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OPA Digital Q&A: Forrester’s Melissa Parrish Previews Research on Social Media Influencer Strategies

OPA Digital Q&A: Forrester’s Melissa Parrish Previews Research on Social Media Influencer Strategies Pam Horan
The “OPA Digital Q&A” showcases perspectives on key trends in online publishing and media by industry leaders.

In advance of her presentation at OPA’s annual Social Media Day on March 6th, 2012, I took the opportunity to askMelissa Parrish, a senior analyst with Forrester, a few questions about the research she is previewing exclusively at our event.  Be sure to follow the event on Twitter with hashtag #OPASMD2012

Can you tell us a little bit about the impetus for the new research Forrester is about to release on influencer marketing?

MP: By the end of 2011, nearly 85% of US marketers were using social media in some way.  With this many brands engaging their customers in social media, we wanted to do a deep dive into some of the popular objectives that lead marketers to this channel.  Influencer marketing is one of the key ways that brands are able to drive measurable results in a social context, so that’s what led us to explore the topic more deeply.

One of the areas you look at closely in the report is the “social influencer”.How do you define them?

MP: A social influencer, simply put, is someone whose opinions about products or services, posted in a social media context, affect the decision making processes of other consumers.

How does identifying these social influencers affect marketing tactics for brands and publishers?

MP: Identifying influencers is the first step to creating measurable and effective programs.  Without that identification step, brands and publishers are left with just a “spray and pray” strategy where they push out content and hope somebody likes it enough to share it.  But through identifying people who are influential in various contexts about specific topics, brands and publishers can create smarter, more relevant content and campaigns that acknowledge the particular needs and interests of those influencers.  Because the programs speak to the interests and needs of the influencer, that influencer is more likely to talk about it.  Because the brand has created a complete strategy around the program—instead of, say, just a funny video that they hope will “go viral”—the marketer will be able to choose the right metrics to track that will show success towards the goal of the overall program.

Are there specific tools or partners that brands and publishers are relying on to help identify and build relationships with influencers?

MP: There’s a variety of tools and partners that brands and publishers can turn to for help throughout the planning and execution process.  Listening vendors like Radian 6 and Sysomos and data providers like Klout, PeerIndex and FlipTop are particularly crucial in identifying influencers and measuring the success of these campaigns.

Has your research revealed any best practices for effective influencer marketing? Can you give us some examples?

MP: The most important best practice is to understand that there are 3 types of influencers:

  • “Social Broadcasters”, who are often the internet celebrities that you might think of when you hear the term “influencer”.  This also includes journalists, editors, and major bloggers.

  • “Potential Influencers”, who are basically the common people in social media.  This is you and me and the majority of people reading this post.  We have small networks of friends and family who take our opinions very seriously, but we don’t have the kind of huge reach that Social Broadcasters do.

  • “Mass Influencers”, who are an undeniably important segment of influencer for any brand or publisher because while they represent 20% of the online population, they create 80% of the influential content.

Effective programs can be created to reach just one of these influencer segments, or you can really take your program to the next level by creating an influencer strategy that speaks to all 3 types of influencer.

Do your findings provide any insight as to the direction Social Media is heading in the near future?

MP: This particular research reinforces the idea that social media will continue to have an impact on more departments than just marketing and communications.  Consider the kinds of conversations that influencers may have.  Sure, some of it is likely to be about how much they simply like your brand, or about a terrific program that you’re running and want them to talk about.  But they’re also probably talking about customer service questions, ideas for your products and content, reactions to your offline campaigns or event experiences, etc.  Listening to them and engaging with them smartly has the potential to improve your business not just your content and campaigns.

This post originally ran on the OPA Blog.

Pam Horan was appointed president of the Online Publishers Association (OPA) in June 2006 after having served as VP of marketing and membership for two years. Prior to joining the OPA, Horan worked at Zinio Systems Inc., where she was the VP of...

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