by Bradley Elliott (@BradElliottSA) Marketers wanting to harness digital word-of-mouth are using influencers to establish credibility and to create social currency in order to drive branded word-of-mouth recommendations. The key criterion for selection in the influencer game? Reach, or how many followers a person has. But this is a flawed, old-school approach to a digital world.

Look beyond reach

When did we ever ask a friend who recommends a product or service how many friends they have before taking their advice? We don’t do that. We trust the people in our human networks that we have relationships with. It is the trust and the relationship that matters, not the person’s popularity.

A word to the wise, marketers: we’re living in an era where reach is being questioned. A New York Times expose called “The Follower Factory” revealed as many as 48m of Twitter’s reported active users — nearly 15%— are automated accounts designed to simulate real people. In November last year, Facebook quietly updated key numbers that reveal much about its user base. Business Insider reports that “Facebook quietly increased its number of estimated duplicate accounts from 6% to 10%”, and that estimated “fake accounts were raised to 2–3% from 1%.” The bottom line? As many as 60m fake or automated accounts now roam the world’s largest social media platform.

Now, I’m not saying that marketers should never use reach as a metric, but they’re not giving enough thought and weight to two other key “influencer” metrics, namely: relevance and resonance. Relevance talks to expertise or knowledge. Resonance, which is a result of relevance, is the propensity to drive action.

Don’t be blind to ‘brand influencers’

The big problem with only using reach is that you’re missing out on the next wave of influencer marketing — the real gold in your branded social communities if you’re a marketer. Here I am referring to a group of people I’m going to call ‘brand influencers’.

If you use the right technology to analyse your social networks, you’ll discover that there are people in your social media communities who have a strong affinity to your brand. They may not have a lot of reach (less than 1000 followers) but they do have a huge amount of relevance and resonance. Most of them don’t even know they have this level of influence. They like your brand — some of them even love your brand. They engage, they retweet, they share stories about your brand.

These are the people who drive the velocity of conversation in your brand communities. When they engage on a piece of brand content, it gains traction, other people engage (resonance) and authentic organic reach escalates. The best part — they’re not looking to become influencers and they are only influential within your brand-specific community.

Technology drives influencer success

How may you leverage these audiences? First, you need to identify who these people are, which until now has been really difficult. But technology, data and computer algorithms will help brands identify and segment influencers on big social media networks. Once you know who the gold is, through direct outreach, recruitment strategies, and by serving targeted content based on personal interests, you’ll be able to build an army of brand influencers whose reach, relevance, resonance, and, most importantly, authenticity will likely surpass that of other types of influencers.

Technology and a smart social strategy will enable you to migrate social audiences so that they become customers or brand connections. The power of these social connections become even greater when you start to integrate behavioural data from other sources, like point-of-sale, ecommerce or CRM, which enables true personalised marketing at scale.

On a final note, it may sound as if I’m against the current state of influencer marketing — I’m not. All types of influencers have a role to play in overall brand strategies and should be considered.

The main takeaway here is that there is massive untapped value in brand social media communities. As marketers, the big question we need to ask ourselves is, why are we ignoring them?


Bradley ElliottThe founder of Continuon and Platinum Seed, Bradley Elliott (@BradElliottSA) is a serial entrepreneur who’s created a number of businesses in the digital and technology sectors. He believes that marketing needs to be reinvented so that it becomes more useful to humans and brands. He’s also a collector of fine whiskey. Bradley contributes the new monthly column, “Only Connect”, which focuses on influencer marketing, to

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