5 Lessons From a Successful Influencer Marketing Program

5 Lessons From A Successful Influencer Outreach Program

A few weeks ago, I got a tweet out of the blue.

It was an online friend, Jason Harris, I’d known through a few other people. He works with Nokia in the US. His tweet was short and to the point. Did I want to come hang out in Boston with him and a few other folks to have a few experiences, take some pictures with a Nokia Lumia phone, and give them some input?

After clarifying that he knew I lived in Chicago (hey, lots of people think I’m from the east coast for some reason), I said sure. They’d pick up the airfare and hotel, send me a phone to test drive during the trip, and that was it. I was under no obligation to write anything or do anything, though they of course hoped I’d give them some input on the phone.

I’m a die-hard Apple girl, so I was pretty convinced that the courting would be in vain, but I said sure. Small group, interesting experience, and the chance to see an influencer program from the inside out and see how they did it. What the heck, right?

Three days later, I’d committed to switch from the iPhone to the Nokia – a Windows phone no less. (Oh, the humanity!!) I’ll explain why a bit later.

I also learned several things about what makes for great influencer outreach, and why Nokia is getting it right.

1. Small circles, big impact.

Jason and his team inherently get that working with influencers is not done with crappy email pitches and blast outreach to everyone with a massive following.

He connected with me because we had interacted online, we had some mutual connections, and I was sort of tangentially in the tech space (more so in the social media space). So his invitation was relevant to me, and he had the built-in trust that came with knowing some of the same good friends. That made me listen and pay attention to start with. A warm connection trumps a cold pitch any day, and Jason seems to understand that it’s not how many people you have engaged that matters, but how much they’re engaged and how happy they are to be part of the action.

When I got to Boston, I learned that this was indeed a nicely intimate group of about 20 really diverse people, from tech bloggers to fitness bloggers and some great local area social media types. Small enough for all of us to connect, get into conversations, and really enjoy the experiences with each other.

We went on a brewery tour, some great, fun meals, a baseball game, a comedy show, and then the rest of the group headed to Salem to do a witch tour and other witchy stuff (I regrettably had to miss the last day). It was all super fun, community-oriented stuff that encouraged lots of interaction, sightseeing and connection.

2. Great timing.

This is the part you can’t really control, but that you can listen for to some degree. The timing of this event was ideal for me as an ‘influencer’, because my phone contract is nearing an end.

I’m not sure whether it was just good luck or really savvy listening on Jason’s part (I did talk about my potential phone purchases online a little bit), but I was in the frame of mind to consider new technology because my existing phone was nearing the end of its useful life, and I needed some new options.

So the relevance in general was compounded by my own personal needs. I was pretty much exclusively considering an iPhone and would have likely just gone down that path without even investigating other options, and almost certainly would not have considered this device without having someone plunk it down in front of me.

Like I said, totally not easy to control when people are in the market, but it is relatively easy to set up a solid listening program that catches people at their “point of need” so your offers and outreach are particularly relevant to them.

3. Great product.

Let me be super, duper clear about this.

The trip to Boston, the new connections, the great experience with the Nokia US team would have been great but not a driver for me to switch to their tech if the phone wasn’t awesome.

I’m a heavy phone user, especially when I travel, and I have some pretty high demands for the tech I use. So I put the phone through its paces during our trip, sorting out whether its the kind of device that would work for me in the long run. The iPhone may dominate the market, but this Nokia Lumia Icon is a hell of a device. The interface and screen are gorgeous, the camera is unbelievable, and the overall user experience is excellent. The app marketplace is not as robust as the Apple one nor probably even the Android one, but I’m not a heavy app user so I found everything I needed without any issue, and the apps work beautifully.

My one gripe is battery life and the lack of existence of battery cases and accessories for this device. But I’ve ordered a nifty wireless charging pad for the phone, and I don’t know a phone on the market that doesn’t suffer on the battery front in the hands of a power user.

The point is that Nokia is targeting influencers, sure, but they have a kick-ass product to begin with.

Don’t ever underestimate the importance of that. The best marketing in the world will never overcome a mediocre product.

4. Nothing was contrived.

I loved that from the word go, there were no cheesy set-ups, no required posts, no contrived and brand-heavy sales pitches to a captive audience. They just put devices in our hands, gave us a hashtag if we chose to use it (most of us did), organized some cool experiences, and we did as we felt inspired to do.

They get extra special bonus points for having photography-savvy and Nokia-savvy  people as part of the group to lend a hand and some helpful tips to those of us totally new to the devices or novices at photography.

