individuals or groups that are already predisposed to your products.

6. Let consumers shape and share the experience. Your consumers don’t necessarily want to participate in the conversations on your site. Rather than just focusing on creating strong brand experiences that can then be shared among consumers, think in terms of creating assets that allow consumers to shape and extend the brand wherever they want.

Make it easy for consumers to pluck information off your site and carry it with them elsewhere—to the places where conversations are happening.

7. Go where your customers go. Consumers are spending time on social sites interacting with their peer groups. Don’t try to disrupt those dynamics by dragging people to your Web site every opportunity you get. Instead, provide them with the messages directly on those social sites.

8. Don’t do it all at once. Rather than trying every social strategy at the same time, focus on strong ideas and only use the most appropriate channels. Don’t feel obliged to have a Facebook page, a CEO Blog, a wiki, a MySpace page and a YouTube channel simply because everyone else has one. Figure out an engaging way to interact with your consumers as a participant, then choose the channels to use.

These are the early days of social influence marketing. We’re only just beginning to understand how consumers influence each other’s purchasing decisions online and what role brands should play in this. No company has really figured this out yet. If you’re smart, sensible, pragmatic and mindful of consumer sensitivities, you may be one of the first to do so.

Dave Friedman is president of the central region for Avenue A | Razorfish, and is a monthly contributor to Chief Marketer. He may be reached at

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