Take the Guesswork Out of Identifying Influencers

While engaging elite third-parties is integral to effective reputation and issues management, evaluating the universe of influencers is often left to gut feel, ad hoc background research or assumption, said Dr. Jennifer Scott, global managing director of strategy and planning at Ogilvy Public Relations, at a Nov. 10, 2010, PR News Influencer Relations Workshop.

Communications pros gathered at the PR News offices in downtown Manhattan to hear Scott, Ogilvy colleagues Michael Briggs and Rohit Bhargava, and Alan Kelly, CEO of Playmaker Systems, impart influencer theories and key strategies and tactics in influencer identification and engagement.

Finding and leveraging the right influencers is a complex undertaking, said Briggs, executive VP at Ogilvy. “You need to think of the influencer world as less predictable as a clock, and more like a kaleidoscope,” he said. To successfully map key influencers, there are three considerations: the individual involved and the position they hold; their context (how powerful are they?); and the networks that they influence.

Bhargava, senior VP of strategy and marketing 
at Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence, stressed the importance of influencers within digital communications, and detailed some of the mistakes communicators make in reaching out via social networking platforms. “Monitoring brand keywords simply isn’t enough,” he said. “You have to search for conversations that go beyond your name.”

Speaking to audiences like a communicator is also another common mistake, said Bhargava. “The more you can people-speak, the better,” he said. “You can learn a lot from screenwriters on how to write like people talk.” Bhargava then offered up four steps in building a strong digital foundation:

1.    Set a digital foundation and strategy
2.    Search out your influencers
3.    Build your ongoing digital assets and amplify them with campaigns
4.    Track and refine your efforts

Kelly, author of the book The Elements of Influence, talked about his unique system for managing competition, reputation and brand through a standard table of “influence strategies.” Pointing out that chemists have the periodic table, musicians a music notation system and software developers XML tags, Kelly noted that communicators have no system of standards to go by.

Thus, he’s developed a system that consists of “plays” such as the Call Out (a public expression of doubt or concern toward a competitor) and the Crazy Ivan (a deliberate move to alter the attack of a rival). Communicators can use this system to predict competitors' moves and come up with counter-strategies, said Kelly.

Ogilvy’s Scott detailed the IQ Influencer Mapping Tool, which identifies influencers and ranks them according to positive-negative and high-low influence. Examples of influencer categories include academics, media, legislators, advocacy groups, regulators and bloggers. Ogilvy, said Scott, uses trained analysts and search experts to identify and rank influencers for its clients—an expensive proposition. It is possible, however, to find influencers on a shoestring budget. “Smaller organizations still must do some research, and can use a simpler star system to rank prominence,” said Scott.