The Case For Influencer Marketing

I’ve recently worked with several clients on influencer marketing campaigns. These are  proving to be popular new complements to traditional PR programs that approach media relations from a completely different perspective. Influencer relations is gaining popularity as the media landscape shifts and domain experts gain prominence.

The media industry is slashing and burning its way through a wrenching transition. There have been more than 5,300 layoffs in the U.S. newspaper industry just this year, and three major dailies, with a combined total of more than 400 years of continuous publishing, have closed just last month.

The situation is just as bad in b-to-b publishing, where more than 275 business magazines have closed since the beginning of 2007, according to BtoB magazine.

Shifting Influence
With mainstream media dwindling at the same time the number of citizen publishers is rising, it’s not surprising that individual influencers are becoming a promising target. Even professional editors and reporters are increasingly turning their attention to the blogosphere and Twittersphere as a source of expertise and even news. The first place a reporter goes when looking for sources these days is Google. As a result, popular bloggers are suddenly inundated with media inquiries. This is an opportunity for marketers. Some publications are even recruiting bloggers to contribute to their branded sites. These financially driven actions are having the effect of amplifying the volume of individual voices.

An influencer relations program seeks to strike up conversations with these domain experts on the assumption that their opinions are reaching increasingly large audiences, both through their own websites and the amplifiers I just described. This is quite different from a conventional PR campaign, which starts with analysts and journalists on the theory that they are the influencers. We are beginning to rethink this dynamic. Conventional PR will be harder to do in the future as the ranks of staff journalists shrink and the shrinking number that is left struggles with an overwhelming volume of PR pitches.

In contrast, most bloggers get very few inquiries from marketers and are more likely to spend time listening to what they have to say. This is a pretty appealing option for marketers who are frustrated with being one of the 300 or 400 daily inquiries an already seriously overworked reporter gets.

The Human Touch
So how do you find influencers? There are a number of commercial services that attempt to perform the task programmatically, but my experience has been that they only get you halfway there. It’s not difficult to find someone who writes, podcasts, or tweets about a topic, but assessing that person’s biases and style is an entirely different issue.

For example, in a recent project for a company with a novel approach to weight loss therapy, we discovered that the topic was more controversial than we thought. Some people have very strong opinions about the subject, and pitching the client’s novel approach to them would have been the equivalent of sticking our hand into a beehive.

You also can’t assume that domain experts necessarily want to talk about their domain of expertise. In a recent engagement that looked for pharmaceutical researchers, we found that people with Ph.D.s in that area blog about everything from cooking to environmentalism. In fact, only a minority paid much attention to pharmaceuticals at all.

At this point, there’s no way to ascertain the agenda, biases or voice of influencers without digging in and reading what they have to say. If you don’t do that critical homework, you risk alienating the very people you’re trying to reach. Bloggers expect you to know something about them. Unlike the mainstream media, they don’t understand how the pitch game is played and they don’t care. They know a lot about their subjects and they tend to regard clueless come-ons with disdain.

For now, there’s no substitute for the human touch when it comes to influencer relations campaigns. Next week I’ll talk about some of the nuances of dealing with these new audiences.

Learn more about my influencer relations services

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Tip of the Week: Tweet Later


Have you ever come up with a Tweetable idea at 11:00 p.m. and realized that none of the people you want to tell about it are likely to be on Twitter? Then get yourself an account at Tweet Later, a service that lets you create Twitter messages and schedule them for delivery hours or even days later. You can also create a standard message to deliver automatically to people when they start following you. The pricey premium service offers all kinds of options for scheduling tweets at different times and in different combinations, but the basic free service is useful if you simply want to make sure the largest number of people read your message.

Just for Fun


My Newspaper Death Watch blog is my labor of love, and is also garnering attention from large news organizations like El Mundo and, most recently, CNN (keep an eye out for the story in the coming week or two). So I have a soft spot in my heart for blogs that keep tabs on the newspaper industry. Criggo keeps tabs on stories, picture captions and classified ads, among others, that tickle your funny bone or just make you wonder why on Earth anyone would put this stuff into print in the first place. PLEASE NOTE: Some of the stories on this site are not appropriate for all audiences. If it were a movie, it would be rated R.

Mars’ Bold Social Media Experiment

Candy maker Skittles rocked the media last week by giving over its entire home page to a list of Twitter postings labeled with the #skittles hash tag. The experiment initially provoked excitement, then doubt and finally alarm as pranksters used the opportunity to post all manner of negative and even obscene comments that had very little to do with the fruit candy.

