2018: The Year the Community and Conversation Influencer Model Got Real

Slide1At this week's PR News Measurement Conference in Philadelphia, there was a lot of talk about moving away from a media relations-based "coverage model" of communications toward a "community and conversation influencer" model, in which the communications focus is on community building among select influencers. The benefits of securing positive media coverage for your brand are harder to attain, given that there are fewer single-beat journalists and that, this year, Facebook is making it harder for publishers' and brands' content to appear in news feeds.

The change in Facebook's algorithm was sudden, and it's clear that communicators at brands, nonprofits and agencies are still figuring out how to adapt to it. Shifting activities toward community building and influencers is nothing new, but now it needs to happen fast, and it needs to really work.

But first we have to know what we mean when we're talking about community building, and how many influencers it really takes to build that community.

In Philadelphia, Alan Chumley, managing director, communications analytics, W2O Group, Scott Gerber, co-author of "Superconnector: Stop Networking and Start Building Business Relationships That Matter," Johna Burke, EVP of BurrellesLuce and Michael Torres, VP of corporate affairs for InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) talked about what community building and working with influencers should mean now that Facebook's algorithm strongly favors "personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other," to quote CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Here are their central takeaways:

• 50 people drive the majority of conversation for a given brand. This is why you have to focus on who really matters.

• Reach alone does not an influencer make.

• Identify influencers that matter by 1) looking at how deeply they focus on a specific topic, 2) how specific the audience is that they reach and 3) their potential to syndicate content through sharing.

• A conversation influencer model of communications is less about the platforms influencers use and more about the people who are talking about your brand.

• Most brands continue to be one-way megaphones, despite their reliance on social media. They need to bring people together instead of promoting their products or services.

• Real community is not about your brand.

• Communities should be about the sharing of ideas.

• A social media manager is not necessarily a community manager. Community managers lead discourse and help people actually get to know each other.

• A brand's community manager should visualize a community of influencers as an oasis—a noise-free environment that enables real connection and conversation.

These insights and tips reflect a mind-set more than anything. Bringing together people who share common concerns and interests while putting a brand's immediate needs in the background—or, even better, on the moon—is easier said than done. But maybe that's what we really mean when we talk about authenticity in communications and community-building—a willingness on the part of a brand to be quiet about itself and encourage others to do the talking.

—Steve Goldstein, editorial director, PR News @SGoldsteinAI