Success in the new internet economy hinges on being in control of the relentless drive to acquire and retain a steady stream of customers. But while businesses strive to develop strong brand loyalty and deliver an excellent user experience, today’s customers are highly knowledgeable, more demanding, and relish the market power that they possess.
The synergy between businesses and social media influencers is sometimes problematic- Hadrian J. Sammut
In this dynamic environment, social media influencers play an important role. According to brand-influencers.com, “influencers are bloggers, (and) promoters, and in some cases, they’re simply really loud people who have somehow managed to garner a huge, loyal following. Some live on YouTube or Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare, or any number of large or small social communities we probably never heard of. But above all else, influencers are consumers – like you and me. Their voice is valued by a very specific audience, and their passion and authenticity is the key to their social media survival.”
Social networks’ influencers act as thought leaders in diverse subject matters across social media. Their online postings are used to shape perception, drive awareness, trial new products, and crusade an informed evangelism.
However, the synergy between business organisations and social media influencers is sometimes a problematic one. Businesses need the influencers to positively evangelise about their products but influencers, on their part, need to be perceived as being independent of the very businesses which they comment about. Their independence, reputation and credibility are the very currency that makes them worth listening to.
This, as can be expected, is a challenging tight-rope walk for both parties and is fraught with risks. The recent and much-publicised case involving Clinton Jeff and another unnamed Indian blogger is highly indicative of this knotty interdependence.
Jeff is an Indian ‘gadget blogger’ responsible for a popular website, Facebook page and associated Twitter feed called ‘UnleashthePhones’, that carries out “mobile phone news, reviews and more”. Last month, Jeff received an invitation from Samsung Global, the South Korean multinational conglomerate, to visit the IFA, “the world’s leading trade show for consumer electronics and home appliances” held annually in Berlin.
Samsung Global issued the invitation as part of its Mob!lers programme and offered to pay for Jeff’s plane tickets and hotel room so he could cover the event as an independent blogger.
The Mobilers programme is a global incentive scheme, run by Samsung, that rewards bloggers with points for writing posts on topics determined primarily by the company. It offers bloggers early access to upcoming devices in order to be able to write objective (and presumably upbeat) blogs for their respective user communities.
Before the trip to Germany, Samsung India called Jeff to enquire if he wanted to visit the IFA as a reporter or a promoter. When interviewed by The Next Web, a technology-news website, Jeff was insistent that he had made it very clear to Samsung India that he would accept the invitation only if he could visit the IFA as an independent reporter. The Samsung India representative did not object, but a few days later Jeff received an e-mail informing him that he would be visiting the IFA as a ‘promoter’. Jeff contacted the Samsung India representative and was assured that the ‘promoter’ role “would just include a few extra chores (from the reporter option) that would not take too much time”.
It is still unclear whether Samsung India’s representative was fully aware of the distinction between a ‘reporter’ and a ‘promoter’ within the Mobilers programme. However, as soon as Jeff arrived in Berlin he was told to change into an official Samsung uniform, handed a set of keys and ordered to man an official Samsung booth and demonstrate the benefits of various Samsung devices to members of the press.
Jeff refused to participate under these conditions but Samsung informed him that he could not opt out of his initial agreement to act as a ‘promoter’. He was adamant that he was an independent blogger, and refused to act as a brand ambassador for Samsung. True to their threat Samsung cancelled the return plane tickets and hotel booking, leaving Jeff stranded in Berlin.
After the story broke across the internet, Samsung issued a statement expressing its regret and claiming there was a “misunderstanding” between Clinton Jeff and the Mobilers coordinators, stating that these company representatives were “not sufficiently briefed on the nature of Samsung Mobilers’ activities” at the trade show.
Samsung insisted that Mobilers is a voluntary community of active Samsung mobile device users, who are offered the opportunity to participate in marketing events across the world. At these events, all activities they undertake are on a voluntary basis. No activities are forced upon them.
In an interesting postscript to the whole story, Samsung’s rival, Nokia, sponsored the rest of Jeff’s stay in Berlin and even paid for his plane ticket home.
Mr Sammut is a business solutions advisor with iMovo, which specialises in ‘Know Your Client’ assignments based on Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Qlikview business intelligence tools.
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