As the volume of trash talk swelled, Mars Snackfood US pulled down the Twitter search page and replaced it with a Facebook profile. Today the site features a Wikipedia entry. Skittles’ branding consists of an overlay window that links to various references to the product in social media outposts. Basically, Mars reconfigured the brand’s website as a package of consumer-generated content.

A lot of people are trashing Mars for this bold experiment. “Disastrous” says Apryl Duncan on “Gimmicky” says VentureBeat. “Humiliating disaster” says SmartCompany. While some people are praising Mars for originality, the early consensus is that this campaign is not a good idea for the Skittles brand.

Bold Move

I beg to differ. While Mars certainly could have better anticipated the frat-boy efforts to undermine the program, the Skittles experiment is a bold statement about where the company is taking its marketing tactics. Full disclosure: I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the Mars marketers on a paid basis over the past year. Unlike many other corporations I’ve encountered, these people get it. Sure, they’re still feeling their way through the process of working with uncensored customer conversations, but they’re on the right track and they’re taking the right risks.

In January, Mars held a day-long offsite meeting with more than 100 of its global marketers to talk about word-of-mouth marketing. I was there, along with many of the company’s agency and branding partners. I was impressed with the commitment the company is making to understanding and working with social media. While many of their peers still regard online forums with a mixture of suspicion and disgust, the Mars marketers see it as an opportunity. They’re also fully aware of the risks. One breakout session at the meeting was devoted almost entirely to an analysis of Johnson & Johnson’s Motrin Moms fiasco.

There’s no question Mars could have thought through this experiment somewhat better. Twitter was a bad place to start and under the circumstances, some filtering would have been appropriate. However, the whole concept of giving over the Skittles Web presence to customer conversations is daring and innovative. It’s unfortunate that some of the same people who trash brands for not being more hip to social media are now trashing Mars for almost being too hip.

Proof in the Pudding

Also, look at the coverage this story has generated: The Wall Street Journal, LA Times, Fast Company, CNET and the list goes on and on. If you believe Oscar Wilde’s theory that “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” then this campaign is a hit. If Skittles sales don’t jump 15% in the next month, I’ll eat a bag of the candy, including the bag.

Experimentation is central to new media marketing and negative reactions to bold ideas are nothing to be feared. Nearly three years ago, General Motors invited visitors to stitch together their own video ads for the Chevrolet Tahoe SUV (right). About 15% of the videos people created were negative, prompting critics to call the campaign a disaster. But inside General Motors the project was considered an unqualified success. The Tahoe hit 30% market share shortly after the Web promotion began, outpacing its closest competitor two to one.

The Skittles campaign is outside-the-box thinking. Despite its shortcomings, it deserves praise.

Special Conference Discount for Subscribers!
Search engine optimization firm Hubspot came up with the best term I’ve heard for the new style of marketing that emphasizes conversation, linking and social media awareness: “inbound marketing.” It’s about enticing customers to come to you by offering them something of value.

My colleagues at CrossTech Media, which presented last fall’s New Marketing Summit conference in Boston, like the concept, too. So we’ve teamed up with Hubspot to present the Inbound Marketing Summit (IMS) next Month in San Francisco. We’ll present at least three IMS conferences this year (Dallas is in May and Boston is in September), serving marketers who are convinced that the world is changing forever and who want to drive a new form of high-quality engagement and turbo-charge their careers.

David Meerman Scott

In San Francisco, we’ll have web 2.0 visionaries like Tim O’Reilly, Chris Brogan, David Meerman Scott (left), Jason Falls and Brian Solis on the program. More importantly, we’ll have practitioners from companies like Cirque du Soleil, Harley Davidson, French Maid TV and Microsoft talking about how they’re putting new media to work right now, achieving results and measuring those results.

We’ve co-located the conference with the New Communications Forum, now in its fifth year, presented by the Society for New Communications Research. That event also has a great lineup of speakers, some of whom will be presenting at both conferences. Like me.

Use discount code PAULVIP to save $200 on the registration fee. Just click on the badge above or right here.

Tip of the Week: SlideShare
If you give it a lot of presentations, then you’ll want to become familiar with Slideshare, a Web service that houses thousands of slide shows contributed by members. The site is a treasure trove of valuable data and strong images and members freely allow their contributions to be shared. You can view any slide show in the collection and many of the presentations can be downloaded as PDFs or full PowerPoints. Slideshare is also a good way to build your own visibility by submitting your branded presentations for others to use. It’s free, of course.

Just For Fun

One of my favorite new Internet companies is, a distributor of online greeting cards that bear delightfully cynical, snarky and even obscene messages. Someecards is to greetings what Despair is to motivational posters: an irreverent stick in the eye of an industry that suffers from unbearable cuteness. Now someecards has launched a user-generated companion site,, where visitors can work from a collection of templated illustrations to create their own bizarre messages. A sampling:

Who says user-generated content doesn’t have a future?

