Using Next Generation AI to Differentiate Between Influencers and Brand Champions

Niraj Sharma |
 07/26/19 |
6 min read

Using Next Generation AI to Differentiate Between Influencers and Brand Champions

Every brand needs a champion. Someone to spread awareness and cast the brand in a positive light both on- and off-line. But brands often confuse influencers with champions, and they are very different people. Each serves a purpose though – and Next Generation Artificial Intelligence (AI) helps clarify important distinctions between the two.

Brand Champions vs Influencers

So, what is the difference between brand champions and influencers? And is one better than the other? We’re getting to that – and, it depends.

A quick summary to define each is this:

  • Influencers are generalists, with an impressive and somewhat engaged audience base that likely includes a few of your target segments. They’re great for spreading general, overarching awareness of your product or service with these segments, but often lack the niche expertise/authority to convert sales. They act as a solid touchpoint and deserve a place in your marketing toolbox. Just be sure to reserve some of that budget for your champions.
  • Brand champions are specialists, with less impressive (1,000+) follower counts that are very niche. And exceptionally engaged. Champions are immersed in the fabric of your target community. They’re as authentic as they come and they’re loved for their relatability and focus on those around them, rather than on themselves. They’re often unaware of their influence (or if they are, they don’t go on about it). Their testimony about your brand can propel purchasers through the consumer funnel with a quickness, due to their knowledge and credibility in the requisite space.

Considering above, it’s clear that some needs may call for an influencer, while others require a champion’s touch. It’s important to look at any influencer/champion’s overall persona ahead of considering a partnership, of course. Brands need to investigate the items pretty in-depth actually:

  • Sphere of influence
  • Engagement activity
  • Longevity

We’ll speak to each, in turn, below.

And we’ll also touch on a super important topic that many brands neglect until it’s too late: How to avoid an influencer crisis.

But first, a quick word about how Next Generation Artificial Intelligence (AI) gives brands a significant edge is these influencer investigations.

Next Generation Artificial Intelligence (AI) Influencer Investigation Edge

Where does artificial intelligence fit in this equation?

As you explore the brand and category conversations happening online, different cultural segments emerge. Using AI Studio, specifically, you’ll see themes emerge as well – likely more than a few you wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

You can also see which themes are resonating online:

Themes automatically discovered using next generation artificial intelligence AI Studio

And with unique Airbnb’s capturing lots of love, it’s an angle for the hotel disruptor to explore and promote – maybe with the help of a few influencers/champions.

Sentiment drivers for Airbnb to identify popular topics for influencers and champions to discuss online for your brand

And as you delve in to these segments and themes, you uncover contextual questions to ask about each. Questions that will help further refine your search to understand not only what potential consumers need and want, but also the best way to communicate with them around these topics. Here, for example, Airbnb may want to explore:

  • What options make a space feel unique? Location, features, outside appearance, view?
  • How expensive is too expensive for these unique options?
  • Is there a way to provide less expensive, but still unique, experiences?

Seems Airbnb finds these questions relevant too:

Sound bite preview of topic revealed with social listening

Language of Love

Understanding the specific language your target segments use can be a lifeline as well – or act as an awkward barrier to engagement. The latter happens when you aren’t confident of your social analytics results and feel uncomfortable implementing the insight.

For example, why is this such a popular post?

Popular post sent by a potential brand champion

This explains it:

Humorous Airbnb trend explained with tweet from influencer

Could Airbnb create a campaign around “Kevin” or something similar? Quite possibly. Airbnb mix ups are apparently a popular thing – just not typically of the hilarious variety, with some hashtags popping up around #AirbnbWhileBlack and other less than awesome experiences.

Promoting some hilarious mix ups may be a good thing, considering.

Brand champions will alert you to this language and trending concerns, and serve as an additional proof point, of course. But you should have it on your radar regardless though, as the insight you uncover should ultimately fold in to every piece of your marketing communications plan.

How else can you hope to create an exceptional, competitor-differentiated customer experience if you aren’t using your social listening insight to inform and enhance your communications? You’re not using it to its full potential, that’s for sure! Next Generation AI offers brands the added security of feeling confident of their research data, with a granular level of transparency supporting search results. That’s huge.

