Brian Solis, Principal Analyst, Altimeter and best-selling author delivered a hugely inspirational keynote presentation to delegates at this year’s WAVE 2017 Summit.
In an insightful and wide-ranging speech, Solis discussed what he calls ‘Influence 2.0’, what ‘Influence’ really means and how marketing needs to radically change to help consumers make decisions, including working with brand advocates effectively.
See the WAVE 2017 video presentations, inlcluding Brian Solis here.
We are all influencers now
Solis started by looking at the issue of trust and human relationships - who do we look to when we make decisions?
“There were always voices on the other side of our screens that were peers, experts, people that we trusted, not necessarily the brands and marketers but people like us,” said Solis. “When you reverse engineer that.. what you’re really looking at is the dynamics of human relationships – who do people trust and why? And then breaking down why those people are trusted.”
Solis argued that the real shift in influence has been a democratisation of influence, meaning we are now as likely as consumers to turn to our friend for advice as we are to a CEO or Instagrammer with millions of followers.
“What we were watching from the 90s until now was the reinvention of marketing itself. Instead of me telling you about my company and my product, the whole idea of creative, the whole idea of design, the whole idea of brand, was going to be what you experience, and in turn what you share about that experience,” said Solis.
“Online nothing disappears, and it starts to accumulate over time, so the whole principle of influence wasn’t just about who are the ‘influencers’ it is what happens in a world where everybody is an influencer.”
The shift here is that brands aren’t simply what brands tell us about themselves, but about how we all experience them and tell stories about them.
“What you experience and what you share and those shared experiences as they build upon themselves become the brand for someone else,” said Solis.
This means having a group of brand advocates – internally such as employee advocates or externally such as customer advocates – becomes a huge advantage as they are influential and help you tell your best story authentically with a high degree of trust. Brand advocates help you shape the perception of your brand substantially.
Social networks and social capital
Solis then went on to talk about the scale of influence and how a multitude of platforms and behaviours are at play in today’s social world. Using his well know ‘social prism’ Solis went on to say that this space is as much about anthropology and ethnology as ‘social media’ as it’s about who we are and how we relate.
“Influence is not any one network, it is where your markets go to make decisions, to learn, to discover, to research and it is enormous, it is a vast universe,” said Solis.
This means, as marketers, we need to start by “listening to conversations” and not trying to figure out who the influencers are in the “discovery process”.
At the bottom of this is the concept of “social capital”.
“In the real world you have people who like you, for who you are, for a number of reasons, you have people who trust you for a number of reasons. These are all things we earn based on how we behave and how we act through life. These things are replicated online, we earn social capital, we spend social capital,” said Solis.
“The whole point of influencer marketing was could we align with people to convince them in a way that’s mutually beneficial to spend their social capital on our behalf, and in the process build their social capital by partnering with us.”
Solis believes that somewhere along the line this idea has been forgotten and that marketers too often associate influence with simple popularity. However, as he has said: “Influence is not popularity. And popularity is not influence.”
Individual employees, for example, may not have a huge social media reach but they are very influential within their networks meaning they can be strong brand influencers or advocates.
According to Solis influence isn’t about how many followers, how many clicks or how many likes you have as “attention does not equal love”. The desire for this attention is “one of marketing’s biggest follies” Solis believes.
“Attention is something very difficult to earn in the long term,” said Solis and if it was enough to get attention, then we could all just publish cat videos, he joked. We need to ask if attention is enough to drive changes in behaviour. “Attention is a precious commodity, but it’s also a currency, we earn it, we spend it,” warned Solis.
These are extraordinary times
“Everything about how we talk to other human beings is ripe for disruption,” said Solis “because we are all – outside of our day jobs – human beings”.
Learning that we need to treat people as human beings first, not consumers, means there is a huge opportunity in what he calls these “extraordinary times”. This also means the way we look at people who are able to influence brands, such as advocates, inside an organisation and outside of an organisation.
Solis said: “Technology is changing the way we communicate in the real world, how we behave in the real world, which also goes back and changes how we behave online. This is a time when marketing and influence and everything will be reinvented. That’s why I call it Influence 2.0 as everything can be reinvented.”
This means thinking laterally about how we operate as brands, as agencies and how we interact with each other every day.
Solis said: “Everything we’re doing…is based on marketing principles that are dead or dying. They were all based on how I can talk at you and talk around you to the point where I could convince you that this is what you and your friends and people like you need to do.”
“Now we are all influencers, we are connected, we are informed, we are empowered, and that changes the dynamics of how someone is influenced. So, the real future is can you unlearn the things that got us here today in order to think and act differently.”
This isn’t about different content or formats according to Solis, but a more radical change in approach. He said: “This is where true innovation and true disruption starts because we start thinking differently than everyone else because we’ve opened our minds to new possibilities.”
How to tell a good story?
Solis gave a great example of how marketing is getting it wrong with communication by looking at typical story arcs and why this matters as storytelling is at heart of true influence.
Whereas a typical story arc builds slowly with several moments of dramatic tension before a climatic moment and denouement to engage the audience, marketing, unfortunately, is the “exact opposite” with a big bang that fizzles out quickly. Solis argued that this is misguided marketing approach as brands “need to understand the audience, and the audience’s audience”.
“How do we change the idea that influence doesn’t go off and on? That people’s decision making doesn’t start and stop – it’s always on,” said Solis. “Marketing has such a powerful role for talking to customers, talking to employees.”
However, brands are failing to create brand advocates as they are falling short of creating relationships first. “The problem with employee advocacy is most employees are unhappy in their jobs,” said Solis and it’s the same with customers. To bridge this gap, brands need to “bring the idea of monologue to dialogue” or it’s easy for people to “break relationships with brands”.
