Let’s start by defining “influence.” At its core, influence is defined by Merriam Webster as “the power of producing an effect without apparent force.” Basically, it means that Nike makes it look easy when they release a shoe that gets the sneakerheads up at dawn, or how Apple defines mobile design trends simply by releasing a new iOS.
The eternal challenge has always been: “how does my brand become influential?” Until recently, influence was often bought with big advertising budgets, celebrity endorsements, and a clever appeal to a massive target audience. However, with the proliferation of social media and direct-to-consumer ecommerce, suddenly your very customers hold all the influence you need. It’s just a matter of accessing and leveraging it.
Let’s break down the three steps to accessing your customers’ sphere of influence: identify, motivate, and streamline.
Step 1: Identify
Never before in history have so many people had platforms to voice opinions, showcase updates, and maintain a vast number of relationships. Social media has changed the game. If you’re like me, you’re still in touch with hundreds of people from high school, that colleague you worked with a decade ago, and even a few people you’ve never met in person. You’re not having intimate conversations with all these people, but your updates and opinions come across their screen and have an influence on their day.
So the first step to accessing that sphere of influence is to identify which of your devoted customers have the most of it. There are a few ways you could do this:
• Manually enter customer emails into the search bar on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram and denote the follower & engagement stats that populate.
-This is good if you’re starting with the hyper-personalized approach. However, it falls short if user accounts are private or if you have a lot of customers.
• Run a referral program with a tool like Friendbuy to measure which customers have the greatest ability to drive traffic to your site.
• Run a promotion with a tool like Gatsby, which captures & organizes your customers’ social reach while they’re shopping on your site.
Whichever route you go, you should leave this stage with a list of your actual customers ranked in order of influence.
Step 2: Motivate
The first thing you’re probably thinking right now is, “oh great, how much is this going to cost me?” Well, depending on how much your customers’ love your brand, it may not cost you a dime. Customers are motivated by a whole host of variables. Sure free products, discounts, giveaways, & rebates are very effective, but a lot of happy customers will jump at the opportunity to help your brand out if you simply ask. They want to see you succeed just as much as you do.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to your list of influential customers and merely ask them to cross promote.
However, if you’re looking for some creative & free incentives, consider:
• A personalized letter from the CEO
• Early access to the upcoming products
• Naming a product after them for a week
• Letting them design a temporary logo
• Featuring their Instagram account on your website
• Sharing your customer’s business with your network
Step 3: Streamline
Okay so you’ve identified which of your customers have social influence and decided on how you’re going to motivate them to share your brand, now you just need to make sure the process is made incredibly easy for them.
To do this, you’ll want to provide them with suggested content to post, including any captions or hashtags that you’re interested in. You can use a tool like Buffer to schedule the post, or an agency like French Fry to help you generate compelling content.
In any scenario, it’s critical that you make this as turn-key for them as possible. If they want to edit anything, great, that makes it all the more genuine, but just make sure it’s either provided entirely ready to go for them, or it’s a simple collaboration between the two of you.
At the end of the day, you want to make sure that they actually complete the share, and that their message aligns with your brand & objectives.
So with that, you’re ready to start working with your customers to build your brand, by accessing their sphere of influence.
Brett Bernstein is the co-founder & CEO of Gatsby, the easiest way to run elegant promotions that capture leads, automate social, and identify genuine micro-influencers. Previously he worked at Box, and ran one of California's largest healthy vending startups.