Who are the customer influencers that matter to your brand?

I write a lot about talking to our customers directly on here. Of course, that’s important. I mean, if I only get their feedback second or third-hand, that game of telephone can turn a bath product into something that’s supposed to be eaten for dinner. I wouldn’t recommend that, but there is value in finding out who your customer influencers are. Those are the people your customers listen to on the web and social media.

Personally, I hate when people ask me:

  • Who do you follow?
  • Who influences your decisions?

Heck, I don’t know. I scroll through Twitter and whomever is there is there. So how accurate and inclusive can my answer really be?

That’s where software platforms like SparkToro come in handy and can help you identify the people and brands your customers are listening to without you having to ask them.  SparkToro was created by Rand Fishkin, who previously built Moz – a search engine optimization platform. Rand joined us on “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show” to talk about this latest endeavor to help brands identify customer influencers.

Using public social media and web data to identify these connections is easier to identify influencers than asking people, Rand said.

“I follow all kinds of interesting people and read their content,” said Voxpopme Vice President of Marketing Jenn Vogel. “But sometimes I can’t tell you what their name is.”

Or the name doesn’t come top of mind when somebody asks about it.

“You’ll get all kinds of bias baked into that question,” Rand added. “Those answers in a survey are very difficult. But when you get this data from thousands of public profiles – or tens of thousands depending on your audience size, you can really dig into the nitty gritty.”

From there, brands can connect with those influencers, maybe do co-marketing, speak at events, submit guest content and collaborate in other ways.

“There’s just a lot of opportunities in those spaces – unexecuted marketing opportunities – because it’s really hard to discover those sources,” Rand said.

When are customer influencers most helpful?

At Moz, Fiskin’s team worked on search engine optimization strategies, which is a strategy that usually looks like this:

  • You know what your company can offer to customers and what problems you can solve for customers
  • Your SEO strategy determines what the terms are your customers search for on Google and other search engines
  • The brand creates useful content around the topic in an effort to show up organically when potential customers search for the topic.

An SEO strategy works really well when people are already searching for topics, products and services related to it.

A customer influencers strategy on the other hand comes in handy when potential customers are not yet searching for that product or service.

“I can rank No. 1 for a keyword that nobody is searching for,” added Jenn. “But it doesn’t benefit you in any way shape or form.”

We’ve discussed the concept of how consumers “run across” products they didn’t know about before in our technology assessment article.

“The reality is nobody is specifically looking for this precise product,” Rand said. “Nobody is looking for exactly what you have to offer. So you need to reach your customers not through search but some other methodology. Through some source of influence that they are already paying attention to.”

Uncovering those customer influencers can be difficult when it’s done manually. That led to the creation of SparkToro, which analyzes public profiles and maps relationships.

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Connecting product influencers, brands and customers

Rand gave the example of an engineering firm that created a new product for architects. The firm can then find out who architects listen to on social media, what websites they visit and perhaps what podcasts they listen to.

On the web, many people list their professional titles, job functions and more. On many networks you can also see whom they follow. In addition, you can see who engages with what content. Likes, shares and comments can all give you an idea of who appears to be influential.

Aggregating that public information then puts together information for brands that are trying to find out who is influencing who.

Validating results

But aren’t most people just on social media to talk crap to each other about politics and the latest news headlines? Some days it seems like my feeds are dominated by that kind of discussion. SparkToro found that to be a problem at first, but filters out irrelevant information.

Keep in mind that people use networks for a variety of reasons – including – business. Even when they sometimes discuss politics.

SparkToro also doesn’t show global celebrities by default in searches. Yes, a lot of architects might be following a global superstar, but that following has little to do with their professional interests. Millions of people follow them.

Rand compared partnering with a global influencer to running an ad in the New York Times.

“Will some architects see it? Sure, but is that really worth your money?” he said. “Unless you are a big consumer brand company it doesn’t make sense. The targeting is off.”

If an account is globally popular and a high percentage of all users follow and engage with them, then we need to not show it by default, he said.

“Once we did that the results just became stellar and highly relevant.”

Not all brands would find targeting like this helpful, Rand explained.

For example, if you are targeting people that have a mortgage that’s a lot of people to begin with and few – if any – list that in their social media profiles.

“If you want to reach real estate agents, SparkToro is great,” Rand said. “If you want to reach homeowners, SparkToro is kind of terrible.”

It’s good to remember the strengths and weaknesses of platforms and what goals you are trying to solve.

Read next: Technology needs assessment: How to pick the right tech for your market research

Persona development

Analyzing what target audiences do online can also help brands create personas that are more data-driven. Instead of making educated guesses you can determine what their interests are based on:

  • who they follow
  • what content they engage with
  • the content they share themselves

“I have this frustration with classic persona models,” Rand said. “My sense is that they are very stereotyping and reductive.”

Some of the traditional consumption information often included in personas can be helpful, though. For example, knowing what publications they read or what content they consume on the web can give you great insights into the language they use, what they are interested in and where you might be able to reach them.

“Now I know what phrases will be completely over their heads and what will resonate,” Rand said. “I see what hashtags they follow. What social accounts they follow. I have a sense of the zeitgeist of that customer group. I like that kind of persona better than ‘here’s CFO Charlie and here’s how many dogs he has.’”

Read next: The speed of online focus groups is how fast?

When do we know too much about customers?

The threshold is reached when brands know something about customers that customers feel should be private.

“There are two vectors where I have concerns. One is when it violates privacy that people really care about,” Rand said. “When a lot of marketers talk about privacy they talk about digital footprints and following people around the web.”

For example, when consumers visit your website and then see an ad. Some people say that’s creepy, but Rand counters that there’s really no security violation in that scenario.

“The risk of harm – nothing bad can or will happen to you from exclusively that,” he said, adding that there can be a potential issue if people can be individually identified – especially when it involves a vulnerable group of people.
At the end of the day, knowing the right amount of information about our customers can help us create better experiences for them.

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