What Influencer Marketing and Word Of Mouth Marketing Have In Common

There’s understandably a bit of confusion about the difference between word of mouth marketing and influencer marketing. Where does one begin and the other end? Can you do one without the other? Let’s see if we can’t clear things up. Influencer marketing and word of mouth marketing have the same end goal. They’re meant to...

There’s understandably a bit of confusion about the difference between word of mouth marketing and influencer marketing. Where does one begin and the other end? Can you do one without the other? Let’s see if we can’t clear things up.

Influencer marketing and word of mouth marketing have the same end goal. They’re meant to get people talking about your product. To organically bring in more customers, fans, and followers, and to generate buzz.

The two are actually remarkably similar – to the extent that there’s actually some confusion over where one begins and the other ends. 

In a sense, word of mouth is the oldest form of marketing in the world. Picture a merchant visiting a medieval village. They sell a remedy to someone, and that remedy works so well that the customer tells their friends.

Those friends tell their friends, and before long the entire village is buzzing. 

In a lot of ways, social media is a high-octane evolution of word of mouth. Now, rather than spreading the word about a brand to a few friends and neighbors, people tell their friends and followers. That’s hundreds, maybe even thousands of eyes on a brand, each one with the potential to do exactly the same thing. 

And it works.

A 2018 study by best-selling authors and marketing experts Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin found that 83 percent of consumers are still influenced by recommendations from friends and family. Compound that with the 2019 Edelman Brand Trust Survey, which found that distrust in brands is now at an all-time high. In other words, people don’t trust businesses – but they do trust recommendations from friends and family.

With that in mind, it seems clear that the key to marketing success on social media is word of mouth. Galvanizing people into talking about a product, service, or brand. To give people a positive enough experience or intrigue them enough that they functionally do your marketing for you. To organically and naturally bring in more sales prospects. 

But how exactly do influencers fit into this paradigm? 

The Social Power of the Modern Day Influencer

Influencer marketing has the word of mouth concept at its core. The idea here is that people look at recommendations from influential men and women in the same light as they would a review from a friend or relative. And the numbers support that idea.

Remember the Edelman Brand Trust Survey I just referenced? Another finding of that study was that 63 percent of consumers trust influencer opinions of products far more than they trust marketing copy. It further found that 53 percent of people have purchased a new product within the last six months solely because of an influencer’s recommendation. 

In short, if someone has a large online following and a voice that carries weight, people listen to them. 

Let’s go back to our earlier example with the medieval village. In the context of social media, an influencer is a lot like a visiting knight or local leader. They’re a trusted voice, an authority whose lead people cannot help but follow.

Imagine instead that it’s the knight who the merchant sells to. Suddenly, it’s not just that little village that’s hearing about them. It’s every community the knight visits, every single man, woman, and child who trusts the words of someone who’s attained knighthood. 

Bringing it back around, influencer marketing is something that’s naturally grown from the evolution of social media. There have always been certain men and women who are highly valued, and highly trusted, whether from raw charisma or expertise. Social networks give these individuals a platform on which to build a following.

And that following might trust and listen to them for many reasons. 

  • They’re an entertainer and entrepreneur like PewDiePie, Jeffree Star, or Markiplier. 
  • They were already a celebrity offline, and they’re simply taking their status to the web.
  • They’re a professional who is recognized as an authority in their field or industry. A thought leader. 
  • They’re simply someone who’s managed to build a large following on their social network of choice and turned that into a brand in and of itself. 

Obviously, getting an influencer on-board with your brand is a huge win. 

And if that happens organically, even better. Unfortunately, there’s really no organic way to guarantee that this happens. The best you can do is strive to make your brand and its products as excellent as possible. 

In most cases, influencer marketing will require a pre-existing business relationship. 

The influencer uses their own brand to reach a far larger audience than an ordinary consumer ever could. This generally requires some value exchange between business and influencer. Note that the influencer must disclose what they received in exchange – this is required by the TOS of most social networks, and in many cases by law. 

We’re getting off track. When an influencer promotes a products, their fans and followers begin talking about it. They begin telling their own friends and family, either by sharing it through social media or in day-to-day conversation. 

From there, things basically follow the same path as a word of mouth marketing campaign.

Put another way, influencer marketing is about forming partnerships with social authority figures to augment your word of mouth marketing efforts. 

So how exactly do you build a relationship with an influencer? 

Start by following them on social media. Interact with them not as a brand, but as someone who’s interested in them. After following them for a while, you should have a good idea of whether or not your brand is relevant to theirs.

If it is, only then can you reach out. Only then can you try to establish a deal with them. As noted by the Upwork blog, you’ll need to keep a few things in mind while doing so.

  • Make sure your expectations are clearly defined. What sort of message do you want the influencer to spread to their followers, how much content should they generate, and how honest do you want them to be? 
  • Give them creative freedom. They’re an influencer for a reason. Let them put their own unique spin on your brand. 
  • Make sure to compensate them fairly. Maybe even give them some form of monetary compensation alongside free products and services.
  • Be respectful of their time. Don’t get pushy or impatient, and don’t expect them to act as dedicated marketers for your brand. 

Influencer marketing and word of mouth marketing are, at the end of the day, two sides of the same coin. Understanding one is the first step to success with the other. And if you want your brand to truly succeed on the modern web, I’d advise you to leverage both. 

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Brad Wayland is the Chief Strategy Officer at BlueCotton, a site that sells high-quality, easy-to-design custom t-shirts.