Are You Missing the Most Powerful Advocates for Your Brand?

You know your customers trust friends, family and peers more than they trust your brand, but do you know who they actually listen to online?

You know your customers trust friends, family and peers more than they trust your brand, but do you know who they actually listen to online? If you are assuming that celebrity names and high-profile influencers garner your audience’s trust, think again. Consumers are a suspicious breed, after all. They may follow celebrities, but are they really going to trust Justin Bieber (63 million Twitter followers) to give them cooking advice? No: They’re going to trust those who have focused expertise in the topics they care about. The question is: How do you find and engage with these experts your customers turn to?

But wait, aren’t mega-influencers better for reach? Logic does say that the more followers someone has, the greater the reach for your brand. Yet we have seen that this logic doesn’t always pan out. Experts with large followings often have very diverse followers who may or may not share common interests beyond an affinity for that person. So let’s say you get a mega-influencer to write about your brand; and yes, the message gets seen by a huge amount of people. You need to then ask yourself how many of them actually care. Are they really the right people you want to reach? You are marketing in broad strokes to the masses, instead of honing in on a targeted audience. This scenario has led brands to re-evaluate which experts they engage with. Turns out, the lesser known experts who have very specific expertise on topics related to a brand’s product or solution could be where the real power lies.

So it’s quality, not just quantity, that counts. These focused experts may fly under the radar because they are not affiliated with large organizations or media properties. But it’s precisely this lack of affiliation that gives them their power. These experts are perceived to have greater objectivity and greater objectivity leads to greater trust.

Untangle the web of influence and expertise: Until recently, finding these focused experts has been incredibly challenging. The Internet is saturated with voices, opinions, reviews and recommendations. It is increasingly difficult for brands and consumers to navigate and uncover who is credible and whom to trust. While some of the highest levels of trust are generated within a brand’s owned community, prospective customers are often outside this realm. Brands need to find ways to identify the influencers that can speak with credibility to these consumers, just as consumers are looking for ways to identify experts they can trust.

How do you find these focused experts? Start by identifying exactly who your customer is. You need to know who buys your product or service and where they are located. Customer demographics and interests will create the foundation you need to “go where your customers are” in the Web of influence.

Next, you need to identify whom your customers listen to. This is where it can get tricky. Until the advent of focused-topic influence trackers, brands were left to guess or conduct laborious research. Today, there are tools available that empower them to more readily discover the influencers with the most credible expertise for specific, relevant topics and target those that align with their customers’ interests.

Keep in mind that these experts may have fewer followers, but those followers are highly dedicated to the topic at hand. For example, if you’re selling organic dog food to small-breed pet owners, it will be more valuable to you to target an influencer who has expertise in organic pet nutrition and/or small-breed dogs then it would be to target an influencer known for dogs in general.

Engage influential experts to promote your brand: Once you have identified the focused experts that your customers trust, the next step is to engage them. You want to create a relationship that avoids any hint of the person being paid for endorsement. Yet influencers often expect compensation in some form. This is where you can be creative and offer special perks, experiences with your brand or product and non-cash rewards — including helping the person to gain more credibility and wider reach by being featured in your brand’s marketing and social campaigns. (And if you do compensate influencers, follow Federal Trade Commission guidelines to avoid costly mistakes.)

Another great way to inspire experts to develop trusted content for you is to give them a VIP experience of your brand. This may come in the form of product trials, special events and experiences, pre-launch product access, beta-testing, etc. The idea is to get them excited about your brand while creating subject matter for them to post about.

Of course, lastly, you want to establish a system for sharing and syndicating the content they create. Their content goes across their and your social channels, and can be captured and repurposed by your marketing team for case stories, advertorials, videos, etc.

Stop wasting time and resources on mass marketing through social influencers. Pinpoint the experts your customers already trust. This will in turn gain you trust with your audiences, and you’ll see better results for your efforts.

Rob Tarkoff is president and CEO of social software provider Lithium Technologies.