Part of this dialogue has to include looking at how people can now be “accidental narcissists”; that it all starts with “me” in social media because “we are all at the centre of what we do”. Solis isn’t laying blame anywhere, but acknowledging what he calls the “egosystem” so we can talk about “how human behaviour has changed, how decision making has changed”.
The outcome of this new dialogue is listening to what people are looking for to be genuinely useful and eventually convert them into advocates for a brand. He said: “What if we could launch new programmes that were rooted in helping people find information, make decisions among the people that they trust.”
What does influence even mean?
Throughout this presentation it became clearer to everyone in the audience that what we are talking about is the nature of influence itself. And, as we know, this doesn’t mean popularity or followers.
“Influence is the ability to cause effect or change behaviour,” said Solis. “There’s a ‘before’ and ‘after’ in each of those statements.”
This means you can measure a “relationship between cause and effect”. “Not likes, not views, not impressions, not shares, it was could we cause an effect or change behaviour,” said Solis, looking back at how he came to interpret influence more accurately.
The benefit of approaching influence in this way is that you can demonstrate real influence. He said: “You can start to put together KPIs and overall programmes that show that this stuff works.”
When you start thinking of the outcome – behaviour change – it “changes the way you start” and how you relate to people according to Solis. He encouraged the audience to learn from people and be inspired by them.
“Begin with the insights that matter to customers and the outcomes that matter to the business… otherwise nothing else matters,” he said. “Behind every screen, every expression and impression, is a human being… not a consumer.”
But be aware of the wider landscape, he warned. “Because we’re so informed, and connected and empowered, we’re also a bit more narcissistic, we’re also a bit more elusive, we’re also a bit more demanding and impatient.”
Who do we trust?
According to Solis “one of the biggest opportunities for all of marketing right now is trust.”
He said: “When we need to make decisions about what to buy or where to work or what to do it all comes down to trust. This is why transparency and authenticity are becoming so huge right now.”
Solis pointed to the Edelman Trust Barometer as a benchmark in how people now rank others in terms of trust. According to Edelman “a person like yourself” is now as credible a source of information about a company as a technical or academic expert. On top of this, the credibility of CEOs is at an all-time low, with a 12-point decline in the last year.
The decline of trust in the likes of companies, CEOs and politicians has been replaced with the increase in trust of those around us – our friends, our families, our peers. Solis said: “We trust ‘people like me’ and that is social media but that’s also life… that is why influence is so powerful.”
This is critical if you think about brand advocacy. If marketers are able to build a dialogue with customers and/or employees, then we know that this audience has another audience that trusts them – it’s a tight sphere of influence. If you can scale this through an employee advocacy programme or customer advocacy programme, then you can achieve reach and trust at once.
Achieving social capital
Trust goes back to social capital but how do we build social capital? According to Solis “all of our interactions build that capital” and “that can be measured, not by followers, but by what happens when we say or do something online”.
“At these interactions are some very core pillars online that also play offline as well,” according to Solis. These include being an authority on a subject, assessing whether others like what you have to say and if you are consistent in saying it, and do you reward each other with reciprocity? All of these things are at the heart of any good Influence 2.0 strategy.
Ultimately, we need to understand what people want to do, so we can design programmes that are useful. According to Solis, it’s less about influencer marketing, and more about a community of influence, like a “repository of influence”. He said: “Can we provide a community of people to provide information to those who are seeking it?”
When influence works it is built on the “3 Rs” Solis said: Reach (popularity, proximity and goodwill); Resonance (frequency, period of time the idea stays alive and amplitude); and Relevance (authority, trust and affinity).
By gaining insight into how people are searching, why they are searching and what they are looking for, we are then able to put programmes and communities in place to help people and effect or change behaviour. A customer or employee programme is one way of addressing this.
How people search is changing so rapidly at the moment with new voice enabled search tech such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, and people’s expectations around information. However, the underlying proposition around utility hasn’t changed – can we help our audience with what they are looking for to inform them and help them make better decisions?
Influencer marketing with a purpose
One stat shared by Solis towards the end of his talk points us all to an idea of the power and opportunity of influence 2.0: “90% of smartphone users are not absolutely certain of the specific brand they want to buy when they begin looking for information online.”
This gives influencer marketing and customer marketing a purpose as “we’re looking for people like us to make decisions, so we have an open mind”. According to Solis, decision making online is tiring and humans have a limited amount of energy for decision-making. Most important decisions come down to the same thing “a network of people that I trust”. Who’s useful, who’s interesting, who’s engaging?
Brands that work on developing brand advocate relationships will certainly be in a position to capitalise on peer-to-peer word of mouth marketing as people look to their trusted network for the decision making information they need.
Marketers must focus, Solis says, on the “the last mile of engagement” – how do you get people to that next step. What you have to say has to be relatable, useful and believable – it has to add value to a conversation.
“Every bit of what we produce has to do something, it can’t just be we got a view, a like or a share.. Every bit of the journey has to be designed,” said Solis. Then we can measure the impact. “Community is much more than belonging to something; it’s about doing something that makes belonging matter.”
Solis says that the opportunity to reinvent marketing and begin influence 2.0 is there for the taking as people can’t find what the want easily. He said: “We’re all so busy talking at people that we’re missing the real value of relationships…It’s a huge opportunity, a huge goldmine for all of us.”
The Qubist employee advocacy platform and proprietary Advocate Experience Management methodology allows global brands and businesses to quickly scale measurable word-of-mouth and achieve sustainable results.
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