There’s nothing really new about influencer marketing. In fact, PR professionals have been doing it since Day 1 – working with journalists, editors, and other media figures whose job it is to influence public opinion. Today there are far more different types of influencers using far more channels than before. But the same basics still apply to really successful influencer marketing: build trusted relationships, understand their audience, and give them what they need to do their best work.
The Original Influencers
PR professionals have been doing influencer marketing well before the term. The fundamental purpose of media relations has always been to “influence the influencers”: to convince journalists and editors that our stories are worth sharing with their audiences. Journalists are the original influencers: we still rely on them to inform us, entertain us, and guide our choices in all manner of areas. While their influence might be increasingly diluted by everything from YouTube to Snapchat, we shouldn’t ignore the impact they continue to have on buyer journeys and brand perception alike.
Journalists are also the toughest influencers. They can have stricter expectations of what makes a story fit to post – the so-called news values like timeliness, relevance, and even conflict – than any other source of influence. And if your story doesn’t meet those expectations, they won’t hold back in telling you! All that time spent pitching and cold-calling editors means that your typical PR professional knows how to understand an influencer’s audience, craft a story that will engage them, and get the influencer sufficiently interested to take on that story as their own. And those same skills apply no matter whether your influencer’s medium is Periscope or a print media column.
Relationships first, tactics second
At Text100, our term for influencer marketing is “influencer relations”. Marketing tends to imply a more transactional form of engagement, whereas we believe that working with influencers is only successful if it’s built on trusted and authentic relationships. Whether there’s a fee involved or not, the influencer should be genuinely passionate about or interested in what your client offers. Otherwise, the resulting content ends up simply being advertorial in a shiny new channel.
This is particularly important in the B2B space, where influencers also have day jobs or industry commitments – meaning they’ll agree to branded opportunities only if they trust you and what you’re offering them. With these influencers, building that relationship may mean conducting conversations on Twitter or LinkedIn for several weeks before inviting them to an event or content partnership. Or it might be connecting them with an expert from the brand we represent who can help them with a particular business problem.
These activities may not result in straight-up ROI for our clients’ brands – just like a media pitch doesn’t always result in coverage. But they sow the seeds for authentic engagements and ongoing opportunities further down the track.
Only with that trusted relationship firmly established should PR even start to consider creative executions or tactics.
The challenge is to think in terms of new mediums – not just print and broadcast, but photos, GIFs, and self-destructing video vignettes.
Each of these new mediums brings with it a range of different considerations. Instagram demands good natural lighting at product shoots, while Snapchat and Periscope only work well with lots of visual activity to capture.
Working well with influencers means catering to the unique requirements of their mediums and adding a knowledge of these to the PR repertoire. For this, PR professionals need to start thinking more like producers: considering how the elements of their story, event, or other tactic will work within a particular medium.
In most cases, the influencer will be the one best suited to directing the actual tactics, as they’re the ones who best understand the audience and are most familiar with the channels. Our influencer activations, for example, have included everything from sumptuously decorated Instagram settings to live book readings on Sydney’s trains. It all depends what works with the channel and the influencer’s personal brand.
Influencer marketing may be the newest buzzword since content, but the fundamentals are already well-known to any experienced PR professional. Treating it as the next evolution of media relations may not sound particularly glamorous, but it’s the best way to get long-term results from working with influencers.
The writer is Anne Costello, regional director of Text100, APAC