PierreDoing research for our recent white paper on social media influence, we connected with Pierre-Loïc Assayag, co-founder and chief disrupter of Traackr, one of the leading tools for discovering top influencers by specific topic or campaign.  Pierre and his team have worked on improving their approach to influence discovery over a number of years now and have solutions that fit both big agencies and brands and small marketing teams who need to find those people who have the power to drive conversations. We sat down with Pierre to talk influence, what it takes to activate people to take action, how to build and sustain influence over time, and how to measure it.

Pierre, how do you define influence? What are the components and how does it fit into the marketing strategy of a company?

Influence is about affecting the behavior of others without deception. It IS marketing – ads, packaging, marketing events are all geared to affect people’s behavior. The difference now is that social media is giving us tools to achieve the same or better results for a fraction of the price and in a much more targeted way than before. The time of push messaging is over.

How do you activate a network of people to take an action?

You have to focus on providing value. If you want people to do something, you have to make sure people understand why it serves their best interest. If it doesn’t because your product or campaign is not good enough, well… you should take a very hard look in the mirror and change your pitch and approach. For example, instead of asking people to talk about your half-baked product, get them to help you fix it. We’ve seen this work great with client of ours but it has to be genuine.

Can you harness influence and if yes, what are the key elements of building and maintaining influence?

You have to provide value to your audience and community, stay relevant, and be genuine (for example, if you have a stake in a company/product you cover, disclosure is paramount). Give without asking anything back. Influence is like good karma – what goes around comes around. If you’re good to your community, they’ll be good to you. Also, don’t try too hard. You have to be into your topic rather than focusing on being ‘one of the guys’.

Is influence word of mouth?  When is it? When is it not?

I don’t think it always is. We all get influenced by people but also by news sources and life events. Depending on the decision we want to make (buy a car, sell stock, marital advice), we’ll be looking at different influence networks. The driving factor for influence is trust. If you can’t trust a source (whether it is a friend, a review, or a news channel), the influence on your behavior will be very limited. This is where mass marketing has always fallen short as brands are on the other side of this trust threshold.

What are the current limitations of ‘influencer networks’?

It depends the networks. If you’re thinking the “Mom bloggers” type, the issue is that self-proclaimed influence networks really don’t do much in ways of moving the needle on an issue or brand. Real influence networks don’t need to be labeled. When you run a search on Traackr on any given topic, I bet every person you find is already acquainted with a number of the people in that list. That’s what a true influencer network is all about.

How do you treat and motivate brand advocates?

For many brands, brand advocates are the holy grail. But most successful brand advocate examples are completely grassroots and the more brands try to interfere and control, the more they limit the value. Trader Joe’s is a great example of a brand that let’s its advocates run the show and don’t do much to support them.  The pitfall of the ‘brand advocate’ approach is that in some ways it implies that you focus your marketing efforts on those who already like you, while you probably have much more to gain from those who don’t like you or don’t know about you and yet are the rain makers in your market.

What are marketers typically missing when they want to harness influence?

Marketers need to understand that influence is not popularity. Very often they go for what they see as the highest visibility, widest reach influencer. Who doesn’t want Justin Bieber to promote their brand? But this approach is missing the point on influence. The driving factor in influence is relevance: your influencers need to be relevant to the conversation you’re interested in, or your ability to engage influencers will diminish tremendously, which will translate into higher cost of engagement and taint your brand in the long run.

We want to thank Pierre for taking the time to share his insights.  For more on how to identify and harness influencers within your customer community or the “rainmakers” that can drive conversations and actions for your industry, download our free white paper 3 Keys to Influence: Understanding and Leveraging Social Capital. And please don’t hold back – have you cracked the code of influence?  How do you approach finding and engaging the people that matter most for your brand?