Content: Why Influence Matters
Do name-brand journalists still require the backing of name-brand media outlets?
Recent headlines strongly indicate that the byline is being rapidly decoupled from the masthead. Glenn Greenwald left The Guardian to start his own media venture, backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Technology veteran Walt Mossberg, together with the redoubtable Kara Swisher, are walking out of the Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal door, taking the AllThingsD team with them. David Pogue abandoned the venerable New York Times for (of all possible media properties) Yahoo. And, most recently, Rick Berke is to leave the New York Times for Politico.
The quality these journalists have in common is a degree of brand value so high that it can be decoupled from the media property that launched and/or fostered it (and leveraged to support other endeavors). These are journalists who have become true influencers.
Influencers are influential individuals with an above-average impact on (some niche within) society. An influencer can be anyone from an international pop celebrity like Justin Bieber to a niche industry celebrity like Danny Sullivan.
Leveraging Niche Industry Influencers
A prime example of a niche industry influencer is Duncan Epping, a VMware engineer and blogger who’s mobbed by autograph seekers whenever he appears at an event. You’ve likely never heard of Epping, and you’re not alone — I hadn’t either, until I learned about him from John Troyer, VMware’s social media evangelist.
Troyer heads up the company’s vExpert program, which he describes as such:
Basically, [it's] our content army. The vExperts are not all bloggers, but we do pull their posts together here. My goal is to have the first two pages on Google filled with their content when you search for VMware. But it can’t be all about us — it’s also about what’s in it for them. We give them free licenses for our software. We just granted 35 free tickets for our conference in Barcelona. We hire them to work on a freelance basis for us and for our agencies.
VMware’s investment in the vExperts program has paid off handsomely in terms of content marketing. The company has built an invaluable resource — a respected community of experts producing excellent content — that keeps on growing. This year, VMware anointed 581 vExperts to the five-year-old program. (Each year, there’s a formal application process; applicants get in based on their knowledge and contributions to the community.)
Influencers: Turning Owned Media To Earned Media
Leveraging influencers — be they journalists, bloggers, or subject-matter experts – can be an essential cornerstone of content strategy. Content is owned media which, by my definition, does not entail a media buy (i.e., it’s not advertising). However, just because you build it doesn’t necessarily mean they will come — at least, not without some degree of traction. Influencers can, in this regard, be a solid replacement for a media buy.
Consider this case study from an enterprise technology company. Twenty-four influencers were commissioned to create content around themes related to the brand’s products and initiatives. In total, 128 blog posts, infographics, videos and images were produced and shared on the influencers’ channels and promoted (with disclosure) across their social networks.
The result? These 128 pieces of content enjoyed in excess of over a million social interactions — that’s over 9,000 average actions per unit of content. For a B2B campaign (which this was), this is performance on par with or better than paid media — for considerably less expenditure.
Of course, B2C content marketing is rife with influencer examples as well, ranging from celebrities to prominent mommy bloggers to super-sharers.
At the end of the day, an influencer strategy is primarily an amplification strategy. Influencers, by dint of reputation, confer legitimacy. They are thought leaders, journalists, bloggers, tweeters, analysts, consultants or subject-matter experts who influence buyer decisions.
In content marketing, they promote virality. They help content to travel because they promote it, create it, or amplify it — or some combination thereof.
The most profound influencers — like the journalists above — become their own media brands. This is what organizations that are successful in content marketing do, too, either by teaming with or cultivating influencers of their own.
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