One prevalent piece of advice to brands is to, at the very least, monitor social media platforms, such as Twitter and Instagram. The thinking: People are speaking about your brand on these platforms whether or not you are participating in the conversations.
The advice is very similar regarding influencers. Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re out there, talking about your industry, your competitors and your brand. In some cases it’s a good bet that a lot of your customers are listening to them.
Of course some of this is old news to PR pros in industries like beauty and fashion, where influencers, mostly of the paid variety, hold tremendous sway. A new Fashion and Beauty Monitor poll of 300+ professionals in those industries in the U.S. and U.K. found that budgets dedicated to influencers will rise nearly 60% this year. And 60% of the respondents said their companies already work “closely” with influencers. Of those whose companies have yet to work with influencers, 21% said they would in 2016. Working with paid and unpaid influencers is far from a simple matter of finding people with a hefty social media following and compensating them, either with money or something else of value, to tout your brand. Almost three-quarters (73%) of pros surveyed in the Fashion and Beauty poll said it’s a challenge to find the right influencers. It’s also a significant time investment, they said, and a task generally put on in-house staff.
To help your brand decide on a strategy regarding influencers, we spoke with veteran PR pros with experience in this realm: Michael Brito of W20 Group and Mary Grady of Los Angeles World Airports. Brito and Grady will be leading a session on aligning with influencers at PR News’ Social Media Summit on Feb. 26 in Huntington Beach, CA. [Please visit: www.socialmediaconf.com for more information.]
1. Finding the Right Influencers: Like PR measurement tools, there are plenty of influencers. The critical thing for Brito is finding the correct one(s) for your brand.
In fact, there are tools that will help you find influencers by topic; Brito mentions Traackr (traackr.com) and Little Bird (getlittlebird.com). In addition, his filter for influencers uses 3 R’s: Reach, Relevance and Resonance. Reach: While the influencer must have a significant following, this is only one component, he says. For Brito, Relevance is whether or not the influencer talks or writes about “my industry” (and how often the influencer does so). Resonance concerns engagement; how many likes, retweets, shares does the influencer generate with a post?
While Brito isn’t totally against paid influencers—he admits they can be useful for certain brands and demos, particularly millennials—he prefers unpaid influencers. “Their voice is more authentic,” he says. “When I read something written by a paid influencer, it has very little credibility with me.” In short, Brito says, “there are better ways [for brands] to spend their money” than paying for influencers.
2. Using Paid Media to Target Unpaid Influencers: So, how does one find the kind of influencers that will be useful? One approach, particularly with B2B brands, he says, involves using paid media to target influencers.
Using the subject of this week’s case study, enterprise security (please see page 1), Brito says, “There are thousands of people who mention [enterprise security online]. What’s cool about social networks now is you can target just those people who have mentioned that subject.” Imagine 3,500 people have mentioned enterprise security in the last six months. “We then upload that list to Twitter and we target those people with branded content” prepared by the company we are representing, he says. But that content cannot be marketing material, “it has to be valuable content. It could be a blog post written by an engineer from the company [we’re working with] about the challenges of enterprise security.”
3. The Co-Ownership Approach: Another way Brito has cultivated influencers is co-creating a white paper with them. While the content the influencers created was branded by a particular company, the company “had no editorial control” over it. The quid pro quo for the influencers was that the company promised to broadcast the white paper to its followers, invest in search and share it with media. In turn, the influencers shared it with their networks.
4. Other Incentives: Once you’ve found influencers, Brito recommends traditional media relations tactics: Invite them to launch parties, send them information about products, get on the phone with them. While these outreach approaches still should be done to attract paid media, they can be useful to build relationships with influencers, he says.
5. Risks: Companies must understand that unpaid influencers also may write negative things about your brand, he says. When the brand agrees with the criticism and has plans to address it, Brito urges the brand to respond to the influencer, using the platform where the criticism was made. “Smart brands are listening to the whole conversation, influencers and everyone else,” he says. On the other hand, “if there’s no true effort from a brand to change [something in response to an influencer’s critique], I’d recommend no response from the company.”
Fear the Honesty: Grady and Brito agree on many points regarding unpaid influencers, particularly about the risks. In addition, she says, “not all brands trust that influencers can be your best brand ambassadors.” She suggests these brands are not using “performance metrics to understand the value [influencers] add to a brand.” Still, she understands some brands’ hesitancy. “While [influencers’] content is organic, authentic, real and honest, it’s the honesty that [some] brands fear.”
6. No Money, No Problem: For Grady, however, influencers can be an effective way to get a lot of traction on a small budget. She’s worked with unpaid influencers who travel from and through LA often, urging them to converse on social platforms about aspects of LA's airport, LAX. Grady deployed paid influencers to chat about a multi-year, multibillion dollar capital improvement program underway at LAX. “Word of mouth and peer recommendations are trusted by consumers who see influencers as credible opinion leaders with engaging content,” she says. Grady says campaigns where she used influencers did far better than LAX's first campaign, which was devoid of influencers.
The influencers she’s working with, chosen by an agency, are concentrated in three areas: Navigation (around LAX), Food and Beauty. She and her team engage the influencers in conversation on their social sites; send them insider tips about navigating through the airport during construction and invite them to enjoy LAX’s new cuisine and retail offerings.
While Grady’s audience is vast—75 million passengers used LAX last year—so is the field of influencers. She prefers influencers who have a distinct personality and knowledge of the LAX brand; have an authentic voice that matches well with your brand’s identity; and those who remain true to your campaign strategy. Like most PR initiatives, “you must do your homework,” she says.
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This article originally appeared in the February 2, 2016 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.