“Influencers” are a popular breed among marketing types. Reams of research and their own experience shows that word of mouth and peer recommendation from people seen as independent are some of the most effective forms of advertising. And this effectiveness is amplified when the person talking about the company or its product is particularly influential or whose opinions reach many people; a far more common phenomenon with the rise of social media.
Three Steps to Take
Given these influencers can help make or break a company’s reputation, communications teams are rightly concerned about engaging with them.
High risk, high reward strategies are never easy, and most comms teams struggle just to identify the high-impact influencers from a much larger group of individuals and organizations talking about their company. Three steps will help.
Identify the key influencers: Start with asking line managers and other business partners as well as external subject matter experts to recommend sites or people they find influential. Once you have an initial list, figure out who your target audience thinks is influential, and examine the networks (Facebook groups, magazines, websites, etc) to work out the core influencers who can be brought on board.
Work back from your target audience’s perspective to find the less-obvious influencers or blind spots. Think beyond your normal search terms, such as company name or the issue at hand, when looking for influencers, and include more nuanced terms, such as emotion-laden words frequently used by your target audience to talk about the issue.
Once identified, prioritize your list of influencers based on their favorability of opinion of the issue, topic, or brand and their level of influence on the target audience to narrow down on the influencers most likely to make your target audience interact with your company or brand.
Create an engagement plan: To get the most out of your engagement efforts, choose the right strategy for each influencer category – star influencers, potential detractors, potential supporters, and powerless detractors. For example, for star influencers, choose high-touch engagement methods, such as meetings or focus groups. For relatively low-importance influencers, low-touch methods, such as e-mails or media campaigns would be enough.
Monitoring potential detractors is also critical since they can damage your company’s reputation if they become active. Cultivate relationships with influential detractors who indicate openness to partnership, and observe their sentiments, and make sure you listen and take on board why they don’t think much of your brand or products.
Finally, decide the right timing and content for the engagement. Understand influencer behavior and language through social media monitoring tools and track peak times for specific topics. Create content that will strike a chord with your target influencers and time your messages to make sure they’re more likely to be shared.
Implement the engagement plan: The final step is to get credible professionals at your firm — from the comms team, from the relevant business unit, or subject matter experts — to engage with the selected influencers. It’s important to coach these internal partners first – in the same that a PR team wouldn’t put a manager in front of the press without media training first – as otherwise they could leave an influential person with a worse view of the company than when they walked in.
Provide internal partners with guardrails — a set of do’s and don’ts — while allowing some flexibility to maintain the authenticity of the interaction.
Once complete, write-up how the interactions went and share with relevant people around the firm. This will help people make changes to business processes, respond to questions and requests from influencers, and develop lasting relationships with them.