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Why your customers are your best influencers

Everyone knows by now that marketers are shifting a lot of their attention (and budget) to influencer marketing. Consumers don’t want ads, they want stories, and they want to hear from real people in a thoughtful, unique way.

Most influencer marketing platforms today are built to connect brands to people who have meaningful reach on social media, create great content, have some topical relevance or expertise, and have strong engagement from their audience. This is a good formula for a successful influencer strategy, but it’s missing a key ingredient of what consumers crave the most: Authenticity. No doubt, an over-used word these days, but there is really no substitute for what it means to have someone who genuinely likes and actually uses your product before they’re incentivized to do so.

One of the overlooked goldmines for finding authentic influencers is in the CRM of every major marketer today. It’s these true customers who love their brand, talk about it to friends, and use it regularly because they like it. They may not have millions of followers, but many will have tens of thousands of followers who are engaged with what they are saying. It only takes a few dozen of these micro-influencers to create significant reach, but finding them amongst the hundreds of thousands (or millions) of customers is hard. Most marketers still cannot connect an email address or purchase data to how influential a person may be on social media. Despite a litany of personal data and purchase behavior, they are not capturing social media data on these customers along the way. Not just their social ID, but their true influence and potential as a brand ambassador on social media.

Fortunately, there are now tools like Earshot to help create this linkage so marketers can tap into an underutilized channel and find the true brand ambassadors. It requires an understanding of the person’s social presence, how engaged their audience is with their content, and their true brand affinity to make it work. Surfacing these people and their potential influence for specific brands on social media can actually now be done with very little effort. Tools like Earshot’s Decibel Level allow marketers to customize their criteria to find brand ambassadors in a fast, efficient way. And the pay-off for leveraging kind of influence is realized in many ways:

1) Marketers do not have to incentivize these people the same way as they would professional influencers. The compensation can be discounts, preferable seating, VIP treatment, and other brand rewards that actually wind up being more meaningful to the recipient. These are true brand ambassadors, not typical influencers who expect tens of thousands of dollars to tout a brand they already may love.

2) The communication channel to connect with these people is already paved. One of the challenges with influencer marketing programs today is how to effectively connect with these people through social media. This is a non-issue if it’s with an existing customer where email communication feels natural and non-invasive when done properly. Moreover, the marketer has access to the person’s purchase behavior to align incentives for influencing with their specific interests.

3) A professional influencer dilutes their message if they are touting too many brands at one time. Kim Kardashian has great reach, but almost no credibility when it comes to sharing her opinion on a brand because she does it with so many already. Those millions of followers with deaf ears become less valuable than the thousands who are listening intently to someone who cares about the product.

4) The influence is from the heart. It’s obvious when someone is speaking from a point of truth or if it’s contrived. Nothing beats being real and details and experiences with the product are more tangible when coming from these brand ambassadors.

5) Diversity of potential reach. Having 100 customers who all have 50,000 followers creates a more balanced “ripple effect” when people start sharing content than one social media celebrity (one channel) with 5 million followers.

Many marketers’ impression of influencer marketing today conjures up thoughts of a social media celebrity doing funny videos on YouTube with their brand intertwined in the story. They may feel it’s easier to throw a few hundred thousand dollars at someone who has millions of followers since it’s easier to execute creative and measure reach this way. The reality is that people are going to see through it as this channel continues to grow. It will become even more important to make messaging genuine and relatable to consumers who are getting smarter every day and no better channel than existing customers to make this happen.

Marketers have become skilled at using CRM data to personalize their advertising, create successful loyalty programs, and manage operations more efficiently. The opportunity to tap into their CRM to access influential customers on social media has arrived. It’s cost-effective, more natural, and can yield big returns for marketers that get it right.

David Rush (@davidmrush) is the Founder and CEO of Earshot, a social media marketing platform that enables brands to discover, prioritize, and engage customers in real-time. Learn more about Earshot at earshotinc.com and follow us on Twitter @earshotinc.