As with anything like this, there was a bit of blowback from some folks on Twitter saying that bloggers were “selling out”, and that the hashtag was nothing more than brand spam in their stream. I find those both kind of funny. No one bothered to ask, “Hey, what did they ask you to do as part of this?”, they just sort of assumed we all sold our souls and became mindless Nokia automatons tweeting and posting and doing what we were told. (Nothing could have been further from the truth.)

As for the “spam” issue, I wonder how those people would feel if I was raving about the phone without the hashtag? Is that spam or enthusiasm? If it’s enthusiasm that comes from carefully executed circumstances, where does that fit on the spectrum?

We attach a *lot* of significance to things that are perceived to be bought vs. earned, and I understand why, but also not (I mean, if we’re going on THAT criteria, we’re all sellouts if we ever take a paycheck and say we like where we work). But I’ll say for the record that the entire Nokia team was VERY clear about the fact that there were zero expectations for us to do anything other than what we wanted to do in re: posting anything at all about the experience or the devices.

I think one thing that could have been a little clearer was ensuring that each and every participant went through all the careful steps of disclosure. I took it upon myself to post on both Twitter (I pinned a tweet to the top of my timeline throughout the event) and Facebook (my main social channels) that I would be participating in this event, that I would be using a specific hashtag for the duration, that I was provided travel consideration and a device as part of this experience, and that anything I posted was voluntary on my part, just so there weren’t any doubts (though there still were, as evidenced by some of the fun messages I got in my inbox).

You’re never going to get rid of the haters, but you can take the sting out of their snarking if you’re just really clear up front about the rules of the game. Then you let them decide if they want to pay attention or not. The unfollow, mute, and unfriend buttons exist for a reason.

5. Outstanding coordination and execution.

This is simple in concept, but not easy to do.

The entire team of Jason, Kelsey, and all the others working with Nokia US absolutely made it so easy to participate. Dotted every “i”, crossed every “t”. Travel arrangements were a breeze, everything was executed as promised.   The agenda was full but not insane, plenty of downtime, and if there were hiccups, you never would have known it. Kelsey and Jason were always having fun, in control, and you could tell they’ve done this sort of thing many times over.

I wouldn’t personally wish event planning on my worst enemy. I’ve done it lots in the past, and I’m grateful that I don’t have to do it anymore. These guys made it look easy and effortless, which made the whole experience fun and easygoing for all of us, too.

As for that ROI thing…

I won’t steal Jason’s thunder here just in case he does what I hope he does and puts this all together in a presentation to take on the road. (If you run a social media event, you should talk to him about presenting Nokia as an influencer case study at your event. For serious. Let me know if you’d like an introduction).

But suffice it to say: they measure specific things, and they know that their influencer program works to drive adoption from the influencers as well as their recommendations to others. They’ve increased revenue and recommendations by a significant amount. I’d say those kinds of results speak for themselves.

And hey, I’m just one girl, but I’m now carrying around a Nokia Lumia Icon Windows Phone in my pocket. I’ve got my mom looking into a tablet for herself. I’ve told a good few people about my experience and here I am writing this post (unsolicited, mind you).

Does one person matter? If you convert ten people, does it matter? A hundred?

You have to start somewhere. And while these elements are far from comprehensive, I think the Nokia US team absolutely gets what influencer marketing is really all about, and they’re doing a hell of a job that many other companies can learn from.

Do you have a successful influencer program? Been part of one? I’d love to hear more from you below.

**Disclosure: Nokia provided the phone I now use at no cost to me, but I pay for my phone service. I was and am under no obligation to post anything about my participation in this program, now or in the future. But I will. Because I like them. Because they get it. If you don’t like that I got the phone for free, work your butt off and write a blog for 6+ years and maybe you can get a free phone, too. :) **

  • Valerie Keast

    One person does matter, great post Amber! Sounds like a really interesting case study.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      I think so too, Valerie. And I really think a bunch of companies could learn from their approach.

  • Gene De Libero

    This is a kick-ass, extremely practical, and very helpful post. Thanks for sharing. I’ll be re-sharing like crazy with my digital marketing students!

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Glad you loved it, Gene! I’d suggest you hit up Jason, too, to talk to your students sometime. I bet they could learn a ton from what he’s helped build. Happy to make an introduction if you’d like one.

      • Gene De Libero

        An intro would be awesome…appreciate it. I’ve got some great guests rolling through my courses on a regular basis. It’s so valuable for us to share our experiences (as you’ve done here). These are the conversations we’re NOT having regularly, but need to.

  • http://getlittlebird.com/ Marshall Kirkpatrick

    Love your disclosure, Amber.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Marshall. :)