How influencers and advocates could be the new marketing trick or treat

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It’s Halloween today and soon it will be Christmas. In the search for fresh new ideas maybe it’s time to turn to the rising stars of digital marketing – influencers and advocates. Andrew Hennigan reports

Beyond putting a few pumpkins on the company Instagram account, some marketers struggle to find fresh ideas at the end of October. A few leverage their unique advantages such as when Airbnb organised a 2015 competition for a free weekend in a unique property underground in the Paris catacombs.

Others focus on suitably scary destinations, like Visit Scotland’s 2013 Vine campaign promoting the region’s spooky ancient castles.

This year, however, perhaps it’s time to take a look at the use of influencer and advocate marketing, a rapidly maturing approach that helps to cut through the noise of marketing messages by building on trusted relationships. Both rely on exploiting independent sources who speak for a brand. These people fall into two categories namely:

  • Influencers: those who impact opinions outside of their own circle.

  • Advocates: those people influence friends and family.

In a recent report titled The State of Influencer and Advocate Marketing 2016, Qube Media outlines some reasons why this shouldn’t be ignored. Here are three.

1. Consumers are overwhelmed: Today engaging audiences is increasingly difficult with consumers finding it difficult to keep up with content on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other channels. Poor attention means that a conversation is more effective than this type of one-way communication.

2. Consumers seek authenticity: With so much brand content looking obviously bought consumers rely more on influencers and advocates to identify new products and services from what they perceive as unbiased sources.

3. A source of new customers: At the critical first evaluation of a brand, the impact of influencer marketing is at its strongest, making this a key tool for customer acquisition. You will stick with existing brands by default but it might take the recommendation of an advocate-friend to change.

Qube Media’s report also presents some case studies highlighting some successful and not-so-successful influencer campaigns in the travel space.

Cathay Pacific Lounge Access: One of the earliest adopters of influencer marketing, Cathay Pacific ran a 2012 campaign allowing lounge access at San Fransisco airport to anyone with a Klout score – a rough measure of social media influence – of over 40. This is a clever way to generate coverage since the people being invited are mostly very active on social media. However this was achieved ‘mostly’ because some people gamed the system by inflating their Klout score. The threshold of 40 may also have been set too low, but the hazard of setting a higher threshold is that you leave a large community of active influencers feeling rejected.

Air Mauritius Advocacy: In a campaign created for Air Mauritius by Qube in 2013 the company started engaging with consumers on social media, which gave the company two opportunities. The first was simply to respond to negative comments but the second was to energise a pool of satisfied customers who often came to the defence of the company when negative comments were posted. Other companies with a strong social media community have followed this approach; often these advocates do a better job of responding than company employees and their comments are more credible.

Constance Hotels & Resorts: As part of an integrated campaign Constance Hotels and Resorts applied influencer and advocate marketing techniques to create messages that were then amplified though advertising on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Advocates were encouraged to share their own photos taken on the company’s properties, which were then used in paid advertising. At the same time selected influencers were invited to spend time at the resorts capturing more images to be shared. Followers on the company Instagram account increased 80% during the campaign.

So it’s clear that influencer and advocate marketing are not new in the travel business. Many companies have some kind of influencer outreach and offering trips and weekend breaks to bloggers is standard practice. Many companies also run advocate campaigns through social media like Instagram, fishing for content that can feed other channels.

Many companies have some kind of influencer outreach and  offering trips and weekend breaks to bloggers is standard practice

Campaigns designed specifically for Halloween are less common but we can draw inspiration from related fields. Target’s classic 2014 campaign ‘Halloween Hills’ is a popular case study based on an Instagram campaign aimed more at advocates. In the Target campaign consumers were targeted seasonal Halloween recipes and craft projects that they could try, and encouraged to post their outcomes with the campaign hashtag. Many consumers were inspired by the challenge, generating 28 million mentions on social media – a useful return on an affordable budget. This kind of campaign is easy to replicate for anyone who has a product or service that looks cool on Instagram.

Most of the effort in influencer and advocate marketing today focuses on blogs, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and short-video media like Twitter’s Vine, though increasingly brands are looking to live video like Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook Live.

Though it may be too late for this year, short video formats are ideal for Halloween-themed campaigns because the hand-held, shaky style of most advocate-generated content gives a kind of scary movie feel to content. Perhaps the next challenge will be for advocates to create more ambitious live video content, inspired by Klingande’s Facebook Live music video from September 2016.

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