Whether you are operating in a B2C or B2B channel, the odds are your customers no longer look to you as a primary source of information about your products and services. Instead, they look to social media to find “other people” to tell them about your brand. You need to identify and connect with these “other people” to help ensure they are saying the right things.

Everyone Is a Publisher

At a late afternoon session during the Revenue-Driven Marketing Leadership Summit hosted by the Aberdeen Group in Boston, MA, Alan Belniak, Global Director of Social Media Marketing for manufacturing software provider PTC, described how marketers can tap into third-party social media influencers to help spread positive brand messaging and gain credibility with consumers.

“Conglomerates used to produce content,” he said. “Now anyone can publish about anything.” Belniak used the immensely popular online news site Mashable, founded by a 19-year-old in his mother’s basement in Scotland, as an example of how individuals can use the Internet and social media to establish themselves as authorities without any outside support or assistance.

Influencing the Influencers

The job of the modern marketer, according to Belniak, is to elevate their brand’s status with the social influencer community -- and to focus on providing thought leadership in that space. While brands ultimately have less control over influencers than they do over media channels such as brand journalism or paid advertising, Belniak said influencers offer more credibility, because they are seen as more independent.

Belniak advised companies to connect their subject matter experts to influencers. “You need to respond to inquiries from the right people,” he said. “The typical PR response is not sufficient. You need to nurture and maintain the relationship.” By creating relationships with influencers, Belniak said companies can then reach out to the influencers’ networks.  “Take influencers along for the ride while you introduce yourself to new characters,” he said.

All Influencers Are Not Created Equal

Whether an influencer is providing positive or negative commentary, Belniak said it is crucial for time- and resource-strapped marketers to focus only as much attention on them as their sphere of influence justifies. "Look at their reach (number of fans/followers), resonance (how often they are reposted/retweeted, etc.) and relevance (how often they are cited as an expert by other media outlets),” said Belniak.

As an example, Belniak told the story of a “wildly negative” blogger who was consistently bashing PTC online and praising their competitors. At the CMO’s request, Belniak and his team investigated the blogger’s influence and discovered that rather than having a “pulpit,” he actually had a fairly small audience. “So we let him go,” said Belniak.

Measuring Social Influence

PTC uses a combination of online influence-measuring tools and manual scoring to determine the importance of influencers' comments on the company. Belniak cautioned that automated sentiment analysis tools are mostly “junk,” but said third-party online influence/measurement services like Traackr and Klout can be highly valuable in helping to determine which influencers are most worth focusing on.