buzzwordThe influence of bloggers and other social media users is a hot topic that is motivating the popularity of social media marketing enormously. As Jeff Bullas describes it: “Businesses who are relentless in building a following on social media are in fact creating their own publishing platforms, growing their marketing channels and content distribution networks. It is a digital asset that grows every year. Over time it can provide huge leverage and marketing independence if done right.” Not to mention that around 80% of all internet users are by now active on social media with the majority accessing social media from a mobile device. This explains the more than one billion Facebook users or Google+ enabled accounts and steadily growing number of Twitter users.

Business simply can’t ignore user-generated content (UGC) anymore – neither the mentioned networks nor Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr, Vine, Slideshare and others, which brings us to the next trend in social media marketing – ‘Influencer or Influence Marketing’, making it the buzzword of the month.

We are talking abouta form of marketing here that has emerged with the rise of social media marketing. Influencer Marketing focuses on specific key individuals rather than the target market as a whole, therefore the identification of the individuals that have influence over potential buyers and arrange marketing activities around this group is crucial.

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association defines an influencer, for instance, as "a person who has a greater than average reach or impact through word of mouth in a relevant marketplace”, but many more definitions can be found regarding this. What all have in common, however, is the fact that an influencer has to be a well-connected, sharp-minded kind of trendsetter.

Just take a look at Klout, a service that tracks individual’s influence across social media, we were reporting on recently. Interestingly, the company just got acquired by Lithium for $200 million, circumstantiating the fact that a huge value seems to be seen in leveraging social influence.

Well, since marketing seems to be trapped in a vicious circle –better informed and more sophisticated consumers look at marketing messages with growing scepticism – marketers are forced to embrace new trends, insights, approaches and technologies to stay ahead of the game, don’t they? As the so-called ‘alpha users” are extremely influential and a key element of any social network, today’s engagement marketing campaigns attempt to use them as spokespersons in marketing and advertising. Alpha users commonly start communications in social networks, and spread their opinions there.

They tend to be highly connected users with exceptional influence to other thought-leaders of any social network and are of interest to marketers as today’s consumers trust more the opinion of their friend or known contact from a social network, than the random marketing and advertising messages of companies and brands. The desire is to achieve viral marketing effects by which the alpha users would spread the messages further.

Therefore it is pretty useful for businesses to identify and characterize the influencers in their market, which requires a comprehensive influencer identification program and the establishment of criteria for ranking influencer impact on the consumers’ decision process.

By Daniela La Marca