Monday, December 19, 2011

Influitive Helps Marketers Build an Army of Advocates

Marketers recognize the potential reach of social media, but are rightly frightened that they can’t control the message. Most social marketing applications sidestep the issue by focusing on creating communities (Jive, Lithium), monitoring conversations (Radian6, Trackur) and running promotions (CrowdFactory, Nextbee). Marketing automation vendors have mostly worked on making it easy to post and share messages and to capture social data. (See my December 8 post for details.)

Influitive tackles the control issue head on.  It applies game-based motivational methods to company advocates. Marketers define “challenges”, such as sharing content, making a referral, creating case studies, or providing a reference, and the system issues points to advocates who perform them. Advocates can accumulate points and exchange them for rewards. Advocates can also earn badges, move through levels, and compare themselves to others on leader boards.  The system can also offer games, contests, and direct messages to advocates.  These features all give advocates a continuing stream of new reasons to stay active.

This is a strikingly simple concept – but I think it’s brilliant. An army of advocates can be a tremendous resource, but without a way to attract, nurture and direct them, they’re less an army than a random mob. Influitive lets marketers gradually strengthen advocate relationships by posing challenges that require increasing levels of commitment.

Influitive founder Mark Organ describes the process as an "advocate development funnel" whose ultimate goal is "social nurturing" by advocates who provide personal references to potential buyers who are also their professional peers.  While these ideas are intriguing, I suspect they're not really necessary.  The practical benefits of systematically managing advocates are probably obvious to marketers who have been struggling to regain control over their social media presence .  

My thumbnail description doesn’t cover the important technical features that make Influitive practical.  These include controls over how challenges are issued (who is eligible, date limits, quantity limits, etc.),  managing awards, and API-level integration to pull profile data (LinkedIn), record completed challenges (Quora, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) and announce completed challenges ( Chatter). The company plans additional API connections with Jive, ZenDesk, and other systems.

One caveat in all this is the legal and ethical issues regarding rewards for advocates.  Ardath Albee wrote about this recently in some detail.  Since Eloqua is an Influitive client, I asked Eloqua VP of Content Marketing Joe Chernov (who also co-chairs the Word of Mouth Marketing Association's member ethics panel) how they use it without breaking any rules. His answer is worth printing in full:

We neither give rewards, nor have we ever given rewards, in our use of Influitive. We give badges and thank-you's … in other words, we show our appreciation in the form "social currency." But we give no cash, no prizes, no compensation. If the Influitive platform reaches a point that it can hardwire disclosure into the testimonial across all media channels, then we'd consider material incentives in certain circumstances. But it's my fundamental belief that marketers think they need to offer valuable perks, but if a client truly is an advocate, then the person is often entirely willing to help … for nothing in exchange but gratitude.

In other words, it's quite possible to use Influitive without violating disclosure standards.  The product supports this with automated disclosure options, which can be made mandatory if a company wants.  Naturally, this doesn't guarantee all clients will be equally scrupulous.  

Influitive is currently in beta. Pricing is free up to 20 active advocates, and then starts at $500 per month, growing at roughly $20 per advocate per month. It has 16 customers, about half above the 20 advocate minimum.

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