Beyond Liking – An Examination of Social Media Influencers

Last month we shared with you the first of several forthcoming guest posts from our colleagues in Ad Sales, introducing a study they completed on simultaneous media usage and advertiser engagement. Today, Beth Rockwood and Pam Pearce share thoughts on a popular topic: social media influence.

Television has always had the power to bring people together, to fuel curiosity, and to get people talking. From the 50s, when families and friends gathered around the TV set, to our video landscape today, where screens outnumber viewers – television programming continues to generate buzz. Now, in addition to “aftershows” on air and online, there is an explosion of social conversation surrounding television and, even with a dedicated social media team and tools (as we have at Discovery), the opportunities are mixed with challenges.

I’ve spoken to a few social media thought leaders about TV and social media influence and wanted to add their thoughts on this much buzzed about topic.

NM Incite is frequently asked about influencers, according to Laura Bernstein, Vice President of Client Services, and they have found that there is much variation in who can be an influencer. While the volume of activity of an individual has been used as a proxy for influence, there is also much power to be harnessed from the average social media user. NM Incite approaches measuring the impact of influencers by looking at a combination of metrics – including reaction from other posters, topics discussed, advocacy/recommendations, promoters/detractors, number of followers and online footprint – that align best with a company, or industry, measures of success. Laura agrees that, across the industry, more work is required to define social influence and reach a consensus around a common set of metrics. That said, there is no denying that influence based on social dialogue will continue to grow in importance in the years ahead.

Pam Pearce, our Senior Director Research, shares her thoughts in this post. Discovery’s Ad Sales team is looking forward to continuing to work with clients to better understand how the trust, curiosity and engagement that surrounds our brands in real life and online can extend to theirs and go beyond the “like.”

-Beth Rockwood, Senior Vice President, Market Resources

Redefining Influencers
Quality, not just quantity, of social dialogue is important to maximize influence

It wasn’t long ago when the predominant thinking about how mass communications worked – the way it was able to influence consumers and change opinions – was fairly linear. Many thought it was a simple process where ideas were pushed to audiences who essentially “soaked up information.” Theories evolved and notions of the power of “word of mouth” and “buzz” emerged, acknowledging the role of individuals and conversations in everyday life and their power to stimulate brand attitudes and preferences. Yet, even though there was a recognition of role of “influence” and those who influence, it was still conceived as a fairly linear, albeit, multi-step process, moving from a few high-status, highly connected individuals to a circle of followers and distributors.

Then came social media. In today’s world of highly interconnected social beings, who share their whereabouts, thoughts and ideas in real time, influence has become much more fluid. Moving back and forth from peer to peer, friends to family, across platforms, both online and off, the democratization of influence has made it more difficult to define, track and quantify.

Social media now is a major lever that many communicators and marketers are still scrambling to understand how to use most effectively.

Given these stats, it is not surprising that brands are looking for new ways to understand influence, and how brand decisions are impacted by interactions in the social sphere. Companies like Klout have made their way into the media lexicon, incorporating a range of metrics from number of mention and likes to shares and check-ins, in an effort to identify those most likely to shape and shift the opinion of others.  While there is certainly value in understanding the volume of social media activity, it not sufficient to only know the quantity of social commentary, as it must be judged with the quality of the conversation and engagements that drive influence.

While 59% of Facebook users have “liked” a brand, casual associations typically fall short when it comes to inspiring high value activity. Results of a Gallup poll on social media suggest that for companies to truly benefit from social media efforts, they must first foster customer engagement – a deep rational and emotional attachment – with their brand. This is precisely why our #1 goal with social media is building community among and with fans. The social activity of highly engaged consumers is more likely to rise above the noise and get noticed, as their passion for the brand serves to authenticate and amplify their voice.

At the same time with more access to information than ever before, an increasing number of consumers are adding social media to their pre-purchase product research. 63% of social media users say that consumer ratings are their preferred source for product and service information.

These personal, actionable experiences with brands have emerged as a highly valued, trusted resources, often surpassing company-driven efforts.

Brands should look to social media not only to extend reach, but also as a platform to enhance engagement among current fans. Targeted efforts to stimulate dialogue around key brand attributes can have dramatic effects; however, to truly leverage this, a brand needs to stand for something and then continue to reinforce these characteristics by connecting with the stream of conversations that are most closely aligned with the brand. By creating an environment that encourages not just comments, but also conversations, brands can ignite power of influence of their most passionate consumers.

The Discovery Difference

Ranking #2 in Facebook “likes” in the U.S. cable universe (with more than 55 million), it’s hard not to get caught up in that number, but it is our continued focus on the audience and building relationships with them year-round that has allowed Discovery to move beyond casual fans to activate a groundswell of brand ambassadors on social media.

Fueled by the desire to discover, influencers enjoy the journey. The pursuit of knowledge through experience, seeking out information and new ideas, serves as a way for influencers to stay connected to the world around them. Discovery inspires (110 index), encouraging its viewers to try new things (111 index), and giving them something to talk about with friends and family (123 index). (Source: Simmons MME Spring 2011 A18+). Their curiosity keeps them connected. A curiosity we seek to ignite daily.