The Engagers: Tonia Ries on Influencer Marketing

The Engagers: Tonia Ries

Tonia Ries is the founder and CEO of Modern Media. She works with major media brands including The Wall Street Journal, UBM TechWeb and many more. She also produces industry analysis and publishes breaking marketing news at The Realtime Report, which she created from the ground up, and produces the Realtime Conferences, including the upcoming Realtime Marketing Lab in New York City.

Tonia, you’ve written an extensive review of the influence measurement technology landscape and followed its evolution closely, most recently serving as Technical Editor for the new book, Influence Marketing. What are the most interesting advancements you’ve seen in the last 12 – 18 months?

The focus of the influencer marketing conversation has finally moved away from an obsession with scores to a more sophisticated discussion around how to identify influencers who matter to your customers—and engage with them to build a relationship over time.

At the same time, the pace of technological innovation is breathtaking. The insights that some of the latest influence measurement tools offer allow marketers to get a real understanding of how they can shift a conversation around a given topic, at a given point in time. It’s powerful stuff.

The influence marketer needs to know how to create valuable experiences for influencers that also help tell their brand story. You’re an influencer in real-time and digital marketing; tell us how brands have gotten you excited to participate in their initiatives.

It’s all about being relevant. With today’s tools, it’s so easy to quickly understand the content area a given influencer is most passionate about—and then craft a message or experience that the influencer will be excited to share with their audience. I’m always looking for great content to share: help me find it and make it easy for me, and odds are I’ll be interested.

And remember that it’s not always about you. One of the things that impressed me the most about IBM’s Smarter Commerce influencer initiative was that the program was positioned as an opportunity for the participating influencers to connect with each other. Trust me: I will always be grateful to IBM for making it possible to spend a couple of days with an incredible group of people with whom I share similar interests.

While the Mightiest Marketers can make influencer engagement look easy, it’s never without hard work and overcoming obstacles. In building your publication and agency, what has been the most difficult part for you? What’s your kryptonite?

I think I speak for most small business owners when I say that the biggest challenge is finding the time to focus on your own business. My clients are always the priority—so I really have to schedule time to make sure I don’t neglect essential engagement strategies that build new client relationships, develop our readership, or keep us in touch with our conference attendees and sponsors.

Social media has been a real asset to me in overcoming that obstacle. I have so many anecdotes of new clients who reached out because they were impressed by content that I post on LinkedIn, or clients with whom I’ve built a deeper relationship because we connected on Facebook. And our first realtime marketing conference, TWTRCON SF 09, was almost entirely produced via Twitter. From speaker recruitment to sponsorships to attendee marketing, it was built 140 characters at a time.

You’ve written quite a bit about the lesser known social networks. From the marketers’ perspective, how does social engagement differ on the smaller networks with niche communities, versus the larger, well-established networks.

If you determine that a smaller social network is a good fit for your customers and your brand personality, it can be very powerful. Similar to the concept of focusing on the Magic Middle, members of niche communities can be some of the most passionate, highly engaged fans you can find. Pay attention to people affiliated with a given niche, and you’ll have less competition and an audience that’s more willing to engage with you and reward you for that attention.

It can make a lot of sense to leverage lesser known social networks—but the basics still apply, and that takes time. You won’t get far if you don’t take the time to really listen to the tone of the conversation on that network and learn some of the ground rules for how to engage in a way that’s authentic. No shortcuts!

Have you downloaded The Engagers yet?

What is your take on scaling influencer marketing? Is it possible? How are the leading brands maintaining authenticity while building strong influencer programs?

Yes, it’s possible to scale the results you can get with a carefully crafted influencer marketing program. But at the end of the day, it’s still about building long-term relationships, one relationship at a time.

What’s key is to really carefully define the bottom-line goals and parameters of what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re a large consumer brand, it’s likely that your focus will be on generating PR and earned media impressions—something that’s relatively easy to scale and measure.

If you’re marketing a sophisticated business-to-business product or service, you need to invest some real effort in mapping out the various buying personas and understanding the different scenarios that might trigger purchasing behavior—and how various types of influencers can play a role.

Once you’ve defined the conversations in which you want to participate, today’s tools let you get a very granular, contextual look at who the voices are that are shaping those conversations. And then you can measure the impact of your outreach—and keep shifting more focus on the kinds of efforts that are working.

So yes, you can scale influencer marketing. But once again: there are tools, but no shortcuts!

Brands have become media. You specialize in helping media companies innovate in a changing market. One of the most important evolutions in the last 10 years has been the brand’s shift to publisher. If we are all media brands, what is the new role of the original media brand.

What a great question. Media brands are the original influencers, and the smart ones know how to nurture that authority and trust, all while engaging with their audiences in dynamic new ways.

Yes, there’s an enormous opportunity for brands and marketers to become publishers and build influence for themselves. Smart content marketing strategies, combined with inbound marketing, social media and influencer outreach programs, will quickly let you build an audience.

But paid media is still a great amplifier. And odds are, you’ll have a very hard time getting to the search engine results that the best media brands have, so why not leverage theirs?

If there really was a team of superheroes named the Engagers and you were on it, what name would you give yourself?

The Bee. I buzz around, I love to cross-pollinate ideas and organize communities, and I use my stinger very wisely.

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