How to Make Money With Your Blog, Part 2

The Travel Media Association of Canada recently brought me out to the lovely city of Vancouver, B.C. to talk about new media. Its industry is going through some big changes: Traditional publishers are cutting back on freelance expenses or going out of business. Lucrative writing assignments are harder to come by. The travel journalists in the audience were looking for new ways to make a living with their blogs while still pursuing the work they love.

In last week’s issue, I talked about the opportunities available in advertising sponsorships, but few bloggers make a living from ads. The bigger opportunity is to build service and licensing revenues around expertise. The blog is really a showcase for other skills. Here are some ideas I shared with the group for making money from their blogs:

Ancillary Products — Packaging is everything. Travel bloggers who have exhaustive knowledge of Montréal restaurants, for example, may be able to create e-books or audio guides that can be sponsored by professional associations or tourism bureaus. Multiple blog entries can be consolidated into a guide to Montreal travel, then packaged as an e-book and sold to a local tourism office. Business-savvy bloggers can actually sell the ads themselves.
Producers of advertising-based city guides already pay for content, so why not approach them with a product that’s already packaged? Likewise, a video travelogue of ski resorts in central Québec could be sponsored by a regional association of ski areas. If presentation is entirely online, look into the option of generating a commission for each click-through from the video to an order page.

Books – Nearly one in 200 Americans has now published a book. A new crop of Internet self-publishers is making this easy and relatively cheap. Sites like Lulu, iUniverse, Blurb, AuthorHouse, CafePress and UBuildABook can publish books for single-copy prices starting at less than five dollars. Books don’t need to be 70,000-word tomes, either. They can be pocket guides. What’s more, the self-publishing process at some of these sites is almost totally automated. The author doesn’t even need to speak to a person. Many self-publishers now have their own bookstores and agreements with online booksellers.

Self-publishing has much better margins than traditional publishing. However, there are significant trade-offs. The author is usually responsible for all marketing and publicity, some publishers require a minimum order volume and Amazon doesn’t carry many self-published titles. Still, an entire industry of motivational speakers thrives on this model, so it can’t be all bad.

Custom publishing — If you’ve taken beautiful photographs of ski areas in Banff , offer to sell them to a local tourist bureau or resort hotel to use in a promotional calendar. Or offer to create a video travelogue of that same hotel that can be posted on a website or delivered via CD. Even if your skill is strictly in prose, lots of businesses would gladly buy copy written from an expert with demonstrated ability than risk their hand in at the freelance market. Travel companies aren’t publishers, so use your publishing skill to make their work easier.

Consulting — Blogs are a great way to strut your stuff. If you’ve been to 25 Swiss ski resorts, why not promote yourself as the expert on creating a European hospitality experience? Or maybe your experience visiting hundreds of great wine cellars can make you an expert consultant in that area for startup restaurants. By search-optimizing your site for these very specific skills, you can make the short list when businesses begin their search.

The future of publishing will be less about institutional brands and more about personal brands. Blogs are a great way to create and promote personal expertise. It takes some work, and not everyone is comfortable with the idea of self-promotion. But if you look at a blog as a window on bigger business opportunities, there really are lots of choices.

Why Twitter Beat Second Life

I never really “got” Second Life. I spent a few hours messing around with it, but I found myself frustrated and perplexed by its complexity. I could never understand why so many businesses spoke so highly of it. Maybe my instincts weren’t so wrong after all. In the past year, Second Life has all but faded from view as it has been eclipsed by a community that is its polar opposite: Twitter. I think the contrast is fascinating, and I remarked on that in my latest column in BtoB magazine.

The Reviews are In

Not to boast or anything (okay, just a little) but the reviews have been coming in on my latest book, Secrets Of Social Media Marketing. Between blogger and Amazon reviews, the score so far is 49 positive, one negative. I tried contacting the one naysayer for details, but he never responded. This book gathers up 25 years of publishing experience and attempts to make it practical for marketers who are publishing for the first time. If you’ve read it, please contribute your review – positive or otherwise — to the reviews section on the book website or to Amazon. I appreciate all feedback.

Just For Fun

If you’ve ever been to Disney World or Disneyland , you know that the experience is like no other on earth. So given Disney credit for

personalizing it brilliantly in this viral video. I’m not sure how they pulled off some of the technical wizardry demonstrated here, but Disney Parks & Resorts VP for Global PR Duncan Wardle told me Goofy had to record 1,800 names to make it work. The promotion paid for itself in less than a day. Be sure to watch to the end for the best part.

