Précis: Paul Gillin’s “The New Influencers”


Gillin has positioned his book, The New Influencers, as a guide to help marketers understand the changing landscape of their trade, and how to engage “the new influencers.” The introduction includes a section on using the book, so readers can see a glimpse of the concepts he’ll use throughout. In each chapter he unpacks another social media concept, while examining it against a real example. The point Gillin is trying to illustrate is that “new patterns of influence…are emerging in social media,” (xvii). During this essay I will discuss the more important examples in his book because it is interesting to see how social media is changing traditional marketing rules. This review will help us understand what type of marketing we could see in the future.

Gillin begins the book with an argument towards the power of social media in marketing. He coins the new discipline ‘conversation marketing’ which refers to “creating a dialog with customers in which useful information is exchanged so that both parties benefit from the relationship,” (xiii). He continues to explain that this growth of trust creates customer loyalty and from a marketers perspective it “requires a completely different set of skills than those which have dominated the marketing profession for the last two generations…mean ditching terms like ‘reach,’ ‘frequency,’ ‘impressions’ and ‘click-through rates,’…it means exchanging information, not delivering a message,” (xiii, xiv). This is why his book is so important; it helps marketers learn to join the conversation.

But why is conversation marketing important? Traditional media is fading and in return “being replaced by networks of individuals and small-group influencers,” (xiv). Gillin backs this up by looking at statistics on marketing to Gen X-ers and Gen Y-ers (1):

  • MediaPost: “in 1977, 67% of people polled in a research study said they were moved to take some sort of action by word-of-mouth influence. In 2003, that number was 92%,” (p. xiv).
  • CIO Magazine: ” …63% of this group will research products before they consider a purchase…these new customers are creating extensive communities to exchange information…the information swap is trusted – and thus is more powerful than any marketing pitch ever could be,” (p. xiv).

Gillin continues in the introduction to provide evidence to the shift in the “value of peer networks” (xiv), and that marketers must adapt to be successful. In the age of social media, a disgruntled customer could potentially tell 10 million people about their bad experience, quite a shift from the proposed 10 people prior to social media tools. Gillin introduces us to blogs in chapter one and fleshes out a blogswam example to demonstrate their importance.

According to AOL, they were doing nothing wrong until a clever customer, 30 year old Vincent Ferrari, tried to cancel his AOL account. Hearing about their poor customer service he decided to record the conversation in hopes to get something amusing to send to his friends. He got what he anticipated, and more; at one point Vincent was told to put his father on the line. After placing the recording on his blog, it was promoted by Consumerist.com, and downloads poured in. The result created a lot of bad press for AOL, who eventually issued an apology and changed their policy. While Vincent’s recording did not single handedly change AOL’s policy, it helped influence it. Gillin states,  “the disruptive power of social media is made starkly real in crises like the AOL swarm and it’s something businesses will have to learn to adjust to…bad news can spread through the blogvines like wild fire” (p. 4). If a marketer was dialed into this situation the outcome might have been different.

Gillin states that despite popular opinion that bloggers and mainstream media butt heads, they actually complement each other, their relationship is symbiotic.  Bloggers rely on additional media for sources, as can journalists reference blogs. “Mainstream and social media are intertwined, forming an idea and feedback loop that is unlike anything marketers have ever encountered,” (p. 11).

Inside chapter two, Gillin talks about the future of the blogosphere as compared to the history of groups; “there are no standards organizations, governing bodies or representatives,” (p. 15). What we can learn from the history of groups is they typically fall apart without leadership; but blogs seem to be different. Gillin compares Clay Shirky’s research which states, “the lack of governance leads to chaos,” (p. 16) with James Surowiecki’s research which notes we’ll, “achieve a higher level of intelligence as a group,” (p. 17). Instead, Gillin thinks the answer to organized group management might lie in the “A-listers,” a group of accepted writers, so prominent they can set the standards for the others. This leads us to the discussion of the standards of behavior in the blogosphere.

Gillin speaks about standards of behavior and how they emerge in a place without leadership or hierarchy. He says the “blogosphere is determined not to repeat the mistakes of earlier times,” (p. 20), therefore the community creates its strength and longevity because its ownership is scattered among us. In essence, “the blogosphere is like the Internet itself,” (p. 20). Part of these standards deal with linking, or as Gillin calls them “currency.” Those who adhere to the unwritten rules will have a better chance of blog fame and “achieve much influence in their community,” (p. 27). This is very important for marketer to understand because, “the New Influencers take their craft seriously and understand the responsibilities they have to their colleagues to uphold community standards,” (p. 28). Gillin holds this as the reason why social media will be a “force to be reckoned with for a long time to come.”

