Recently I discussed the danger of hitting the "third rail" of social media, when you make the mistake of mixing money with friendship. Try to compensate a social media influencer with money or material benefits and you're likely to electrocute your campaign, because crass commercialism is simply out of place in the "social" domain.
You can buy your advertising, but you can't buy your friends. If you want to influence your influencers you have to concentrate on the non-commercial things they value.
Think of what might motivate an influential blogger or Twitter user - someone whose opinions matter to thousands of followers. While almost all such key influencers would be offended if you offered to compensate them for a favorable post, they are still human beings, and like all the rest of us they still have ambitions. They want to be noticed, and to increase their own influence, which means writing better, more original and authoritative posts.
Most such influencers don't think of themselves as experts on particular companies or brands, per se, but as authorities with respect to an issue or problem of concern to them and their followers. It might be a business issue or a health issue or a relationship issue, but in most cases their central mission isn't evaluating the products and services offered by you or your competitors. Expressing opinions about brands and products is more likely to be a side effect of helping their followers and friends solve problems.
Think about social media influence in this context, and you'll realize that what social media mavens value most are the signals and ingredients of influence itself: acknowledgment, recognition, information and access. You can remember them easily with the mnemonic word "aria," as in the solo sung by your favorite opera star.
Acknowledgment: Simply identifying an influential blogger or social media influencer and acknowledging their existence will go a long way toward having a positive influence. When you identify someone important, reach out by posting a comment on their blog, retweeting a smart update, or emailing them with a thoughtful (but non-self-serving) suggestion. Just let them know you're paying attention.
Recognition: Consider mentioning authoritative bloggers in your own press communications, providing recognition to the blogger as well as additional sources for whatever reporters or other commentators follow your firm. If you have a crowd service system that relies on a few super-users to handle the complicated inquiries of other customers, recognize them with special badges, emblems, or status designations. Everyone wants to be Platinum in something.
Information: Key influencers want the inside dope, the straight skinny, so provide them with all the information you can reasonably manage. Even without divulging the kind of "inside" information that might get a public company in trouble, you can almost certainly provide a key influencer with a more useful perspective and insight about your business or your category, including the problems you face, threats you are trying to avoid, and opportunities you see.
Access: Just as useful as insightful information is giving an influencer access to the author of the insight, or the operating person at your business who is most connected to the information. Probably nothing will pay bigger dividends in terms of social media influence than simply allowing influencers themselves to have access to some of your own people, your own experts and authorities. Not everyone gets this kind of access, because you just can't take the time for everyone. But do take the time for someone who has an important enough following in social media.
There's a caveat to this, of course: No matter how influential you may become with your own social media influencers, in the end it will always be their call.
So your ultimate goal with any social media influencer is to establish a level of mutual trust that will serve as a bridge between you, increasing your credibility with them by increasing their own credibility with their followers.
Don Peppers, Founding Partner, Peppers & Rogers Group