Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Targeting the big voices vs finding the RIGHT voices

Leah Jones wrote a post yesterday that sparked a wonderful discussion of blogger outreach and the potential ethical concerns involved. The long story short is that Panasonic and their agency Crayon brought several 'influencers' to this year's Consumer Electronics Show, or CES to meet with Panasonic and try out various Panasonic products. One of those 'influencers' that Panasonic brought in was Chris Brogan, who while at the event, struck up a conversation with representatives from Sony (a top competitor to Panasonic), and is now doing business with them, as a result of their meeting at CES.

The key question that Leah posed was to wonder if Chris did something wrong in going to CES on Panasonic's dime, and then networking with Panasonic's competitors as potential clients.

Look, everyone knows how I feel about Chris. I like him, and consider him a good friend. So I'm willing to accept the possibility that I could be biased in favor of him when I look at this issue. But honestly, I don't see any problem with what Chris did. Last year I was flown in to speak at an event, and after I presented, one of the attendees loved my session so much that they asked me to present at their event. I confirmed with them, and a few months later the first event organizer contacted me about speaking at their event again, and I had to decline because I had confirmed to speak at the second event, which was being planned for the same weekend. Was I wrong to network with the second event organizer while at the first event? I don't think so, but maybe some do.

But in the midst of this debate, I think Spike Jones raised the key point, that many overlooked; Most companies are targeting the wrong people with their blogger outreach efforts. Why did Panasonic bring in 'influencers' to play with their toys instead of their own evangelists and fans? In most cases, influencers create short-term buzz, while evangelists produce long-term excitement. Why? Because the evangelists have a vested interest in promoting the company even before they reach out to them. Influencers usually don't have the emotional ties to the brands targeting them, so their desire to promote their involvement comes from a personal level moreso than wanting to promote the brand/company/products.

So which is more valuable to a company, one matter-of-fact Tweet from an influencer to her 50,000 followers, or one passionate evangelist with a fraction of the 'audience' that will promote the company from now on?

Short-term buzz vs long-term excitement. Evangelists trump 'influencers' every time.

Pic via Flickr user cameronparkins


Shonali Burke, ABC said...

Great post, Mack. I think people (companies, brands, whatever) are looking to maximize their "bang for the buck," which often means instant (or pretty quick) gratification. So it's inevitable that they'll reach out to "influencers" - because if they pick up on it, chances are that their followers will spread the word, and their followers will... and so on. Nothing remotely rocket scienc-ish about that. But complementing that with "evangelizer" outreach (and I'm not trying to coin a buzzword here, but you know what I mean) would be so much better. As with so many other aspects of outreach, it's usually a blend of the two that will have the most effect... at least, that's what I've found. Not either/or, but both.

Spike Jones said...

Thanks for the shout out and a big 'ol hearty AMEN coming from our corner, Mack. The sooner companies learn this, then sooner success will come.

Alphonse Hà said...

Great post Mack but I have to say that if you only bring in evangelists you are kind of cannibalizing yourself.

Evangelists' audience is often customers of your existing market share. How many PC fans do you think read appleinsider daily?

Bringing in influencers allow you to reach out to other customers that are not in your market share.

However, I do agree that if you are getting somebody that is already a fan of your product, this sort of scenario will be less likely to happen.

Perhaps a little mix of both?

Mack Collier said...

Shonali and Alphonse, won't necessarily disagree with you that a mix of influencers and evangelists can be effective. But...I think most companies are lazy, and want the buzz. Working with evangelists is more work cause you might have to dig for them if you haven't already reached out to them.

I think the big advantage to reaching out to evangelist is that you're shifting your marketing from the company, to the customer-level. And when the message is coming from the customer, it's in a much more relevant and valuable voice than that of the company.

Great comments everyone, thanks!

Jamie Favreau said...

I think they should have used "evangilists" only because they are already passionate about the product and if they are connected with other people who are as passionate about the thing as they are they will collaborate and do more with the brand. I say this because I am a die hard Red Wings fan and because of this I have connected with NHL fans around the world.

So if you are a fan of something and are passionate you can cross promote. Hockey fans don't always talk about their team but they talk about the league in general.

I am thinking this could be used for electronics too. You should network with anyone and everyone. Chris is a likable person so he is dynamic that way. I think this is why he networked his way to an opportunity.

Adam Sherk said...

Good point Mack. I agree that fan/evangelist outreach is more of a roll-up your sleeves effort that pays off over the long-term. Which is why companies often go for short-term, high profile efforts - it's easier to get buy in and demonstrate value (real or perceived) quickly.

I'm definitely in favor of incorporating all of the above into the ongoing marketing mix, which can help to keep things fresh. There are also good ways to combine the two - projects with influencers can be used to built further excitement among evangelists.

Dan Levine said...

Mack, thoughtful, interesting post and set of questions. Really great stuff.

I think whether or not to use influencers or evangelists depends on the particular company and particular need - a case-by-case basis. There's not one right answer.

For Panasonic, I think it makes a lot of sense to use a guy like Chris Brogan -- especially right now. He's at the top of his game and has the Midas touch. He will reach 50k people as an influencer and some percentage of those folks - assuming they like Chris, trust him, and know the product - will turn around and share the product news with their smaller, more grassroots networks. In this sense, you get the best of both worlds -- an influencer feeding evangelists.

