This past week the New York Times ran an extensive piece on the use of bots to build large twitter followings, and the amount of money paid by politicians, celebrities and athletes to become influencers in a space where brands look to size over substance. In the last few days big names such as Mark Cuban have come out with suggestions for Twitter, even going as so far as to say that every follower should have some sort of verification process to insure that all is authentic and numbers actually add up.
This speaks to the ongoing issue with social media and influencers, especially as we continue to go deep into a time where the “influencer,” he or she who can impact sales or buzz or marketing spend, are becoming more powerful than every with a direct to consumer message, bypassing the lines of traditional advertising with an audience that is supposed to be engaged and authentic.
Still we are in a very fluid media world today, and those looking for a traditional ROI; you place an ad, drop in a code and bang, there goes your sales; are struggling to justify spends where the impact may or may not be so immediate, and building a culture and a following around a brand, an event, or a team or property takes some time and will have an ebb and flow.
For those who read the Times piece or are still doing handwringing over the business of audience building using social, it remains very important to remember size does not always matter. What matters is that whomever is amplifying your message is speaking to the right audience to the right time with a message that makes sense for you and for whomever you are teaming up with. An “influencer” can be billed as having millions of followers, but how many interact with him or her on a regular basis? Does he or she ever check to see who is following or unfollowing them and why? How much churn is in their influencer list? Do they really engage in conversations around a topic, or just flit in and out?
We are going to see this with the Winter Olympics, where communities have been built around athletes that may not be massive but can be very impactful because those niche athletes know their audience and more importantly, their audience is passionate about them, their sport and all that helps support them in their run to success. Do they have millions? Probably not? Is an engagement tying into a story that can lead to not just a short term ROI but a longer term one? Good chance.
Then there is the science of making sure those who are being engaged are doing all the little things to amplify a message. Instagram and Facebook have much more stickiness sometimes than twitter, and the ability for a message to be conveyed for a longer period is greater than if someone is randomly tweeting and moving on. Is the influencer tagging and sharing stories and messages and photos correctly, and in the case of twitter, tagging the right 10 people per post to make sure the conversation is being properly spread? Often times those questions are not asked, and it becomes a head scratcher by the spender to see that a message did not reach the people that they thought. Knowing who the followers are of an influencer (you can easily look on a platform like twitter) and seeing if they fit with who you want to reach directly, is essential in building out the strategy, especially around sports. An authentic picture also doesn’t hurt by the way, as all signs point to the fact that if there is an image, people will stop and take a look. They are worth more than the old thousands words.
Lastly, there is the issue of balance. In this volatile media world we are in, having a consistent wide reaching attempt to engage is key. It’s still not an all or nothing spend or attempt to connect with a community through one person; it is a marathon of trying, sometimes failing, but making sure you have people around a brand, an event, a cause, that are engaged and understanding of what you are trying to accomplish. Asking the right questions will save you time and money, and listening to those who you are trying to engage with; influencer, brand, audience, remains key in moving things along.
Back to the Times story and the bots. It is also beholden on the individual to check his or her followings, or in the case of a massive influencer to always ask and make sure someone is awake at the switch in building and engaging in an audience. Too often people pass along that task to a junior person without direction, and the result can be embarrassing and disasterous. The social space is not for everyone, and like everything else you have to engage and understand to do it right. Being able to write big checks to get numbers up is one thing; being able to justify the spend for the long term and then deal with insincerity when authenticy and sinceroity are becoming even more important, is even more key.
Both side need to play the game to make it successful, the buyer and the influencer. That’s an age-old lesson that holds true today, and always will in the business of human nature and storytelling.