Chapter three and four talk about the enthusiasts and their measures of influence; “enthusiasts are a vast and tantalizing opportunity for marketers, because they represent the cream of the crop of the company’s customers,” (p. 34), they are the sweet spot. Enthusiasts know a lot about the product, are eager to share their passion, and can sway opinions. Some examples of enthusiasts are HackingNetflix, Google Blogoscoped, Adrants, and DisneyBlog. Gillin notes some of enthusiasts’ characteristics (p. 48-50):

  • They have great market knowledge
  • They want to be involved
  • They’re meticulous about transparency
  • They want a discussion
  •  They are passionate about their readers

“Enthusiasts are a great untapped marketing resource…not only are they a source of expert…advice, but they’re usually wired into a network of other enthusiast who read and comment on each other’s blogs,” (p. 49). This is a goldmine for marketers if they take advantage. For example, in 2005 Nokia launched a new phone, the N90, and relied on cell phone enthusiast to promote for them online. They chose 50 of the top cell phone influencers and handed over the expensive phone with no strings attached…reviews were good. The cost to create this hype was very minimal, and Nokia gained good consumer recognition (by those who counted the most: the top influencers and their followers) by offering to link to positive or negative reviews of their product.

Regarding the measures of influence, you need to buy into the power of small markets to see this at its best; chapter six also does a good job of highlighting the successes of particular small businesses (2). But what does the idea of size have to do with social media? In a small company you find those with the power closer and more accessible. This breeds more transparency because the consequences are more limited with smaller companies. You can keep the core of what makes your company special because you don’t have the manpower to be held down by administration. He backs this up by quoting from marketing specialist Seth Godin’s book Small is the New Big, “small mean that you will outsource the boring…while you keep all the power because you invent something that’s remarkable,” (p. 64). With the invention of social media, marketers don’t need to cast a wide net hoping for 2-3% return, you can now focus on those 300,000 or fewer die-hard passionate consumers. Rather, “the evolution of technology … enables networks of individuals or small groups to behave like big companies,” (63).

“There’s no correlation I can find between hipness and blogginess,” (p. 84). In chapter five Gillin talks about different types of conversations companies can have with their customers (3). Gillin ponders why large corporations are so hesitant to adopt social media by proposing they know something we don’t. But he feels they don’t know anything special. Due to transparency, large companies often have issues with blogs and Gillin states they shouldn’t blog unless they know what they’re doing. In short, corporations shouldn’t blog because it’s hip (4) and rather should do it because of the following (p. 84-92):

  • Customer relations
  • Media relations
  • Tell your story
  • Tackle an issue
  • Feed a frenzy
  • Promote a product

One corporation that used blogs effectively in creating a dialog was General Motors. In 2006, an article claiming “GM’s promotion of SUV’s and the Hummer SUV in particular, were feeding America’s addiction to oil,” (p. 79) was published in the New York Times. GM, unable to react in the same medium posted a response on their GM Fastlane blog and started a back-and-forth cat fight. “Bloggers posted more than one hundred articles about the spat. Mainstream media picked up on the story…GM, whose letter to the editor had never even appeared in the Times, had generated far more publicity and awareness about its fuel-economy initiatives by blogging than it ever would have…in print,” (p. 81). Gillin believes corporations should not blog outside of reasons noted above, they should “blog to become influencers and that means adopting the cultural norms of the community: transparency, discussion, personality and the like,” (p. 102).

Chapter seven talks about PR’s role in social media and the power of podcasting. “PR has long been the neglected stepchild of corporate marketing departments,” (p. 125).  In 2005 David Meerman Scott wrote a book called The New Rules of PR: How to create a press release strategy for reaching buyers directly. Within it he talks about press releases and how we should continue to use them alongside social media. In the past, press releases have been written when something happens, Scott proposes we write them all the time and optimize them for web 2.0 to be more searchable. He uploaded his strategy to his new website and it soon became viral. Between Jan 19-22 2005, over 15,000 people downloaded the book thanks to posts from other bloggers.