For a smaller company, a company that needs grassroots support, I think it makes more sense to go straight to evangelists. It's more cost-effective and authentic and you really don't need that big influencer to move the needle.

In the end, as Shonali Burke pointed out in the first comment, I concur that it's probably a blend that will work best for most companies but there's not one blanket "best way" to do it.

Great post, Mack. You always make us think. Thank you...

Promotional Products said...

Hmmm, that is an interesting predicament that you bring up. I think that as long as he fulfilled his responsibilities with Panasonic, he should be free to pursue another project on his own time. It sounds like he is an independent contractor/freelancer so he needs to be constantly securing projects. In these economic times, its hard to judge him for not being loyal.

Matthew Gain said...

A really interesting post and argument. I don't disagree with your position, but I think the best way forward is a good mix of both.

The challenge with just relying on evangelists is that they are not an independent source. Of course they are going to evangelise their product - they get paid to do that. But if someone I trusts recommends something and I can reasonably assume that their influence hasn't been bought by the vendor then I may be willing to put more credence in that recommendation.

Not an exact comparison, but it is like looking at advertising and PR. Advertising you buy the space and thus control the message - similiar in some ways to an evangelist, you pay them and know they will deliver only your messages. PR you attempt to influence influencers, likewise with influencing online influencers - sure you may fly them to an event or you may give them kit, but you can't guarantee what they will write.

PR and Advertising are both important in marketing a product. Likewise I believe evangelists and influencers are important in the social media context.

Heather Yaxley said...

Couple of points to consider:

1. This is not really anything new - my area is automotive PR and it has been common for one manufacturer to pay to take media to international motor shows for years. Whilst there, the journos are free to engage with other companies, report their news, enjoy their hospitality, etc, etc. The idea is that you have longer contact with them to build relationships, will almost certainly have your news covered, and also gain the goodwill of having funded the trip.

2. Re the influencer/evangelist argument - I am not convinced that inviting high profile bloggers who are not directly connected to your sector is the right approach. There still seems an odd focus in outreach activities in connecting with "influencers" whose area of expertise is online outreach. That's a bit like inviting the PR or marketing press on your general media activities. Yes, you may get coverage - but it doesn't necessarily reach your true audience. You can build a reputation for the activities you are undertaking in blogger outreach, but is that blogger outreach itself?

Whatley said...

Totally agree with this sentiment. Although that doesn't mean I disagree with the remit for taking Mr Brogan along to CES.

I've watched Nokia do this over the past few years, they look further down the food chain and amplify their voices by giving them the top products to play with. I agree - evangelists win, but in Brogan's case - I figured he was there to tell stories... Not report on the product(s)?

I may be wrong.


Tim Jahn said...

Couldn't agree more with yours and Spike's thoughts. Even some companies playing the "social media game" still don't get it. They have fans all around them, already raving about their products and how great they are. Yet these companies overlook those very fans.

DJ Waldow said...

Mack -

This post got me thinking. A good thing...I think.

Totally love this quote, "influencers create short-term buzz, while evangelists produce long-term excitement."

That being said, I also agree w/ some of the other comments about good mix. I'd certainly lean heavy on the evangelist side, but...


DJ Waldow
Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

Stefano Maggi said...

Very clever reflection. I think strong ties vs weak ties is a fundament variable to consider when choosing who the best influencer is. Brands should always consider reach vs affinity. I hope this visual makes it a little clearer http://blog.digitalingredients.co.uk/2009/05/influencers-how-to-find-best-ones.html

Charity Hisle said...

While key influencers, (like corporate and independent bloggers who are known but not personally) beats traditional marketing efforts; it has been established that known peer influencers (like family, friends or even 2nd tier relationships) have the greatest impact. In my small world, a paid blogger = a PR consultant. Everything is about making the brand look good.

If this is true, then the best use of key influencers is to take the opportunity to learn from them rather than make them a spokesperson for their brand. I like Chris Brogan (I follow him online) but this doesn't mean I'll buy a product because he likes it.

If a customer advocate were to develop a passion for the brand/product/service, I certainly would put more stock in that person's opinion rather than in a PR agent. Authentic beats Paid, at least that's how I see it.

Unknown said...

Hi Mack,

Yes! Your point re evangelists versus influencers is spot on! Influencers will talk about you in the moment until they're off to the next gig or project, while evangelists really are raving fans of your product/service who will gladly talk about you.

Patrick Prothe said...

Very nicely outline of the issues. I think the key in all of this is to operate in an ethical, transparent and authentic manner. As long as the invited influential fulfills their obligation, I think they're free to do what's in their best interest - and networking/generating business is usually part of it. I think it's also fair to say that each of these companies are operating in THEIR best interest and would maximize the opportunities they're exposed to.

Also, by inviting the influential, they're ideally not scripting them as to what to say, write or promote - they're looking for the real story.

It would be a far different case if said influential was under contract - much like Tiger Woods is with Nike to endorse or serve as the spokesperson.

Jennifer St. Clair said...

The gamble with only targeting "influencers" is that you believe they are as influential with the evangelizer community as you need them to be.

I also think hitting up the influencers is a PR way of thinking about maximizing message rather than harnessing consumer passion.

Unknown said...

Fantabulous post, Mack. I argue with clients about this all the time - people who want BIG numbers versus BIG emotion. We all know that emotional connection is what compels a sale - not sure why this concept is so hard for brands to understand. Thanks for the thoughts - great, as always.