By now it's something every marketer knows: That smaller -- albeit
powerful -- group of brand fans can have an exponentially greater
influence. But what many don't know is how to use search and social
media to turn up the volume on these people.  Search is built on forums.  You have to have a strategy that says: 'Let's
make sure the opinions of these people are heard.'"

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Research from Yahoo and ComScore underscores how valuable doing so can
be. Brand advocates of auto marketers, for example, influence 52% more
people than none advocates. The reason why they should is simple math. Of about 144
million internet adults, about 13.5 million purchased a vehicle in the
last six months. About 5.1 million of those were advocates who, on
average, talked to about 20 people each about the purchase, for a total
of 105 million people. About 8.3 million of those car buyers were
nonadvocates, who talked to eight people about the purchase, for a
total of 69 million people who heard about it.

The research pinned some digital traits on these influencers: They
conduct about 25% more online searches, they have wider online social
circles, are 119% more likely to use instant messenger and 40% more
likely to use podcasts. And about half have written about their
purchases online.

They're also more than twice as likely as nonadvocates to lead to
sales. About 718,000 friends purchased cars recommended by the 5.1
million advocate car buyers while 502,000 people purchased cars
recommended by the 8.3 million nonadvocate car buyers. And perhaps
surprisingly, advocates are more likely to talk about positive
experiences they've had with brands than nonadvocates are.

Don't fear spontaneity
B
rands
should be less afraid of all the spontaneous chatter about their
products going on throughout the internet because it's actually more
positive than most marketers might assume. For example, a search on
Flickr for Pringles reveals hundreds of pictures showing the brand in
an innocuous -- and often creative -- light. People find a much bigger upside than they were aware of [when it comes to online brand chatter].

Examples of how advertisers are using those influencers through
social-media programs such as the Honda Element MySpace program, a
Nikon-sponsored Flickr gallery and a deal between CompUSA and
Bazaarvoice, a company that helps retailers add consumer reviews to
their sites.

Pattern changes
CompUSA, for example, bought the keywords Sony-plus-review and sent
searchers not to the Sony section of the CompUSA site but to the Sony
user-review section of the site. Doing so sent sale conversions soaring
60% and each purchaser was spending 50% more than the ones coming
through the official Sony section of the CompUSA site. Thanks to the internet, purchasing patterns have been irrevocably
changed and now we're showing word of mouth has been irrevocably
changed.

Don't try too hard
If a marketer screws up in the
social-media space by, say, selling too hard or obviously or trying to
censor negative comments, the repercussions can be more severe.
There's a stronger impact when you do it wrong in social
media than when you mess up in a TV commercial because it's
more personal. Imagine, if I threw a dinner party and then
tried to sell you Tupperware afterward. You'd never come back.

ON: Drive Sales by Directing Searchers to Forums via @jpenabickley