It wasn’t long ago when the word influencer conjured images of women shilling diet teas, makeup and workout wear. But creators and digital artists emerged on newer platforms, providing engaging video, graphics and art, attracting millions of followers and catching marketers' attention.
Things have evolved. Now we see therapists on Instagram and TikTok discussing serious issues, such as ADHD and trauma, becoming influencers for popular topics. Some financial institutions employ influencers during education campaigns.
However, misinformation and disinformation remain challenges. Convincing users that influencers' information is legit is a battle.
Since building relationships with influencers—mainstream or niche—is important for some companies' PR and marketing effort, how can PR pros find trustworthy influencers?
Healthcare and Influencer Assets
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Walgreens knew its customers had questions—virtually and in-person. Customers consulted neighborhood doctors and pharmacists for answers.
“Pharmacists [are] in the top five most trusted professions,” says Emily Mekstan, director of retail and merchandising communications at Walgreens. “During the pandemic, we strategically used [pharmacists'] likeness, knowledge and influence to provide factual and trusted advice to communities in which we serve, [online and off]."
Brunet-Garcia used influencers in major public health campaigns for HIV and Covid, says Eugenia Johnson, senior PR and engagement strategist. Campaigns included work for the Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Clearly, topics like healthcare and finance require extreme vetting of influencers to develop trust with audiences. Information and advice people get from influencers in these areas can impact lives.
Priscila Martinez, founder, The Brand Agency, says while there are tools for finding influencers, such as Tribe Dynamics or Dovetale, much of what she advocates is “good, old research.” She and her colleagues are avid consumers of media and keep their fingers on the pulse of industries and audience engagement.
“Funny enough, consumers do a lot of vetting for us,” Martinez says. “When a particular niche influencer floats to the top of the pyramid, you know they’ve been put through a grueling vetting process by their followers.”
Algorithms Provide Clues
Martinez also says app algorithms help quality content get noticed.
“As soon as you take an interest in a certain niche, you are constantly being served creators in that ecosystem,” she says. “Influencers who consistently provide good, trustworthy content naturally grow in popularity and catch the attention of publicists.”
Johnson agrees that using algorithms is advantageous.
“Tailor your search to the topics and hashtags associated with the brand/cause you’re promoting,” she says. “This will render a list of content creators who are already publishing content related to your topic.”
Get Inside the Mind of an Influencer
Johnson provides several ways to find trustworthy influencers. As you likely know, there are agencies that specialize in influencers. Usually they have relationships and know about managing outreach, FTC regulations and negotiating—which reduce the chance that you'll work with an untrustworthy influencer.
However, not everyone has the resources for an agency partnership. Accordingly, Johnson suggests:
- Your favorite influencer has a favorite influencer. Most influencers collaborate with, and follow, other influencers within their industry. So, check who a favorite influencer of yours is following. Once you find one, you likely will find a handful of others.
- Go where influencers gather. Research conferences and meetups for your demographic of desired influencers. Looking for parent bloggers? Attend a conference for parent bloggers or review speaker lineups. The majority will be influencers. Research who's spoken or commented about previous conferences.
- There’s a 'top list' for everything. Top beauty bloggers, top bloggers in insert your city, etc. Google a top list relevant to what you’re seeking.
Evaluating Audience Trust
Once your partnership with an influencer begins, communicators should monitor its effectiveness.
“Leveraging a brand attribute tracker and overlaying this with an influencer’s attributes is one way [to measure],” Mekstan says. In addition, PR pros at companies producing products and services can monitor "click-through and purchase data to see long-term trends, she adds.
Monitor sentiment, too.
“Beyond the vanity metrics of likes and re-shares, review the comment sections for sentiment,” Johnson says. “Are the responses positive? Are there questions and good dialogue? Are people asking for more information? The influencer can also facilitate this type of engagement by utilizing their platform to ask polls and questions.”