Greg is one way to make money out of social media

It’s a standard part of community manager jobs specs to say that part of their role is to identify ‘influencers’ such as key bloggers in a particular sector. For example working at the ICAEW as the community manager I worked with Denis Howlett, a key influencer in the accounting and IT sector. But what I also did in that role was work with the key partner Microsoft, to help them play an influencing role in the community – discussing how best to approach blogging in It Counts for example. As community manager guru Connie Bensen writes in ‘Enabling your Influencers’ this job of identifying & enabling influencers is key to success:

“This is a Community Manager’s most important function. It’s not marketing, advertising, nor social media, it’s just plain old fashioned expressing yourself about a product that you believe in. It is word of mouth & the power is phenomenal. You can’t buy it & you can’t force it.”

But the point I want to make today is different. What I want to say for the benefit of companies trying to see how to make money from using social media in the marketplace is to see your own community manager if you have one, and other partner’s community managers, as influencers in their own right. I pretty sure I’m not breaking any ethical code by saying that, after all your community manager isn’t just going to start spamming the community with product messages – that wouldn’t work. Quiet the contrary, what I’m talking about is the subtle, patient task of persuading members of a community of the value of a particular offering – which requires both intelligence & integrity.

In other words community managers should be considered influencers in their own right. After all they get to know a community better than most; they get to know the issues better than most; they should know the needs of members better than most; so surely they should be considered a key influencer themselves? Traditionally the role has been seen as someone who should stay ‘objective’, and be the advocate for members first and the host organisation second. But in the reality the needs of business suggest otherwise. Your community takes advertising, it takes sponsors blogs, so why not allow the community manager to advocate a particular product. After all isn’t that what communities set up by the Dell’s and IBM’s of this world do? Don’t get me wrong, this approach applies to both b2c and b2b communities.

Take for example a company which is trying to create a social media strategy, but which wants to make sure it’s going to deliver value for money. One of the obvious way to achieve this commercial goal is to consider what the existing business partners are doing. For example if you are a global business service organisation partnered with a number of airlines, there’s a good chance that a brief audit of your partners will show you they already have a presence on Facebook with a fan page as with Virgin Atlantic, or are starting a community as in the case of Ryanair.

In the case of Virgin Atlantic their community/forum manager Greg Hamling is in a key position of influence with Virgin Atlantic customers. So my question is if you were approaching Virgin to discuss your social media strategy and the mutual benefit of endorsing your product when relevant, wouldn’t you want to include Greg as a key influencer? From reading his replies to customers, and from the look of him from his Facebook profile, he’s certainly the kind of guy who could pull it off.

Update: I’ve just come across this expert post on the role of influencers, and what they need to do with their ‘targets’ to be effective, by Lithium’s Principal Scientist of Analytics Dr Micahel Wu: The 6 Factors of Social Media Influence: Influence Analytics 1.

A Simplified Model of Social Media Influence

His analysis makes good sense to me, emphasizing from the target’s point of view that influencers need to have credibility and to deliver relevant information at the right time and place, for the target/s to take action. Here’s what I said in a comment:

What you’ve written about influencers also accords what what I’ve read recently, that it’s not necessarily the size of the influencer’s network, but their passion which is key (which I’m guessing may relate to their perceived credibility).

Bearing these points in mind I’ve asked in a recent blog {this one} as to whether community managers should themselves be regarded as key influencers (& therefore a potential revenue driver), despite the risks involved in turning them into “glorified marketeers” if not done correctly.