Everyone wants to be a social media influencer these days, right? Can you imagine how excited I was when received this email message from Klout and the brand marketing folks over at Spice Islands Trading Company?
It's always nice to feel appreciated, especially when a brand is appreciating you because you've somehow popped up on their radar as being an "influencer".
Notice the copy:
Because you're a Food and Cooking influencer, Spice Islands is teaming up with Klout to give you a bottle of their Beau Monde to help spice things up. Click through to claim your Perk!
The funny thing is, I'm absolutely the last person who should ever influence anyone's decisions on food and cooking. While I'm pretty savvy with Internet marketing and social media, I don't know or even pretend to know anything about food and cooking. It's simply not something I'm passionate about, and in fact, I stick to a pretty strict training diet that consists of mostly the same bland foods every day.
Sure, I can cook if I need to and like to believe that I can pull off a decent homemade spaghetti sauce, but that's the one trick in my pony. I've never once shared (or for that matter, followed) a recipe in my life. I don't tweet about ingredients, food products or even what I'm having for lunch. In fact, the closest I get to talking about food or cooking on social media comes in the form of blogs posts and podcasts that discuss how restaurants can use digital marketing and social media to win and retain customers. So tell me again — how exactly am I a Food and Cooking influencer!?! And how exactly do I present any marketing value to the Spice Island Beau Monde dressing brand, of which I was just given a freebie? Begging your CMO time and time again to commit that level of discount liability to any online promotions will sustain your brand's profitability about as long as it will sustain your job.
Tapping the social graph of these online pseudo celebrities is no stranger to restaurants marketers. In August of 2011, fine dining brand Morton's Steakhouse was able to generate a barrage of online press and social media buzz by quickly reacting to a tweet sent in jest by popular blogger, entrepreneur and social media influencer Peter Shankman. Shankman, a PR professional who had risen to fame after selling his online publicity service HARO to Vocus Marketing Software the previous year, sent the tweet below upon boarding a flight to Newark, NJ.
Two hours later to Shankman's own surprise, a gentleman named Alex sent from the Morton's in Hackensak stood next to his driver ready to hand him a bag containing a fine Porterhouse, and order of Colossal Shrimp and a side of potatoes.
Needless to say, Peter was delighted to return the favor by featuring the story on his widely read blog. It's worth clicking through to that last link and reading the how the events played out and Peter's take on what Morton's did right.
Chili's has been another early tester of tapping social media influencers as a means of promoting the brand across social media.
Using Klout Perks, Chili's aimed to offer a $20 gift card to social media influencers who's general Klout scores ranked above 60. Social media influencers who claimed the perk were able to use at their will, with the brand hoping that this small gift would help entice tweets, Facebook status updates, foursquare check-ins and blog posts that worked to evangelize the brand on the web.
The end results looked something like the screenshot you see from Google+. While it's not the entire picture, it leaves a lot of questions as to the validity of Klout as a restaurant marketing metric and tactic.
Is it just me, or do Klout perks seem to promote the Klout brand more than anything else?
And, just how far does the discount liability run for a promotion that gives away $20 in free food for social media shares that are loosely targeted at best?
Klout itself has spent most of its existence 5 year existence in silicon valley surrounded by a whirlwind of controversy sparked by the company's early self-proclamation as the being the standard for measuring influence.
This statement, positioned as the company tagline has polarized circles of social media enthusiasts, the press and brand marketers as to whether or not Klout are accurate or have any baring on a users ability to spread messages and endorse brands across social media sites.
One of statements made by Shankman in his article on the Morton's experience stands out for me from the rest of the story:
We live in a world where everyone you meet is a broadcaster. Look around. Think of all your friends, all your colleagues. Do you know anyone anymore who doesn’t have a camera in their phone, or anyone who doesn’thave a Facebook or Twitter account?
In large part, Shankman is right. With U.S. smart phone adoption climbing over 50% of all mobile phone devices and the sharp increases in tablet sales, more consumers now have the capability to capture and share brand experiences online as often as they wish with a few swipes and clicks.
But having the capability to share experiences online is very different from having the ability to change people's opinions or entice them to take an action with the content you share. For that, the user must have a knack and passion for creatively producing online content that resonates with their audience and spurs a reaction.
The ability to influence online can also be correlated to sheer size of the users personal networks of followers and friends as well as how often they update their online profiles. In order to reach levels where personal endorsements can hold value for brands, social media influencers who are not traditional media celebrities must first focus on building and marketing their own personal brand though blogging, email marketing and at least some instances of self-promotional social media use. This dichotomy of building and maintain influence on the web subsequently creates a conflict of interest for the influencer.
In other words -- are social media influencers really passionate about promoting your restaurant's brand or their own?
Social Media brand advocacy is different all together. Brand advocates can be identified as the small portion of your customers who have so much affinity towards your brand that they are willing to recommend it to their friends.
These individuals are the people who talk about your brand at coffee meetings and to their family members. When visitors come into town for a trip, they are the first to proudly take those new guests to your location as a way of showing off the local flare of their city. Today, these advocates also use social media sites to spread these powerful messages, with no reward and no recognition required from the brand itself.
Find them and further empower them to do what they are already doing today.
Last week, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to talk with two marketers who are no strangers to the heated debates that seem to constantly surround the idea of social media influencers and their real value to brands who are trying to raise awareness and trial of their products. In Episode #2 of The Social Restaurant Podcast, I was joined by Rob Fuggetta and Chelsea Hickey of Zuberance to discuss the difference between online influence and brand advocacy, and how fast casual restaurant brands like Rubio's are using social networks to identify large armies of brand advocates and give them tools to evangelize the brand they already love. Rob Fuggetta is the CEO of Zuberance, and Apple brand marketing alumni and tenured technology CMO. Rob is also the author of "Brand Advocates: Turning Enthusiastic Customers into a Powerful Marketing Force". Chelsea Hickey joined Zuberance as Digital Marketing Manager after using the software to build a database of brand advocate stories about delicious fish tacos that helped to expand the loyalty program for Rubio's, a fast-casual concept with more than 200 locations. You can listen to the full 20 minute discussion In this 20 minute Podcast episode in the player below.