The Coming Influence Marketing (R)evolution (Wherein a Small Percent of Your Audience Drives Outsized Value)

What if, instead of targeting 5,000 people, you could achieve the same bottom line results by engaging 500 or even 5 people, at a lower total cost? That’s the potential of influence marketing. Is it living up to that promise and how can this type of marketing be scaled in 2012?

What we do know:

  • Changes in consumer attention mean marketing is changing, and the change is dramatic
  • It’s becoming clear that one of key players in this change is the individual consumer
  • Individuals are playing a central role because they trust each other often a lot more than they trust companies
  • In today’s environment they’re able to better communicate and share with each other on many things, including products, services and causes

So, do we then target all individuals engaged in social media? Our thinking is that individuals who are influential can create outsized value. There’s been a lively debate around this (see, for example, Paul Adams excellent discussion and his comprehensive collection of relevant research links). It seems to me that most of the debate seems to center around the definitions of who is an influencer. To us, an influencer is not defined solely by the number of people they connect to. Quite simply, an influencer is someone who is capable of and wants to – bring about changes in awareness, perception or action in a group of people, around a specific topic. Below, we present 3 real world data points assessing the value of different types of influencers.

In some cases, these influencers are ahead of tail, i.e. have very wide reach. In other cases, they are pretty ordinary people who just happen to have the ability to reach and engage a circle of people in a way others can’t. In the latter case, they’re the friends who each seem to have their own special expertise: the one that knows exactly which is the best thin crust pizza in town, or the different friend who knows exactly which GPS has the best routing around traffic. We believe the most impactful and efficient programs successfully identify and use both types of people to achieve their goals.

Here are 3 data points around the value of influence in real world scenarios, drawn from academic research and from our own work:

  • An influential fraction of the audience (with modest social networks) can drive substantial business value. There’s no clear link between their influence and the size of their social networks: these are generally fairly ordinary people with modestly sized social networks. As an example, for a clicks-focused program that engaged ordinary people with varying degrees of social network connectedness, we tracked participant performance in driving clicks. A small set of influential individuals (< 10%) were able to engage their social networks to generate over 80% of the total program clicks. While a large majority of these top performers had a somewhat higher than average numbers of friends, there was no significant link between total number of social network friends and the ability to drive clicks. We did find other factors that were present among the top influencers.
  • Individuals highly connected around specific topics can be influential. A recent paper, “Identifying influential spreaders in complex networks”, discusses the importance of understanding influencers in the context of their connectedness in specific social networks. Individuals in tightly connected groups appear to form the influential spreaders in a topical social network and can be influential in the spread of relevant information. It’s not all about connectedness — so-called “hubs” may or may not be influential spreaders. The image shows (in the center) an example of a tightly connected group of people (“influential spreaders”).
  • Head of tail influencers continue to be important. There are many real world examples around the ability of high reach, relevant influencers to help bring about results (we all know about the Oprah effect). In a recent study of video virality, we evaluated the very different success levels (quantified in this case by total views) of 3 short form videos with similar subject matter. All three of the videos were seeded on major video sites and received a small amount of paid media support. One of the videos also received coverage/promotion by two relevant bloggers. The video that was covered by the relevant bloggers received 26x the total views of the others and importantly had longer duration of viewership growth and a wider total base.

How can companies increase influence marketing in 2012?

  • Continue to identify, engage and tracking the impact of “head of tail/mid-tail” influencers. As an example, our social team at Ogilvy builds programs that use an Influencer Mapping framework and tools for identifying head/mid-tail influencers (i.e. those with relatively high reach, but with clear topical relevance to a program and a likelihood to engage).
  • Expand engagement programs to individual small group influencers in your customer and prospect audience. Evaluate new methodologies and tools to help identify lower reach, individual influencers. At Ogilvy, we have recently launched frameworks and tools such as our Insider Circle(tm) platform to help identify and and engage the real-world influencers among companies’ customers, employees and prospects.  Evolving tools such as Kred, Klout and Peerindex provide some insights into both head of tail and mid-tail influence.

(cross-posted at

Published by

Irfan Kamal

VP, Digital Strategy