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Influence Marketing for E-commerce Merchants

An interview with 'Return on Influence' author Mark W. Schaefer

We’ve all heard the numbers, and they’re impressive. Facebook has 800 million friends. More than 100 million Twitter users exist. And LinkedIn has more than 150 million business professionals using its site.

For merchants, just being on a site means little unless you “work the system,” that is, become engaged and influential. But having a lot of friends, tweeps or connections doesn’t guarantee you’re engaged and influential. To assess your own social influence, you can use tools such as Klout, Peer Index and Kred. We did and were surprised by our low scores.

But many others really do have tremendous social media clout. Why should you care? As Mark W. Schaefer explains in his book Return on Influence: The Revolutionary Power of Klout, Social Scoring, and Influence Marketing, you can identify the “world’s most powerful bloggers, tweeters and YouTube celebrities to build product awareness, brand buzz and new sales.”

You can also become a person who really knows how to create content that speedily moves through the Internet. Shaefer certainly has a lot of clout himself, and is among the top 5 percent of all “influencers” on Twitter. He’s a globally recognized educator, business consultant and author. His blog, Grow, has been ranked by AdAge as one of the top 100 marketing blogs in the world. We spoke with Schaefer about his book, including his concept of “citizen influencers,” who are the “opinion leaders” of the digital age.

Schepp: What motivated you to write Return on Influence?

Shaefer: When I started blogging about this topic, I was quite interested in the reaction I received. On a personal level, people loathed the idea of being rated, but brands were tapping into this trend of social influence in a massive way. The more I studied it, the more interesting it became. I realized that many people were getting caught up in the emotion of being rated and missing the possibilities for businesses and marketing. Seemed like it would make a good book!

Schepp: You mention citizen influencers. Please define this term.

“Think how much more powerful it would be to have people talking about your products instead of taking out an ad telling everybody how great you are”

Shaefer: About a year ago, I wrote a popular blog post on the topic of social influence that ended up being tweeted about 2,000 times. It spread all over the Internet. That caught the attention of a reporter from the New York Times. She was writing an article on this topic of social influence, and quoted me four times in a Sunday edition of the paper. The article was syndicated all over the country, and all over the world.

Now, who am I? I’m just a guy. I’m not a movie star, or a pro athlete, or a supermodel. How did my voice, my influence spread all over the world? It’s due to one thing: I can create content that moves throughout the Internet—and that is a new source of power that is available to anybody. We are in the era of citizen influencers. It’s a very exciting time because anybody can have influence now. It doesn’t matter what you look like, or where you went to school. Influence has been democratized.

Schepp: Now let’s say I sell collectibles on eBay. Would it be important for me to connect with citizen influencers? Why and how exactly would I go about doing this?

Shaefer: Of course. We now have the ability to identify and connect to the people creating the most buzz about our products and services, the most passionate advocates. Think how much more powerful it would be to have these people talking about and recommending your products instead of taking out an ad telling everybody how great you are. Although influence marketing is primarily being used by national brands, the real power will be when this starts to trickle down to the local level, and that is already happening.

I think it is important for all businesses to start learning about this trend. It’s an entirely new marketing channel, really. A good place to start would be to read my book, Return On Influence, then to start exploring sites like Klout, Peer Index and Kred.

Schepp: Should small to medium-size businesses (SMBs) strive to be citizen influencers, themselves? If so, why and how can they go about doing this?

Shaefer: Absolutely. Social scores like Klout are an indicator of the effectiveness of your presence on the social Web, and we should all strive to be better at what we do, right? The book details a plan on how to improve your score by working on a targeted audience, creating or aggregating compelling content, and then engaging on the Web in a way that will improve your score. One guy featured in the book more than doubled his influence rating in 45 days.

Schepp: How about building brand awareness, brand buzz and new sales? I understand why Ford and Pepsi need to be doing this, but it all seems rather imposing for the average eBay seller trying to keep a business afloat. Please explain all this from the viewpoint of your research.

Shaefer: It all depends on your business goals. If your priorities are shipping and logistics, then that is where you need to focus. If your priority is marketing and brand awareness, then a small business should definitely consider a social media component to a marketing strategy, especially an Internet marketing strategy.

Social media marketing favors small businesses, I think, because of their ability to react to in-the-moment sale opportunities. That eludes many big companies who are conditioned to spending big bucks on advertising and then standing back and waiting for something to happen!

Schepp: You discuss the concept of creating content that “moves through a system.” What do you mean by that, and how would that benefit SMBs?

“Two hours a day is a lot. I think most businesses can be successful with even less [social media] effort than that, once they get their processes set up”

Shaefer: Every social media success has to have two components: a content strategy and a network strategy. Most companies get the first part. They have lots of great content on their website or blog, but it just sits there. There is no power in that content if it is not ignited in a way to move through the social Web. You need to actively surround yourself with people who are interested in you and your business so that your content gets shared to their audience and beyond.

Schepp: I’m an SMB selling products through my own website. I have perhaps two hours a day to devote to social media. From your perspective what activities will deliver the greatest return for me on my time investment?

Shaefer: For most businesses, starting a blog is the most important thing they can do. There are powerful benefits like search engine optimization with blogging, even if nobody reads it. But if you talk about content, you need something compelling, rich and perhaps even entertaining to get people’s attention. A Facebook post or tweet is fleeting, but a blog can work forever, like a little Internet sales person.

Regular blogging is also a good way to provide a constant drip, drip, drip of communications to your customers, even if you can’t afford to connect to them personally every week or month. Be helpful. Show them how to save money, save time and have more fun, and you’ll be a hit.

And by the way, two hours a day is a lot. I think most businesses can be successful with even less effort than that, once they get their processes set up.

Schepp: Is there anything else we should have covered?

Shaefer: I’ve also written a book called The Tao of Twitter. If your readers are struggling with Twitter, this is an ideal place to start. In 90 minutes you’ll “get it.” It’s a field guide to Twitter for busy people. There is also a set of instructional videos on my website called Social Media from Scratch for newcomers trying to figure out Facebook, blogging and Twitter.

About the author

Brad & Debra Schepp
Brad and Debra Schepp are the authors of 20 books, including eBay PowerSeller Secrets and The Official Success Guide: Insider Tips and Strategies for Sourcing Products from the World's Largest B2B Marketplace. Their most recent book is How to Find a Job on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Brad is also a literary agent for Waterside Productions. For further information, visit the couple's website, Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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