But before we get too far off course, let’s loop back to the influencer vs champion distinction to elaborate on the uses for each.

Seeing the Influencer vs Champion Distinctions in Action

While influencers are amazing, as Gavin Johnston, Chief Strategy Officer at Bradley & Montgomery shared in a recent webinar – champions can basically make or break a brand/category.

In his example of Gamer Culture, Johnston shares how they can act as gatekeepers and direct audience behavior because they have such niche expertise. And how that can be a liability, both for the potential champions as well as brands.

Example of example of Gamer Culture and brand champions as gatekeepers able to direct audience behavior because they have such niche expertise

See 31 minute mark for Champion discussion.

Does that mean you should focus on helping Champions grow beyond their gate keeper status? Possibly, but don’t be too quick to put all of your eggs in one champion’s basket . . .

Sphere of Influence

Who is your influencer/champion influencing, exactly? While your influencer is a ‘jack of all trades’ that doesn’t necessarily mean s/he is master of none! Having clear benchmarking data established ahead of time will bear out how influential s/he is when it matters.

Back to Airbnb, for example. We see popular hashtags around #travel in general and those going on #vacation and even #superhosts, but we also see #travelhack, #family and #startup – all areas where you could find your champions.

popular hashtags around travel in general where brands could find their champions

The champion is influential in niche areas that are connected and make sense for your brand, but his/her scope is typically limited to those areas. One champion cannot be your everything.

There are always exceptions to every rule though – and some folks are influential in some huge, general and unrelated area, but champions in a specific area that they may not even intend. By sheer luck, or humor (usually humor). @AmazingPhil is influential in the gay community, and a hilarious potential Airbnb champion, for example:

Humor is an attractive influencer or brand champion asset

Engagement Activity 

How engaged are your influencer/champion audiences? This is where numbers can work against your massively connected influencer and favor your carefully curated champion – at least in the specific campaign area you’re targeting.

Tracking the full online footprint of each will tell you everything you need here. After gaining access to influencer/champion’s social sites and domain data, you can monitor comments and conversations to see which is moving your intended audience further along the purchase funnel.

Tracking the full online footprint of each influencer and champion with channel access

You want to review the original conversations each is creating with audiences to see which are resonating the most and track what is shared the most, so you can make changes as you go. You’ll want to see steady, continually increasing awareness over time and more of your campaign topics hitting that “trending” metric:

How to monitor influencer and champion top conversations themes and trending topics


How long has your influencer/champion been active online? An influencer should have a significant history. If s/he has been online for less than a year and is offering 100k followers, be on high alert. Unless they have some sort of celebrity status, something beyond the fact that they’re mega-influencers, growing that sort of following takes time. It does if it’s an authentic following, that is.

Your champion may not have as much time under his/her belt, and that’s okay. You want a consistent presence though, and a year really isn’t much to ask. There are plenty of influencers out there that fit the bill for longevity. And you can keep the greener folks on your short list for a future engagement.

Beyond the length of time they’ve spent online, you should see from your explorations of their sphere of influence and engagement levels, that these folks’ actions support their words. If they have large swaths of time when they aren’t participating online, ask about those absences, just as one would ask about gaps in any work history. They could be easily explained, or speak to a half-hearted commitment to their personal brand. You want collaborators who are all-in.

Heading Off Influencer Crises

Best intentions mean little when your influencer is off and running online, associating your brand with awful things. Although the “longevity” portion of your investigation should have revealed any red flags to worry over and address ahead of your partnership, some things are just unavoidable.

Creating social contracts that clearly spell out your brand’s stance on controversial posts (as a basis for dismissal) is important. It’s also helpful to review crisis criteria and protocols with these folks to help drive home the seriousness of it all. Having a clause that holds the influencer financially culpable for business lost due to his/her careless (and very carefully defined) misbehavior is a strong deterrent. And unfortunately, likely necessary regardless of how sweet, amazing and reasonable this person appears.

And, of course, being super careful on the front-end around who you hire to begin with is an amazing preventative in itself. We can show you how to make the most of your influencer relationships, from identifying them to monitoring their ongoing efforts and providing any guidance as you go.

Reach out and we’ll run you through a few relevant scenarios that will put your CEO’s mind at ease, and your brand in front of the exact audience you’re after!

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