The idea of the influencer has been around for the past couple of years, especially the concept of the micro-influencer. For those unfamiliar, the micro-influencer is generally someone in a specific niche that has a core following around a specific passion. It could be photography, makeup, fitness, cooking. Their content does not really diverge from their niche, unlike the prominent mass influencers who are household names - like Kim Kardashian - who, like them or not, have an impact across the culture.
This then begs the question: What happens if you are trying to build a community in a realm where influencers can assist? Obviously, it depends on the kind of market space you are looking at - B2C vs B2B is one among many considerations.
This article is intended to cover building community with forums as your basis. Why? Because people new to the space of community platforms sometimes paint things with one brush - however, there is an essential distinction between Social Network Platforms and Online Discussion Platforms. The biggest distinguishing factor is based on a philosophical choice in the ways these platforms were designed.
Social Network Vs Online Discussion Platforms
A Social Network centers around the profile. It’s about the individual, what they think, what they do and what they share. The follow or connect button is a prominent feature. The focus is on the content created by the individuals and usually shared on their page or timeline. It’s more about positive reactions and less about comments. The platform succeeds through content production from popular members and by keeping those popular creators happy.
Online Discussion Platforms, or Forums, are centred around conversation. Members of the community will undoubtedly have a profile, but the platform’s focus is on engagement in conversation. It’s more about comments and less about reactions. The platform succeeds from SEO (coming from those searching), along with the deep engagement and passion from the collective. Yes, there are undoubtedly influential members, but a discussion platform does not live or die by individuals.
Where Do Influencers Fit….
I think it’s obvious where the influencer can fit in the Social Network Platform, but I do not believe enough has been said about where the influencer fits in Online Discussion Platforms. I think some of you may even think they don’t fit, but it’s not true; it’s a matter of understanding the platform you use and your objectives.
If you are looking to build a space with lasting power, passion, and people intrinsically motivated beyond the whims of individuals, then the forum platform is your choice. This does not mean that influencers don’t or can’t have a place. It’s about setting the right expectations and directing their energies to help you build an amazing space.
This is not an endless list by any stretch, but I wanted to give those of you in each market the ideas to begin the conversation and consider how best to use Influencers if it makes sense.
Influencers in the B2C Market
This is the most classic market for influencers. They are either an influencer in a product or lifestyle. They likely have a large social graph, which can be very attractive to a brand. The natural inclination is to pay them and have them amplify your brand on their social media accounts. However, there is also a benefit to having them play on your platform, and specifically in your forums. They are likely SME (subject matter experts) and can provide enormous benefit for an 'ask me anything', tutorials or exclusive content for the members in your community.
It’s important to understand the influencers' needs as well as yours as the community builder. Here is as good as any place to warn you that a Super User program and an influencer program are not the same. Super Users will “earn” their spot - by action with the community. They are your long-term bedrock, and the Influencer is more like a guest celebrity for a temporal period. Both can be important - but you need to be clear that they are different. I have seen way too many companies upset other Super Users by just adding Influencers to the program.
These are my considerations for the best success with influencers:
● Make the influencer feel like the celebrity
● “Advertise” in the sidebar or banners their content/contribution and link to a profile page
● Make sure their profile page offers clear ways to follow them on their own respective platform
● Pay the influencer and have them agree to “exclusive” community content for a term (3-6 months)
● Have the influencer tease this content on their channels for “community members only”
● Provide perks - early access, direct team access, as appropriate - but keep the program separate from the Super Fans. Your Super Fans should always get more.
Influencers in the B2B Market
This is the less classic market for influencers, and I guess it’s because we don’t really use the term 'influencer' in the B2B context. Usually, we'll say 'thought leader' instead. There is a measure of professional reputation at stake - being an influencer is likely not their career; they may work at a well-known brand or as a consultant - but they have some celebrity within their specific industry.
Similar to above, these industry celebrities should not simply be added to your Super User program. Nonetheless, they should get recognition for their expertise. This can be via special badges or titles on the platform. They should also get some sort of special access and perks.
New, fresh and authoritative content is the lifeblood of good SEO and the discussion platform. Besides having experts participate in question threads, having these experts write blog posts, start discussions or write knowledge base articles is the best way to use them. Having them write on key aspects of your industry will bring excitement and eyeballs. It’s likely to be searched for (and found) in Google, quoted and shared on other spaces and linked back to your community - thus helping your SEO even more.
A Word of Caution
I would be remiss not to mention the risks of any influencer engagement in your community. Influencers can be fickle and leave for your competitors based on perks, payment and treatment. Don’t have your whole strategy dependent on one person.
Also, we shared some things to consider in a community crisis playbook - this would be something to make sure you also have a section on: What happens if an Influencer does or says something not in line with your community standards? I know you and your team will be careful in their selection, but as history has shown us, even the cleanest public persona can have skeletons. Be prepared with a plan in case such an event occurs.
In the end, whether we're talking B2C or B2B, content is vital to your platform. Content will transcend any platform your influencer is on and makes your space THE central community for all things around the topic, be it a product or a lifestyle. So while influencers will and can be an accelerant, don’t lose focus: it’s always about the conversations for the online discussion platform.
I hope this article has helped you understand better how to use influencers in community building. If you have any other tips, please feel free to share them below!