There is nothing new about influence. We can all name people who, throughout history, have been capable of attracting attention, shaping opinion and driving change. But give influencers a platform like the world wide web and a tool like Instagram, and their reach and power become formidable.
Estimates vary about the value of the social influencer market. Forbes recently reported a range of valuations from $3bn to $10bn by the next of this year. Either way, Harry Hugo, co-founder of The Goat Agency – my interviewee for episode nine of The Internal Comms Podcast – says today social influencer marketing accounts for 1% of all marketing spend but is set to command 15%.
Harry told me traditional advertising agencies were decrying social influencer marketing as inconsequential three years ago. Now, those same agencies are scrambling to set up their own social influencer marketing departments.
Using social influencers to shift products is fast becoming a standard marketing tactic. There is an influencer for every product, however niche. Micro influencers may have only a few thousand followers, but if each one of these followers hangs on their every word, the power of just a few of those words being about your product could be worth a thousand billboards.
As internal communicators we have long understood influence is not synonymous with job title. Influence does not flow through our organisations along neat, hierarchical lines. In fact, Edelman tells us trust – the cornerstone of influence – is most acutely felt among our peers. We trust people like us.
All of which lends weight to the idea that regular colleagues make great brand ambassadors both internally and externally. Glamour magazine has highlighted the number of fashion brands now using employees to model their clothes. Sprout social says employees have ten times more social connections than the brands they work for and leads generated through employee advocacy convert seven times more often than leads generated by traditional marketing.
So, next time you need a spokesperson for an internal change programme, look beyond celebrity sponsors or the guys in the corner offices. Who are the people your employees are most likely to believe? Chances are it’s someone exactly like them. Authenticity is persuasive.
But, according to Harry Hugo, internal communicators should go one step further. We should create internal influencers. Three months after it launched, his agency’s daily vlog is creating its own reality TV stars from Goat’s rank and file. Harry says the employees who regularly appear in The Daily Goat are now recognised by strangers at award nights and sought out by clients.
The real lesson for internal communicators from the meteoric rise of social influencers is to actively build the influence of employees, not merely reflect or harness it. Give employees the freedom to communicate on a peer-to-peer platform and, above all, encourage them to be themselves. Help your employees to tell their own stories in their own words. Seek to facilitate, rather than control, the message.
That way you are creating an array of credible, internal influencers – one for every niche segment of your workforce. Just think what you might accomplish with an army of genuine, home-grown persuaders…