A primary objective of an effective public relations program is visibility, of course. But often, it’s not enough. Building awareness for a new product or explaining a complex issue is a fundamental basis for strategic PR. It’s a very worthwhile one, but increasingly we are being challenged to “move the needle.”
How can PR work harder to engage customers and encourage buying behavior? One way: it can leverage influence. And a great way to generate influence is to “borrow” it from those experts or individuals who already have the ability to persuade or move customers to action.
But how should we define and measure influence? It doesn’t have to mean boldfaced names or even social media stars. One useful view of influencer marketing is Altimeter Group’s three “R”s: Reach, Relevance, and Resonance. Here are some effective ways to look at and leverage social influence in the context of a PR or marketing campaign.
Start with research
The more deeply you dig, the higher the quality of candidates will be. It’s also useful to realize that reach is a legitimate barometer of influence, and tools like Klout and PeerIndex are useful, but it’s a mistake to use reach alone as a metric. For one thing, many tools they are skewed towards social presence on specific platforms like Twitter over others (say, Quora or Medium.) More generally, index-style tools really measure the potential for influence, not the influence itself.
Not just followers. Engagement often counts more than mere reach, and it can distinguish a humble “citizen influencer” such as those who have been successfully targeted by brands like Virgin Air and Taco Bell, over bigger-name authors and speakers who are notable but not as engaging to relevant prospects.
Similarly, passion and relevance can trump numbers. A film buff or gadget geek may have fewer followers than socially prominent figures with a more general following, but they may be more natural advocates or reviewers for new products or advocates on issues.
Look for up-and-comers
As with the above, it’s rewarding to “discover” emerging bloggers or others who aren’t yet as well-recognized as top-tier personalities but who have the potential to generate authentic engagement and influence. In several social influence campaigns for clients, we have stumbled across seemingly little-known bloggers with a loyal or super-engaged following. They inevitably drive more traffic to client websites than more established figures and are easier to work with to boot.
Influencers beget influencers
Often a rising social influencer knows exactly who is up-and-coming in his/her community. An organic way to build a sphere of influencers is often through an initial core group which can be mined for peer contacts and friends.
It’s not a one-way street, and any influence promotion based solely on shilling a product won’t be as effective as an integrated program based on a true connection. Beyond payment, of course, you can offer audience or category insights, great content, and access to a new audience.
Finally, create your own influencers
Sometimes loyal customers or super-users of a service or product have significant influence and don’t even realize it, or they can be elevated to influencer status. By designing a loyalty program or giving customers a voice you can create a fresh tier of advocates who will inevitably appreciate the love. Offering loyal fans or customers the mouthpiece with which to leverage a role as brand champions can be the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship.
I am proud to blog for Marketing Executives Networking group and an earlier version of this post appeared August 6 on MENGblend.