When looking for influencers, try your existing customers

I often wonder if influencer programs are still worth it. It’s an argument that have in my own head all the time. If you’ve been following me, you already know that I’m a big fan of employee advocacy programs, and I feel that the rise of these programs has had an effect on external influencer programs.

Looking for influencers? Try your existing customers. Photo Credit: 10ch

There will always be questions about whether or not influencers are authentic, especially if reviews and opinions are compensated. It isn’t my intention to start that circular conversation, it’s a topic that can and will be debated over and over. Instead, what I’d like to point out is that an influencer program can be a great way to reward loyal customers.

In full disclosure, I am a part of an external influencer program for Verizon FiOS, and this blog post was created as a part of the program. BUT I was a customer for five years before being asked. So no, I wasn’t paid to convert from some other cable or satellite TV company. In my opinion, it’s great to feel recognized or rewarded by a brand for being a loyal customer, and being a part of this program just reinforces my commitment to them.

Existing customers are great for influencer programs because the decision to buy into the brand was informed and not made because they received products and/or services for free. If a customer has been loyal to a brand for a long time, there are most likely to be pretty passionate about that brand. And I would venture to guess that they have made that passion known to others in their own way without trying to be a salesperson.

The definition of a mercenary is “working or acting merely for money or other reward” (dictionary.com). If you pay someone to initially like your brand, once that payment stops, or there’s a higher offer from a competitor, that person will most likely switch sides.

I’m not saying Verizon is perfect because no brand is perfect. The reason why I paid for the service, turned down competitors that knocked on my door repeatedly promising to lower my bill, was because I believed that the Verizon’s service was better. And throughout all this time, that opinion hasn’t changed, the service is great.

Whether or not brands want to believe it, consumers aren’t stupid, they can see through all the fake advertising and people that are put in front of them. Loyal customers don’t need to be fake, because they’ve already bought in. It’s encouraging to see brands like Verizon reward them for their loyalty. That’s definitely a good thing.

Why I Will Always Be A Fan Of The Amazing Race

It’s no secret that my wife, Stephanie, is a huge fan of The Amazing Race, she’s watched every episode since the very beginning and it’s because of her that I sit and watch it too. If you haven’t seen the show, it’s basically a bunch of teams of two racing around the world, having to conquer various challenges and obstacles along the way. Each episode is a different leg of the race with a pit stop at the end for the teams to rest at before moving on. The last person to check in to the pit stop may or may not be eliminated. It’s quite fun to watch and like all good television, you build an emotional love/hate relationship/interest with the characters of the show. This emotional interest in the competitors and the different cities and challenges the teams face keeps you coming back to see what will happen next time. The man behind The Amazing Race is Phil Keoghan, and he’s the guy at the end of each episode standing at the entrance to the pit stop telling each team what place they’ve finished in and if they are the last team, whether or not they’ve been eliminated from the race.

Jaclynne Gentry, Simon Marsh, Phil Keoghan, and me.  Photo credit: Mike DesRoches
Jaclynne Gentry, Simon Marsh, Phil Keoghan, and me. Photo credit: Mike DesRoches
I had the great privilege to meet Phil in person at the 2014 NAB Show, and while I haven’t met many celebrities in person, my personal rule has always been to just let them be. I’ve always figured that they always have people coming up to them and asking them for an autograph or a picture that I choose to leave them alone. I’ve always supposed that if I ever became a celebrity (not that it will happen), that I’d want some privacy and space too. So when my good friend Mike DesRoches asked Jaclynne Gentry (a good friend and co-worker) and me if we wanted to meet Phil and his wife Louise, I was a bit apprehensive at first. That feeling quickly went away the moment we were introduced to them. Phil and Louise were really nice to talk to and they were really engaging. You see, the other thing that I normally feel about meeting celebrities is that unless you’re of any significance yourself, they kind of look past you in conversation. But this didn’t happen with Phil and Louise, in fact it was quite the opposite. We had a whole conversation about Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man! And during the whole time we chatted about that and other things, I never got the sense that they were looking past us and wanting to leave. They even asked if we wanted to sit with them at the event we were all attending, but we graciously declined, knowing that there were others that they needed to meet and sit with.

Phil Keoghan was cool. He even let Mike DesRoches take this off-centered selfie of us with him.
Phil Keoghan was cool. He even let Mike DesRoches take this off-centered selfie of us.
It was really refreshing to experience meeting some famous people that care more about the person than the title the person held, or whether or not that person could help them with a future project of theirs. What Phil and Louise did, just by being nice and approachable, was build a loyal fan. I’ll continue to watch The Amazing Race with Stephanie as I always do, but now even if the team I’m rooting for loses, I’ll still have a reason to watch. I’ll watch because it’s Phil Keoghan’s show. And I’ll be watching all of his other productions too, like Le Ride, which is about his journey retracing the 1928 Tour de France. The experience meeting Phil and Louise is a lesson and reminder for brands and people alike, that you make an impression on everyone you meet, make sure it’s genuine and a good one and you’ll build loyal fans wherever you go.

A Case for Employee Brand Ambassadors on Social Media

There is a big benefit to educating and encouraging employees to use social media. Each employee that comes into contact with someone on social media could be a potential customer. Educating your employees on social media best practices is very important, because if all goes well the end result could be something like this:

The Case for Employee Brand Ambassadors on Social Media
The power employee brand ambassadors on social media

People build relationships
The best part about social media is that it allows you to connect with people that you might not have had the chance to connect with before. It’s all about building relationships, and your employees should know that too. Failure to understand this will cause your employees to be too salesy, which could be a big turn off. Instead, employees should build genuine relationships and be representative of the brand. Genuine relationships build trust, which will lead to more opportunities.

People trust people
Dave Humphrey and I haven’t met in person yet, but one day I hope we get the chance. But we did get to meet on Facebook through a mutual friend of ours, Ann Tran. Recently Dave reached out to me on Facebook with some questions he had about some products of ours and I tried to help as best as I could. To make a long story short, the end result of our conversation on Facebook was a 35K sale, and some valuable feedback for our product team.

“I actually met you through Ann Tran. I was first drawn to the cool NYC photos, then I admired your posts about your family (especially the culture), and from there I think a level of trust was established. That was the key.” ~ Dave Humphrey

But before you jump to any conclusions, know that Dave and I were connected on Facebook for months before this last conversation took place. And just to be clear, we never spoke about Sony before either. The opportunity arose due to genuine social interaction, interaction that was built on trust.

Lesson for brands
I feel the lesson here is quite simple. Instead of blocking employees from using social media, teach them to be brand ambassadors. Instead of always looking for other people to represent your brand, tap into the passionate people that live and breathe your brand every day. Don’t spend your time worrying about what could go wrong, instead spend the time to educate them so that things go right. Teach your employees the value of building and nurturing relationships and your brand will reap the rewards down the road.