Why You Should Say Goodbye to Online Influencers (And Invest in Brand Ambassadors)

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By Michele Weisman

I speak to brand marketers all day long about their social media strategy. Everytime I get on the phone to discuss challenges, opportunities, pain points, goals and how social media will impact their business’ bottom line, I am constantly asked the same question: “How can we work with influencers?”

Trying to convince online influencers to post, tweet, blog, instagram, pin, vine, persicope, etc. and say positive things about your brand is the postmodern version of the “celebrity endorsement” (with less of an impact).

In today’s competitive social landscape, word-of-mouth marketing and referrals are valuable methods of increasing your customer base and potential purchasers. More and more brands are launching social ambassador and influencer programs to more closely connect their brand with their customers.

However, the bigger issue is that most marketers and agencies tend to confuse audience with influence. Having a massive social media following doesn’t inherently make a person influential in any way. A large following gives someone an audience. True influence drives action (e.g., shares, link clicks, retweets, likes, conversions, leads), not just awareness. Very few “online influencers” have proven true action for brands and not all online influencers are what they claim.

Brand advocacy always trumps influence. According to a report by Zuberance, brand advocates are: spend three times as much as average customers over their lifetime of their relationship with a company or brand. In addition, 92% of consumers trust brand advocates.

More than often, brands overrate audience and take advocacy for granted. A brand has little to no control over an online influencer. In most cases, influencers do not know about your brand and can turn on you at any point in time. There is no loyalty or affinity when promoting your product. Brands also run the risk of not following FTC guidelines. No one wants to be the next Lord and Taylor scandal.

What brands should really be focusing on is tapping into the passion that their current customers have for their products and/or services. Your social community should be utilized as a hub to identify loyal fans. Give them a voice to be volunteer ambassadors. Reward ambassadors with exclusive information. Feature them via social content. Ask them for honest testimonials. Ultimately, encourage these people to go from “like” to “love.”