It used to be only the money that a customer spent that determined their value to a business, but this myopic view is changing, and fast. Although dollar bills are the still the great currency of exchange, there is a new commodity that is rising in value, and is increasingly being recognized by marketers – influence.
The signs are subtle, but they are many – the most obvious example is the coveted Foursquare Mayorship that is beginning to take on real-world value. PR agencies routinely reach out to the most influential bloggers on topics related to their clients’ products, offering them free trials and exclusive site visits in exchange for posts that help drive buzz. BzzAgent, a Word of Mouth and social media marketing agency, tracks its volunteers’ success in stimulating real-world conversations about its clients’ brands, rewarding its more influential “Agents” with valuable perks and schwag. Fast Company has even launched The Influence Project, to find the most influential person online, and like the top 3 in a season of American Idol, expect those people to be sought after for lucrative deals, once outed.
We’re entering an age of inequality, where marketers will target their more influential customers with the hopes of leveraging that social influence into sales. So how can small businesses begin harnessing that influential group of top customers? A few ideas:
First, find your influencers
If you don’t have an official referral program, create one, and make sure it doesn’t just measure the number of sales generated, but also who is referring those sales. Over time, you’ll see which of your customers are actively sending business your way. Jay Baer of Convince & Convert has an excellent article on finding your influential customers.
Socialize the purchase process
No, that doesn’t mean letting the government do all the spending – it means, give your more socially-inclined customers an outlet to publicize their purchases with you. For example, Levi’s online Friends Store lets customers ‘Like’ individual products in Facebook, which publicizes product preferences to their friends. Your influencers are influential partly because they take advantage of any opportunities to share things they like and learn, so make sure you’re providing them that outlet whenever you can.
Play games with your customers
Encouraging healthy competition between friends and peers for rewards and recognition can tip the balance when it comes to driving incremental purchases, and it’ll also help you ferret out who among your customers is passionately engaged and bringing their friends along for the ride. The science of games is inextricably tied to this type of consumer behavior, as Jesse Schell explains in his mind-blowing presentation “When Games Invade Real Life” (you can skip to around the 9:30 mark to hear him talk about how the Facebook game Mafia Wars built a $100 mil business out of stirring up competition between friends, but I highly recommend watching all of it). Virgin America is harnessing the influence trend by offering customers with proven influence (as measured by Klout, a social influence analytics tool) on Twitter free flights
Stop obsessing over the ROI of your social media engagement
You need to realize that your top influencers may not be your top spenders. Remember that your influencers are an accelerant to your marketing efforts, not a replacement, so they shouldn’t be measured against the same “how much money did I make off this” metrics as your other campaigns.
I’m missing something, surely, so help me out and jog my memory in the comments, would ya?