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YOU are kind of a big deal: The truth about digital influence in brand networks

Jason Rogers

PewDiePie is a big deal.

He’s got over 36m subscribers on YouTube, which is roughly the size of the population of Canada. He’s also one of the poster children for a generation of self-made ‘influencers’ who have Wordpressed, GoProed and Hyperlapsed their way towards stardom on the mobile screen.

The new breed of celebrity

There’s been no shortage of articles celebrating the importance of these social bootstrappers. A poll commissioned by Variety found that kids aged 13 to 18 rank YouTube original content creators such as Smosh and The Fine Brothers higher than A-list stars like Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio.

However, before we get swept away, some recent research points to the growing importance of another type of digital influencer.

This person may not have taken Instagram by storm, or may not inspire a tidal wave of teenage hormones. But this person is, nevertheless, a critical part of the sphere of digital influence.

This person may, in fact, be YOU.

The changing nature of trust

PWC recently published a report on the sharing economy that suggested that only 29 percent of consumers trust people more today than they did in the past. And 62 percent said they trust brands less today.

So how can we be witnessing the rapid growth of companies like Airbnb, Uber and Task Rabbit, which are predicated on trust, in the face of declining trust?

Their hypothesis is certainly worth five out of five stars:

“If trust in individuals and institutions is waning or at best holding steady, faith in the aggregate is growing.” – PwC, The Sharing Economy

Ok, so technically, it’s not YOU.

It’s the aggregate YOU. It’s the, en masse product ratings, online endorsements and digital purchase histories from you and the others like you.

Building trust through social proof

The importance of these mechanics of social proof has been known for some time. Most people have experienced this first hand when shopping online. Companies like Amazon, Google and Etsy provide customer reviews because it builds trust and helps them to sell more products.

Yet, the discrete commercial value an individual can create has been less well understood. In other words, how much is YOUR endorsement worth?

The financial value of ratings

A 2014 study by Paley Media Center and ShareThis attempted to quantify the value of these types of online behaviours and reported some startling data. An excellent online rating on a tablet can influence someone to pay up to $21.69 more for the product. For luxury vehicles, that number skyrockets to $8,560 for an excellent online share from a friend or family member.

As search engines and product recommendation algorithms increasingly weave digital footprints into the purchase experience, the value the individual customer can create for brands can only grow.

Nurturing the aggregate you

What this highlights for brands is the need to clarify tactics. Online ‘celebrities’ bring an audience and can be effective in creating awareness. However, they move on quickly, and with them, any lasting influence.

Real influence is about nurturing the aggregate YOU and ensuring that they are contributing a consistent stream of positive ratings, reviews and endorsements into the broader social ecosystem.

Simple actions can create a major impact. Neo@Ogilvy helped American pet food brand Purina increase organic traffic to its Friskies product pages by 29 percent in 2014 by working with Bazaarvoice to implement customer ratings that appear in organic Google searches and also boost search engine page ranking.

Identifying similar opportunities begins with a laser focus on the customer journey to find ways to improve the experience and enable fans to share their love for a brand through social platforms.

Nurturing customer support is critical because even the most loyal customers need a little nudge. A 2013 study by Ogilvy found that for hotels only 1 in 100 stays yielded a positive online endorsement, despite 80 percent satisfaction levels.

So does this mean YouTubers and their ilk can’t play a key role in brand campaigns? Absolutely not, however, to build a true groundswell of influence, brands must remember they’re just a thin slice of the PewDiePie.

Jason is a social media strategist at OgilvyOne and former Olympic Silver Medallist in Fencing. Jason tweets about digital marketing and sports @JasonRogersUSA.

Jason will be presenting ‘Do You Matter. The Truth about Digital Influence in Brand Networks.” At the Digital Shoreditch festival on 14 May at 11:45am in Mayor’s Parlor - Shoreditch Townhall.

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