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A Peek Into Microsoft’s Influencer Strategy

Sep 8, 2016

Ever wonder why iconic brands cause a knee-jerk reaction when mentioned in conversation? You know what they do and why they do it. Or at least you think you do.

Due to the shift in consumer trust towards trusted sources, big brands can no longer rely on an ad campaign or a press release to accurately communicate to their audience. This ultimately impacts a brand’s reputation. Although most brands know that influencer marketing could be the silver bullet to earning trust, many struggle to define and execute an influencer strategy. So what is the main reason behind this all-too-common influencer marketing fail?

Why does influencer marketing fail?

We had the opportunity to join Eve Psalti and Amanda Duncan onstage at Content Marketing World to discuss how Microsoft is attempting to solve this problem. Eve Psalti is the Global Director, Education Audience Strategy and Amanda Duncan is Senior Communications Manager on the Influencer Relations team. Before our session we asked our network, “What is the main reason behind influencer marketing failure?” and the responses are listed below. (Yes, Kim Kardashian was a real response.) Looking at these results we can see that two main categories emerge: influencer marketing fails because it is too much work or there are unproven results. Essentially, the cost of engaging influencers in meaningful ways is too high and demonstrating impact is not always easy.

After taking a look at these common hurdles we dove into a panel, moderated by our CEO and Co-Founder, Pierre-Loic Assayag, with Microsoft to understand how the iconic brand tackles influencer marketing. The following provides a summary of the panel between Traackr and Microsoft:

Tell us about your role at Microsoft and your approach to influencer marketing.

Amanda Duncan- I’m part of the influencer relations team, focusing on upcoming influencer voices. Our influencer programs are changing the press and traditional outreach that we are used to. It’s largely a new frontier and influence is the future of what this interconnected web looks like.

Eve Psalti- I work with tools that support educators teaching K-12 as well as higher ed. We recently launched an influential program for educators. This program is critical because educators are traditionally skeptical of being marketed to and adverse to technology so we work with influencers to overcome both of these challenges. We find influencers who are well regarded in their schools and communities.

Why has influencer marketing become more of a priority over time?

AD - Think about your own personal habits. You get a good restaurant recommendation and you go there. As a brand, you look to partner with those trusted voices making recommendations. It’s about finding who is doing that in an authentic way. When you find amazing people doing great work, you partner with them to do great work together. Influencer marketing is more than a tweet or blog headline or article, it’s real relationships.

EP - Educators don’t want to be marketed to so they are adverse to any communication from the brand itself. They learn from their community and their peers so we need to make sure we drive learning through that community and build relationships with the influential voices. It’s more credible and authentic.

Microsoft is one of the biggest and most complex organizations. What has been the biggest hurdle in scaling your programs?

AD - Collaboration is always the hardest. We are all running the same race and you think: maybe we should run this together and do the same program. Listening internally helps to find out ways you can partner and do things more effectively. This can be a time and resource challenge but to the customers it’s the same brand. Even if it’s a different team or department, it’s still your brand.

EP - Thinking about this from a global perspective, what is the message that is going to make sense? The way an influencer looks and behaves in one region of the word is entirely different than other regions.

Describe a day-in-the-life in your influencer program.

AD - It makes such a big difference when you start to spend time with people face-to-face. Talk to your influencers and get to know them. Ask them what they are working on and what their goals are. But to be honest, it can be a lot of time on the internet. I watch a lot of YouTube videos and people walk by and question what I’m doing but I swear that’s part of my job.

EP - I want to underscore the human relationships. It’s easy to view this program as just another tool in the arsenal but it’s relationships. I want my team to be out there connecting with influencers. It’s always a struggle though, everyday is atypical. I have one example of a time when an influencer wrote an unpleasant letter. It ended up being a good experience because it is more important to talk to people with strong opinions and work with them. Have that dialogue. Understand where they are coming from and let them know where you are coming from. There might actually be room for collaboration.

Questions from the CMWorld audience:
How do you identify and find influencers?

AD - We use tools to analyze influencer networks and leverage keyword searches. And although these tools help greatly, there is a human vetting component involved. Tools might be able to give you a list of names but you need to go through and see their content, see what they talk about and how they talk about it. You have to dig into it. When you start working with influencers, they start to tell their friends and networks and you will get introductions. It requires personal time and effort.

EP - It’s also at the intersection of reach and relevance. We need to make sure their message works with your audience. Also, keep in mind that your influencer “list” is forever changing over time. New influencers will rise and so you have to keep on top of that every day.

Do you pay influencers?

AD - We don’t, we are relationship based. Number one is keeping authenticity. We are looking for the right person saying the right thing at the right time. There are so many different ways to partner and work with influencers. There are ways you can compensate influencers without cutting a check the first time you meet. It’s an interesting topic, we could have a three-day conference just on that topic.

To wrap up the session, Pierre-Loic wanted to ask one final question to the Microsoft panel, hoping to give other marketers actionable advice:

What advice do you have for your peers who are struggling to get influencer marketing off the ground?

EP - I would start small first. Identify a handful of influencers who have the right messaging and build relationships with them. Start with unpaid and focus on earned influence. Monitor to identify shifts in the conversation.

AD - It’s the long game. If you are starting out, don’t go for the person with the most followers. Go for a middle tier influencer and partner with them on something. You are trying to create an authentic, interesting and unique experience that the influencer can’t stop talking about. Give them value. Be the cool party that influencers want to get into. There are people out there who want to work with you and already love your brand. Go find them.

Shaping your brand’s reputation

There you have it. An iconic brand like Microsoft is already adapting to the new reality that all marketers face. Your brand no longer owns its reputation. So build relationships with the movers and shakers, the influencers who will help you shape it.

What’s your biggest hurdle with influencer marketing? Join the conversation and let me know.