How to Make Money With Your Blog

The Travel Media Association of Canada recently brought me out to the lovely city of Vancouver to talk about new media. The members were particularly interested in how to make money from blogging. This gave me the opportunity to research this topic with some prominent bloggers I know. Over the next couple of issues, I’ll share a few observations.

Many Ways to Monetize

Making money with a blog is about more than just advertising. In fact, few bloggers make a living with advertising unless they count their daily page views in the tens of thousands. Google AdSense is a simple way to generate a little beer money and there’s little downside to using it. If you adopt AdSense, be sure to read Google’s guidance on how to optimize your site for its ad targeting algorithm. Also, take advantage of the “channels” feature to test different placements and targets. In general, the more specific the topic, the higher the revenue per click. Be aware of the keywords that are most relevant to the ads you’re trying to attract and include them in your tags. Google also has AdSense for search and for RSS feeds, although the potential revenue from those sources is quite small.

Affiliate marketing is potentially a more lucrative revenue stream because transaction fees for big-ticket items like airline flights and consumer electronics can be much larger than for pay-per-click ads. Amazon Associates is probably the best-known example of an affiliate marketing program, but many e-commerce companies pay bloggers a commission for transactions that originate on their site. You can sign up for these yourself or work through one of the many affiliate aggregators that handle the back-end processing. Here’s a list of more than 60 of them.

You can run several affiliate badges on a page, although be careful not to overdo it. Sometimes one large ad can generate more revenue than several small ones. Also, be sure to ask your readers and friends to start on your site whenever they want to make a purchase from one of your affiliate partners. It doesn’t cost them anything extra and you get a commission out of it. Traveling Mamas is an example of a site that makes use of a lot of affiliate ads.

Direct ads cut out the middleman and return the biggest profit, but they require you to be an ad salesperson, which isn’t for everyone. Still, it costs nothing to add an “advertise with us” page to your site and invite queries.

When you do get inquiries, be ready to get creative. For starters, you should have some traffic statistics available from Google Analytics, StatCounter or one of the other free analytics services. Never guarantee performance, but be ready to share relevant numbers such as page views, unique visitors and time spent on site with advertisers if they ask for them. If you have statistics about the performance other advertising customers achieved, so much the better.

You can also get creative with ad placements and targeting. Advertisers don’t always want traffic directly to their websites. Some look to boost their search performance by buying links on popular blogs. If you’re one of the top blogs in your market, you may be able to charge several hundred dollars simply for a link on your homepage. Consider the implications of this strategy, however. You probably don’t want your good name to be used to enhance the search performance of a questionable business.

You can also sell ads on individual posts, particularly if they target a prospective advertiser’s market very specifically and get lots of traffic. Your CPM (cost per thousand) for targeted ads should be higher than for run-of-site ads. You should also charge more for display advertising than for text links.

How much should you charge? This is a big question, since there are no standard ad rates for blogs. The easiest strategy is to ask other bloggers what they charge. Many are happy to share this information. Some bloggers actually publish their rates, so this can give you a starting point for comparison. Don’t be afraid to shoot high and haggle your way down. It’s always easier to come down from a high price than up from a low one.

You should also think creatively about alternative advertising vehicles, such as newsletters, podcasts, webcasts and packaged products. In my next issue, I’ll look at some of these opportunities in greater depth, as well as the much bigger potential of using your blog as a way to build your personal brand.

Got Success? Speakers Needed For Inbound Marketing Summit

I’m co-organizing a conference called the Inbound Marketing Summit (the name is shortly to change from New Marketing Summit), which will be held in San Francisco, Dallas and Boston this year. The audience is corporate marketers and business owners who want to use new media to engage with customers, reduce costs and improve performance. We’re interested in practitioners who can share their true stories of success with online marketing programs. If you’ve got a remarkable tale to tell about how your company has used social media, please contact me to talk about the possibility of appearing on one or more of the programs.

Tip Of The Week: How To Embed Almost Anything In Your Website

Since we’re on the subject of making money with blogs this week, I want to point you to a resource that will help you navigate the sometimes daunting task of adding those buttons, video players, photo viewers, maps and other goodies to your website. It’s all here, or at least as much as I would ever want to know!

Just For Fun

Most of us love garlic and onions in our food — but not on our hands after we cook dinner. Did you know that the problem can be easily (and cheaply) solved by washing your hands with a glob of toothpaste? Bet you didn’t know that dryer sheets can be used to clean your shower or that wax paper can unstick wet pages of a book! Woman’s Day’s tips for alternate uses for 16 household items may just blow your mind. Which reminds me, check out the secret uses of hair dryers! Don’t forget to read the comments for even more tips and tricks.