At a time when the biggest social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest) are starting to make a move towards e-commerce, the subject of influence marketing is more than ever a major issue for most companies. Traditional advertising barely has an impact on purchasing and word of mouth and peer recommendations (P2P) have emerged as the new determinants for the connected, Generation C consumers.
Brands are realizing that in order to have return customers, they need to change tactics and adopt a more “social” approach before promoting their products and services. Marketing agencies now recognize the impact of social media influencers and seek, through any means necessary, a way to integrate them into their marketing strategies.
However, an increasing number of experts are questioning how to calculate the monetary value of influence. Tools used to measure social media influence continue to be controversial and influencers prefer to regard themselves as brand advocates. And this is not only a question of rhetoric. (See: Social Media Influence : Understanding the new Generation C – Ambassadors or Sponsors?)
Who Are the Real Ambassadors?
Even if they don’t reach as broad an audience as the reputed social media influencers, digital marketers are beginning to realize that social media brand ambassadors have more value for brands than previously thought. Unlike influencers, their actions are free and spontaneous, and therefore more authentic and trustworthy in the eyes of other users.
This is what has become apparent through research conducted by Dr. Kathleen R. Ferris-Costa from the College of Business Administration at the University of Rhode Island. A study analyzed in the “Field Guide to Brand Advocates” from the agency BzzAgent.
According to the study, brand advocates comment spontaneously and regularly on 10 to 15 brands per week and contact up to 500 social network subscribers. Using their communication tools, they publish up to two times more content (with comments, reviews, recommendations, “likes”, etc.) on brands than the companies themselves do. Three-quarters won’t hesitate to share a positive brand experience, especially when personal, domestic or children’s products are in question.
Another study (and infographic) from the agency Zuberance called Three Surprising Facts About Brand Advocates further details the areas where ambassadors are most active: nearly a quarter commented on technological products, 15% on restaurants, 14% on entertainment events and more than two-thirds (67%) recommended as many consumer products as they did professional services.
What motivates their level of engagement?
Brand advocates have a natural impact on consumers because they are independent and therefore more authentic. According to the study conducted by Dr. Ferris-Costa, true ambassadors are primarily motivated by the opportunity to contribute to their community by providing relevant information.
By commenting on brands, ambassadors prioritize the relationship they have with their community and their influence as social consumers on the Web. These super users feel it’s important their expertise is recognized and that their voices be heard by companies. And, to ensure they can effectively fulfill this role within their community, they defend their integrity; hardly 1% of respondents to the study admitted to having considered company rewards when they made their recommendations.
What motivates brand advocates is beyond the control of marketing agencies. Although they represent the most direct influence on consumption, they can’t be monetized or sponsored. The true value of the commitment (or disengagement) of ambassadors is based precisely on their independence and their authenticity. Companies must therefore stop the constant, relentless search for an ROI, and become understanding through listening and treating their fans more like VIP’s, rather than attempting to simply be more “social”. They have a lot more to gain by doing so.
With the emergence of social networks over the past decade, we’ve witnessed the loss of several major brands who couldn’t adapt to changes imposed by new consumers. Some observers are already predicting the death of several other major brands proving to be slow to go in the direction of the social Web. And you, what do you think? Do companies have to give up their ROI value in favour of ambassadors?