Social Selling in the Age of Influence Marketing

Welcome to the future - You’re actually experiencing it. Traditional channels, methods and mediums are losing effectiveness. You’ve increased your SEM spend, you’ve paid for endorsements - well, a few of you have and a lot more have thought - Why not? The challenge is simple - each interaction with your brand is a chance to engage an influential advocate, which is why you need a plan for meaningful engagement.

Companies literally pour marketing investments into social media “celebrities”, from the 6-year-old with the YouTube channel with more than 10M followers that earned over $11M in ’17 to the top 10 fitness category influencers who collectively have 39,482,812 Instagram followers, 52,303,914 Facebook likes, and 4,958,879 YouTube followers with a total reach of over 106,000,0001. These figures are significant, and traditional influence marketing works, otherwise, we wouldn’t do it. With this in mind, let’s explore the broader context of influence.

As television continues to lose its appeal marketers are challenged to 1. find the elusive customer without paying increasing fees to Google, Facebook and of course, Amazon; 2. deliver relevant /valuable content that’s authentic; 3. effectively engage in the selling process through influencers.

The Decline of Network TV’s Influence

Traditional TV Viewing

What do we mean by influencers? By definition, it’s kids, it’s younger generations, it’s our friends on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat - the list goes on. It’s you, your friends, etc. If you think about it, what hasn’t changed is the fact that we’re all influenced by what we see and hear. Decades before “social media” existed, psychologist Bibb Latané developed the social impact theory. His theory is comprised of:

  • Number: How many people are in the influencing group?
  • Strength: How important is the influencing group to the target of the influence?
  • Immediacy: How close in proximity in time is the influencing group to the target of the influence?

Influencers are those that tell their life stories, share product, service and brand preferences, make recommendations, etc. The question, simply put, is what are you doing as a sports and fitness brand story teller that’s interesting, compelling and sharable. Unfortunately, most brands still view “influencer” marketing as a form of advertising.

Research shows that friends, family and now the wider sphere of our collective social networks (friends of your friends - remember that Like and Share button) have a direct impact on our interests, our preferences and our purchase behavior. Social “shopping”, essentially the combination of peer / connections influence and content that drives purchase behavior drives a significant volume of commerce, when you look at the following:

  • According to Gartner2, 84% of millennials attribute social content has an influence on what they purchase
  • Approximately 81% of consumers purchasing decisions are influenced by their friends social media posts3
  • A 133% increase in conversions occurs when mobile shoppers see positive comments / feedback / recommendations about a product / service4

Your biggest advocates or detractors are those that interact with your products and the stories that surround them. Kids reject “marketing” as inauthentic, unless it’s something that’s ridiculously cool or participatory (think - your own post from Instagram integrated into the ad viewed by millions; your video in a mashup w/ a brand, etc.) This is why the intersection of content, social and “conversation” is such a critical element in your plans. Relevant, non-interruptive, valuable content that’s engaging is critical to the success of your selling efforts. In the end, authenticity rules. So, when we talk about influence marketing, we aren’t talking about the influencer and brand connection services that companies such as Ignite, IMA, Pulse Advertising and others provide. These companies provide “influencer marketing” services that on Instagram alone represent, $1B+5 in fees at a cost per post of approx. $50 per micro influencer and a cost of approx. $500K per post by a macro influencer (celebrity6).

Our view, based on the use of a data driven storytelling framework, is that the $255M+ spent in traditional pay for influence per month* is a potential element in a marketing strategy, but an expensive approach compared to the highly valuable influence of the combination of your customers – brand advocates, coupled with engaging content in social shopping. It’s this influence, the Like, the Share, the post, that creates influence. The data backs this up. 22% of Twitter users purchased a product after they tweeted or retweeted. 33% of Facebook users purchased a product or service following the same scenario.  Your peers serve as the greatest influence on your purchase behaviors and especially as it relates to kids. Think about this 88%6 of kids in the US alone use social media and spend over 9 hours per day consuming media with nearly 2 hours spent per day on social platforms7. When you look at the ratio of social circles and peer influence, the value equation can easily be determined through the lens of engagement driven by opportunities for meaningful interactions.

What we know is that “social selling” is an incredibly valuable and cost effective approach, but what does this mean for your brand?

  1. Be authentic - your content should be relevant and your interactions honest. You’ve seen it, you may have even done it. You’ve built a social media policy – responses will be provided to any positive or negative interactions with your brand within x hours. These are “canned” for ease of management. Watch the thread, post after post – “Thank you for comments, we’re so glad you enjoyed [Insert product or service here]. If there’s anything else we can do for you, please reach out on @__________ or ________. When something goes wrong “We’re so sorry to hear you’ve had a negative experience. Our goal is to ensure you’re completely satisfied, please PM [Insert product or brand here] @ _______. You read the thread and it’s the same response to every issue whether positive or negative.

    The same issue appears when you’re watching the video of story about something meaningful and your programmatic buy places your ad in a completely non-contextually relevant / interruptive scenario. The expected outcome for the brand surely can’t be “They’re going to love this 30 seconds of ‘in-your-face’ blatant advertising that has nothing to do with why you chose to watch that video.
  2. Be relevant - Remember the concept of “feature – benefit.” It’s actually something that a lot of startups do really well. In many instances they have small to non-existent budgets compared to big, established brands, yet they produce content that’s relevant and valuable which = highly shareable.
  3. Be non-interruptive - If you want your story to have high engagement rates, ensure it lives within social in a way that’s valuable; a way that fosters a relationship with the brand that matters. Don’t lose the trust factor by forcing your brand into a conversation or a social experience that’s not appropriate – let’s be more blunt – that’s flat out not intended for you to participate in. Remember, people are more receptive to their peers than they are companies within social networks. Let the social aspect of the network be your advocate, not your detractor.

Here’s a few approaches and supporting tools that hopefully will be valuable as you look at how you view influence marketing within social selling.


Avoid ad blockers that are widely used and growing. In 2017 approximately 41% of millennials used ad blockers.  Focus on delivering content that’s valuable and not solely in the form of “advertising”

  1. Understand the implications of algorithmic changes as it relates to organic search - It’s expensive to stay on top
  2. Influence isn’t blocked - that’s to say, unless the person that’s the advocate is just plain annoying in your social feed.
  3. Focus on being a part of the conversation or being the conversation, not an interruption. This is a simple statement, but remember, brands spent approximately $535B on media buys alone in 2017.
  4. Leverage platforms that give you relevant insights into what people are saying about your brand or the problems, challenges or opportunities it solves - platforms such as Lexalytics (Semantria) and Mention
  5. Understand that personas aren’t relevant any longer - your audience is dynamic and your messages and channels should reflect that
  6. Engage in your brand narrative in an authentic way
  7. Understand the why, not just the what

Welcome to your future.

If you have a question or would just like to know more, feel free to reach out to the author,



2 Gartner - Fuel Social Marketing with User Generated Content

3 Social Media Today - Is Social Media the Biggest Influencer of Buying Decisions?

4 Bazaarvoice - 7 ways the mobile consumer changes everything

5 Mediakix Study - Instagram Influencer Marketing is a $1Billion Dollar Industry

6 Muralidharan Sidharth and Men Linjuan Rita. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking

7 Pew Research Center - 2018 Social Media Fact Sheet

8 Statista - Daily Time Spent on Social Networking