Yes, but most likely no.
Yes, a corporate brand can be an influencer on social media. But there are many limitations, necessary and otherwise, that keep that from being a possibility. And though they are surmountable, I would argue most corporations aren’t willing to go there for the reasons I will outline below.
First, let’s define “influencer” (skip this part if you think you already know)
Size. They have a social following whose size is significant relative to their area of influence. So someone in fashion, for example, would need a following in the tens of thousands, minimum, to qualify. But someone who reviews software development tools could be an influencer if they only have a few thousand followers.
Speed. They publish regularly and quickly. They write or film, edit or produce, and promote their content. What they make is original or in reaction to something external, like a controversy, new product, world events, or follower questions. The content has the influencer’s distinct style.
Corporate marketing typically isn’t set up to produce content for quick turnaround because it is built for scale, not speed
Effectiveness. The content is appealing and so it gets reactions and spawns discussions. That means likes, comments, or shares but also content from others built in reaction. This factor, more than any other, is what determines the significance of an influencer — the size of their social audience is only a way to filter out the signal from the noise.
Finally, and to businesses this is the most critical factor, the best influencers drive conversions. Views, sales, downloads.
Why brands have trouble being influencers
Friction…or possibly fear…is what keeps brands from being influencers. To elaborate, in no particular order:
- Legal concerns. When you have to get your content approved by a legal team, you lose two critical elements of influence: Speed and effectiveness. Not having speed means you can’t participate in current events (these are measured in a span of hours, not days) which limits the reach of your content. Not having effectiveness means you can’t take a position or share an opinion because it may get you in hot water somehow…this makes your content less appealing.
- Brand concerns. If your corporate brand voice is X and your audience is Y, you have a fundamental disconnect. An influencer’s followers admire them. Identify with them. They crave their opinions. If your corporate voice is the equivalent of a staid banker and your audience is young urban professionals…well, good luck getting their attention with your conservative language, grandpa.
- Workflow challenges. Corporate marketing typically isn’t set up to produce content for quick turnaround because it is built for scale, not speed. That means you’ve got an assembly line with writers writing, designers designing, promoters promoting…at every step of the process a mind needs to consider the best approach and get to work. This takes time. Influencers have a single vision and can execute quickly in comparison.
The formula for how brands can be influencers
Here are my five commandments for how to structure a marketing team to become a social success story:
- There will be a small, close-knit team of multi-talented (copy, design, video, production, promotion, metrics) people with a unified vision or goal able to turn around content in a matter of hours.
- The team will have no gatekeepers or editors to publishing but themselves.
- This team will be intimately aware from a legal and branding standpoint of what they are and are not allowed to say publicly.
- The brand must ensure their brand voice is aligned with their target audience. If not, the team of content creators should have leeway to form a complementary, but distinct and appealing, voice of their own.
- The team will be so focused on tracking and capitalizing on trends that they must be all but dedicated to the task. This means other teams will have to produce social content for announcements or events.
So, brand social accounts can be influencers if they are backed by a dedicated team who have a specific goal, are intimately aware of their boundaries but have leeway to push them, have no roadblocks to publishing, and build content their audience craves.
It’s easier said than done, as I’m sure many of you can attest. What do you think? Are my commandments flawed? Is your experience different? Let me know in the comments.