Marketers across all major categories are investing more heavily in social media and influence marketing this year. Some 70% will increase spend on social advertising across platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and another 70% plan to increase their spend on "organic social," according to a new report from Salesforce.

Brands also know their customers are spending more time on social networks than on email and search engines combined. Social is where they are discovering new products and services. Moreover, social is where customers are getting recommendations from the people they trust most.

The challenge for many brands, however, is tapping into these social influencers in a meaningful way—one that doesn't just generate the awareness of a display ad within a newsfeed but that leads to actual sales.

The key is identifying and empowering a brand's most influential fans and followers to recommend the brand to their network. This strategy draws from each brand's core customer base—versus a broader approach of targeting all Internet or Facebook users within a certain demographic—and taps into their network of friends and family.

By not promoting their brand champions, companies are missing a huge opportunity to reach new customers. Incorporating tried and true word of mouth marketing concepts into digital marketing (particularly within social) is far more effective than display ads for different reasons.

Here are five reasons.

1. Consumers trust people they know more than ones they don't

Some 69% of people trust branded websites such as a company's Facebook page, but that percentage pales in comparison to the 84% of people who trust and rely on recommendations from people they know, according to Nielsen.

For a more effective marketing strategy, find individual influencers (those brand champions we discussed earlier) to distribute content about your brand to their social circles. Prospects who see their friends' posts about your company will be more likely to trust the content and your brand, potentially leading to a purchase.

2. There's better targeting with influence marketing

With traditional ads, it's hard to know whether your banner ad targeting a health-nut twenty-something was seen by that exact target demographic or whether it had the desired effect, if he did see it. Did he click the ad on purpose? If he did purchase, he is not going to want to continue to receive the same ad, which often happens as marketers use retargeting efforts. (How many times have you seen an ad in your Facebook feed for something you've already purchased?)

"Word-of-mouth is like a searchlight that goes through a social network and finds the most interested receivers to give a piece of information," says Jonah Berger, associate professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

When an influencer is motivated to share branded posts and promotions within their network, the reach is extremely powerful because the recipients are made up of like-minded consumers who are more likely to be interested in that brand/product than someone viewing a display ad.

3. Influence marketing has a massive reach

Not surprisingly, Facebook is the world's largest social media platform with 890 million daily active users, which is why advertisers are so intrigued by it. Though that number is impressive, it doesn’t mean everyone on the network wants to read your ad, never mind click on it.

By interacting with Facebook users that are actual customers, and getting them to influence their networks, marketers are able to reach a whole new group of truly qualified customers.

4. Influence marketing drives SEO

The content Facebook users post accounts for a quarter of all search results for the world's 20 largest brands, according to The Social Media Revolution. If a company wants to be searchable, it must first inspire people to share branded content on their social feeds. The more people who create personal content, the higher you'll be on search results. Moreover, 51%t of Americans trust user-generated content over other info on a company website.

5. It affects purchase decisions

It all comes down to the sale. In discussing ROI on social media, there is a significant correlation to sales, most notably with Millennials. Some  68% of 18-34 year-old social media users in the US were more inclined to make a purchase after seeing a post from a friend about a certain product or service, according to a survey by Harris Interactive,. That is a powerful statistic that shows how influencer marketing can increase a company's sales while lowering the marketing costs. Social marketing campaigns must correlate ROI to actual sales, not just brand exposure.

* * *

To remain competitive, companies must look at where (and to which people) consumers turn to for trustworthy information, and then consider the most likely way he or she will be influenced to actually make a purchase.

In today's digital world, social will continue to be an important advertising medium. Marketers must understand how to interact with their customers on these platforms and create avenues to motivate their untapped team of influencers.

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image of Lyle Stevens

Lyle Stevens is a co-founder and the CEO of Mavrck, an influencer activation platform. He is responsible for product operations and delivering value to Fortune 500 consumer brands.

LinkedIn: Lyle Stevens