What do all of these badges mean? More and more brands are assembling small groups of influential bloggers under the banner of "11 Moms," "Fab 15," "DigiDads," and more. Their purpose? Ultimately, when you scrape away all of the ancillary benefits, brands want these folks as outbound word of mouth ambassadors.
Panels can serve two essential purposes: providing feedback into the brand or spreading word of mouth about the brand. These are not exclusive. Most of the panels we work with are meant to do both in some measure. Still, the examples listed here are probably less than 20-30% for inbound feedback with the heavy emphasis on outbound WOM.
They Are Good For Brands
There are three essential reasons why brands embracing "influencer panels*" is a step forward for traditional marketers into a 'best-use'of social media:
(*we shouldn't call them blogger panels for all the reasons I outlined in this post. Essentailly, many influencers work across platforms and you really want them for their Twitter feeds and Flickr galeries as much as you do for their core blog. At least 20 of the Walmart 11 moms maintain Twitter feeds with almost 2000 followers)
Turning to the Most Trusted Source
Word of mouth marketing continues to grow as the most trusted source for purchase decision information across many categories in many markets. Look at the growth of spend in the recently released PQM WOMM report from WOMMA. Marketers may not all know how to "do" WOMM well yet, but very few dispute the growing power of WOMM in the marketing mix. Influencer panels are a simple place to start that can have a far greater impact than the unique monthly visitors of the panelists suggests (even though that may be quite substantial). To maintain the trust, influencers must be allowed thier opinion - always. One of the strengths of the Walmart program is that the 20+ moms on board only mention Walmart 6% of the time and freely mention competitors like Walgreens or Target based upon our analysis earlier this year. To remain authentic and therefore 'trusted', brands must expect this type of coverage.
Sustained Conversations that Go Beyond the "Campaign"
Most Influencer Panels are assembled for a long period of time. Walmart's 11 Moms has been going strong for almost a year having launched in September 2008. You can see Walmart's own description of the experience leading up to and running the program here. Sony's DigiDads just started but is likely to run for many months. The Frito Lay Fab 15 were introduced in July but had clearly been working with the brand from much earlier in the year on the Only in a Woman's World campaign. Lifetime Moms is clearly more of an editorial play coming from a media company. It features about 13 mom bloggers and is a long term play.
These relationships continue to build and grow outide the narrow confines of the short-lived marketing campaign. The panels give marketers a view for how to most successfully market via womm by sticking with a set of relationships and not having them hinge on the brand campaign "catchwords" that come and go. Inevitably the advertising campaign language meant to catch people's attention and stand out from the clutter comes across false or boastfully brand-centric when introduced into normal conversation. Working with Influencer Panels forces marketers to speak like human beings to earn the attention they are after.
The Most Valuable Experience for a Brand Organization in Social Media Marketing
Working side-by-side with Influencers gives marketers the best introduction to the earned media side of social media marketing (aka word of mouth marketing). First off, it is a manageable effort. Even with the on-campus immersion program and daily relationship building, managing and nurturing an Influencer panel is only strenuous in its newness not in its scale of effort. Second, by being in a two-way relationship marketers are forced to listen on a regular, if not, daily basis. Once a panel is assembled and activated, everyone inside the marcom org listens to what they are saying. I would guess most of the C-suite of the brands mentioned here listen to what these influencers have to say. Third, everyone survives. Brands learn through this experience that they can handle social media marketing. The fears of losing control or losing their role are proven false. Now they have the confidence to dig deeper into social media marketing - the kind driven by authentic word of mouth.
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