Jul 8, 2010

Are influencers all that influential?

spikeI just came across a fascinating, albeit old, article about influencers: Is the Tipping Point Toast?

and it reminded me of a blog post I was supposed to write about this topic. Better late than never. Here goes…

If you’re from the marketing world, you know Seth Godin. He is what marketers call "an influencer."

You probably dream of the day he blogs about you or puts you in one of his books, because that kind of endorsement means instant fame and profit for you, right? Maybe you send him emails or jokes or interesting articles to get his attention (guilty as charged). It doesn’t work. Influencers really don’t want to be influenced. Most of them (the good ones, at least) probably don’t even think of themselves as influencers. They just try to be useful, and wonder why so many people keep sending them free samples of crap.

Anyway, I gave up trying to influence the influencers years ago. Much more productive to — I dunno — focus on your customers, and make your product more awesome, in order to make them more awesome? Besides, some of the influencers I’ve known (the bad ones) really abuse their influence and get all "high maintenance." Maybe they deserve the attention, but they do tend to distract from focusing on your business.

But one day, Seth Godin actually sat down next to me for breakfast at a Business of Software event.

He was polite. Asked me about my business and all. I tried to stay cool, even though I know I was sweating profusely and fighting back a turdle (sorry, but Seth just sat down right next to me people!). I briefly explained email marketing (to a guy who kinda helped create the industry), but I didn’t want to act like a sleazy salesman. He gets enough pitches, so I shut up. Besides, he seemed more interested in pizzanomics. Told me he’d been thinking about it a lot, and even drew a graph on the back of a napkin for me. He asked for my business card. I think he chuckled at the chimp logo. It was an interesting encounter, but I didn’t make much of it (other than make a mental note to blog about pizzanomics).

Then, more than a year later, and completely out of the blue, he mentioned MailChimp on his blog. It was on December 3rd, 2009. Hot damn, I finally got my Seth post.

And here’s what it did to our traffic:


The analytics professionals among you will notice right away that there was no magical spike.

Let’s zoom in a little closer:


Among all the referrers that day, he added 701.

And if we stretch the time span out, you’ll see that the traffic from his blog died down pretty quick:


Granted, the conversion rate (visits to free-trial signup) of people that Seth referred in that same time period was 25% better than the site average. In terms of website conversion rates, a 25% improvement is very significant.

But it’s not like his blog post killed our servers, or continues to pay traffic dividends or anything.

So if you had x dollars to spend, should you focus it on trying to influence the influencers? Not worth it, imho.

Don’t get me wrong. Seth is still my hero, and I actually think it’s critical to know who the influencers are in your industry. More specifically, who the influencers are for your customers.

At the very least, memorize their faces, because you never know when one of them might plop down next to you at breakfast.

More importantly, you need to know who they are so that you can learn why the heck they’re so darn influential. This Ted talk from Simon Sinek (thanks for the link, Stephen) offers some clues:

Sinek explains the reason some people (and companies) are so much more successful (aka influential?) is because they know that "People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it."

So what’s the "why" that makes your influencers so influential?

Here’s that article again: Is the Tipping Point Toast?

Also related to "influentials:" check out slide 159 in The Real Life Social Network v2