“In early 2004, there were fewer than 100 podcasts available. That number swelled to more than 80,000 by mid-2006, according to some estimates.  By early 2007, estimates were unavailable. There were too many podcasts to count,” (p 142). In 2005, two housewives created Mommycast: Holding the world together, one child at a time. This podcast was born from knowledge these mothers wanted to share and the availability of this new technology. Shortly they became a success, in fact, during a spring show they highlight the movie March of the Penguins, and “ticket sales…took off after the podcast was released. Warner Independent Pictures ultimately attributed a quarter of the movie’s $100,000,000 gross to the Mommycast promotion,” (p. 141).

This is another great example of how social media can influence. Marketers soon realized the potential for advertising during podcasts, and with its close comparison to radio, have been able to make an easy transition. “Podcasting was an $80 million advertising market in 2006 and will generate $300 million in ad revenue by 2010 (5),” (p. 150). Gillin states that marketers who embrace this new opportunity can reach niche markets, and people who are more apt to purchase their product.

“Social media has completely changed the dynamics of viral marketing,” (p 180); chapter ten talks about viral marketing and how to harness its power. Examples like Numa Numa, really need know explanation. While this video wasn’t used to sell a product, the actor still appeared on Good Morning America and the Tonight Show after millions had shared his video. Like all other social media marketing tactics (blogging, podcasting, etc), the cost is so low it’s silly not to invest. Even web monitoring tools can be cheap, like Nielsen BuzzMetrics, Google Alerts and Technorati (although some are quite costly as well). Below are some driving forces to convince marketers about viral marketing:

  • Declining response rates
  • Technology developments
  • Demographic shifts
  • Customer preference
  • Low cost

In 2006, “nearly 1 in 5 advertisers planned to use viral campaigns in the next year, half of them for the first time,” (p 184). Early successful viral marketing campaigns are the Subservient Chicken, California Milk Processors Board’s Cow Abduction, and you can’t forget the Blair Witch Project. Since social media is a new trend for marketers to utilize, it’s helpful to understand that all marketers do not come with the knowledge on how to use this new medium, in fact, some might even be resistant. “A good viral marketing campaign requires expertise that few marketers possess, and success will become more elusive as campaigns proliferate,” (p 190). Because viral campaigns are so popular, doesn’t mean their success is randomly generated. Gillin states some standard factors for successes in marketing these viral campaigns (p. 188-189):

  • The product had better be good
  • The campaign must be innovative, intriguing and fun
  • Don’t push it
  • Reward people for coming
  • Let go
  • Use the medium

The final chapter is aimed to wrap up the preceding page’s knowledge. Gillin reiterates the importance of making the correct decision to join the conversation and quotes advice from Debbie Weil (The Corporate Blogging Book): “blog or be blogged, think of blogging as a three-legged stool, and blogs are part of next-generation websites,” (p. 196). He continues by entertaining the concept of social media as a bubble, “social media isn’t a bubble any more than e-mail or instant messaging were bubbles. Bubbles need air in the form of investment capital and inflated investor expectations. There simply hasn’t been much investment in this market because there isn’t much money to be made,” (p. 199).

Gillin ends by providing some predictions for the future and the “changing influence patterns in social media,” (p. 200-202):

  • The trend is unstoppable
  • Media institutions will matter less and less
  • Very few traditional media will make the shift

In thinking about the above rules, Gillin also says that in order for influencers to survive, they must continue to work, if you disappear for just a moment you could be forgotten. The “new influencers” Gillin dissects in this book are changing the face of marketing, “marketers are in a position to nurture the conversation that leads to sales. Social media offers them an unprecedented opportunity to do that,” (p 205).

Gillin, P. (2007). The New Influencers. Fresno: Quill Driver Books.


(1) Provided by MediaPost and Paul Greenberg in a CIO article.

(2) Gillin talks about how leveraging social media in smaller companies is different because of time. There are ways you can make an effective effort as a smaller business with limited investments: Specialize, Be offbeat, Start a diary,  Use audio and images, Celebrate others, (p. 115-116)

(3) There are different types of corporate blogs: Company, Executive, and Company-wide blog platform.

(4) Corporate post blog policies online by Charlene Li, Forrester Research Analyst: forrester.typepad.com/charleneli/2004/11/blogging_policy.html

(5) Data provided by EMarketer.

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One thought on “Précis: Paul Gillin’s “The New Influencers”

  1. Pingback: “The New Influencers” Article Reaction « Drewmccarver's Blog

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