Influencers Strategy: How to attract and engage your key influencers
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Included: the success story of the Content Marketing Institute
Influencers: How Have They Changed the Public Relations Landscape?
Over the past few years, PR professionals have gone through a profound transformation in how they manage their business communications and public relations. Not long ago they would address clearly identified targets (the media, specialized publications, etc.) and the rules of the game were well established. Now, PR departments and agencies have to direct their attention to a multitude of potential sources, seeking them out using their names and their profiles.
Bloggers, Twitter users and even highly specialized digital journalists have succeeded at building an audience and credibility completely within the digital realm, which today gives them a level of influence perhaps greater than the mass media, on a wide variety of topics.
Have we been going through a power shift in favor of these numerous opinion leaders since the beginning of the 21st century? In 2001, the PR agency Burson Marsteller pointed out the enormous impact of these digital influencers in their study “E-fluentials”. During the study period, influencers had an effect on roughly 155 million consumers in the United States – both online and offline – in their buying decisions. Since the population of the US at that time was 285 million, this means that they influenced over half the population!
Far from dying down, this phenomenon has continued to grow in importance over the past years, reaching its peak, mostly for two reasons:
- Consumers have never been so connected. Today, most opinions relating to a decision to buy (or not) begin online. These opinions take shape either during a Google search, while reading a scathing post on a forum, while looking at a product test on a specialty blog, or even while reading a tweet from a satisfied user. There is a huge selection of channels and media of exchange in today’s world, and brands are no longer at the top of the information pyramid.
- Consumers want to be inspired by brands. Today, we’re entering an era of affinity marketing where it’s absolutely necessary for brands to inspire the confidence, respect, and admiration of their customers. In a global economy, it has become extremely difficult for a business to distinguish itself simply by the superior quality of its products. On the other hand, a brand may gain the preference of its customers (and even be capable of making them pay a higher price) if it’s capable of instilling these aspirational values through its actions, and those of its directors. Conversely, a blemish on a company’s reputation will have an almost immediate effect on its sales, which wasn’t necessarily the case a few years ago.
In this context, digital influencers constitute the new center of attention for all PR strategies. But how do we identify them among a population of over 52 million internet users, in France alone?
What influencer profiles does my strategy need?
Who are the right influencers to look for? There are plenty of infographics on the subject, highlighting 5, 10, or 14 types of influencers. There are effectively a wide variety of digital influencer profiles and behaviors in existence. Below, we present you with a simplified version of the influencer “pyramid”:
Category 1: THE POPULAR ONES
In this category, we find celebrities and icons. One example would be Justin Bieber. He has more than 44 million followers on social networks, which is amazing! His every word and action is closely followed by his millions of fans. Why place him in this category? At the end of the day, Justin follows trends. More than his words, it’s his image that matters.
This type of target has no shortage of interest, especially from marketers who use these targets for product placement (generating attention regardless of whether their personality is relevant to your product). But they also present a number of difficulties:
- They require a large budget: to enter into this category, you’ll have to pay up ($$$$)
- Risk of messing up: This tweet from David Ferrer is a perfect example: he praised the qualities of the Samsung Galaxy S4 phone, but the tweet was sent from his iPhone! That’s the risk involved with “buying” influence.
Category 2: EXPERTS AND OPINION LEADERS
These could be connected journalists, bloggers, leaders in the business world or in volunteering, activists, experts in their field, etc. Basically, they have a wide variety of profiles, but they also have one thing in common: they have credibility within the community of their specific field. A message from them in favor of your brand, if it’s in their field of expertise, can generate an intense interest within their followers who share their interest centers and trust the opinions of these influencers.
These are the primary targets of PR and communication professionals, which lets one brand or business work on managing its reputation.
Category 3: INFLUENTIAL CONSUMERS
This category has taken on considerable importance with the advent of social networks. Consumers can become true ambassadors for your brand, or conversely, detractors with a potentially devastating effect. The recent example of the upset British Airways passenger, who created a whirlwind of attention with his promoted complaint tweet (the tweet was picked up by various media outlets, and the passenger was even interviewed by CNN).
You already know that influence is a relatively diffuse concept, and it’s difficult to give it a concrete definition (we’ve worked with researchers at INRIA who focused on defining it). But the real issue is recognizing what your real goal is in your relationship with an influencer. Is it visibility, credibility or sales? The context is fundamental to implementing your influence strategy, and it’s the core of the Augure Influencers project.
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How do I recognize a key influencer for my brand?
The number of tools for detecting influencers has been growing over the past few years, without really convincing PR and marketing professionals, many of whom still favor a “manual” approach. This offers the advantage of being more qualitative, but it is also extremely time consuming and only offers a partial vision, since it’s centered on just one channel in particular (Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc.).
If influence detection tools have been disappointing up to this point, it’s because they’re based on essentially quantitative criteria. Take, for instance, Twitter: what are the criteria to be used to define the influence of a person on this network? The number of followers the user has? The number of tweets he generates each day? The number of retweets obtained? If this is the case, perhaps it would be useful to consider the following points:
- There’s no one secret that applies to each person, there are numerous platforms that allow users to acquire followers on Twitter. “Buy followers on Twitter: in our tests, we bought 50,000 followers”. That’s the title of one of the social network lists of the French Huffington Post after the editorial staff had the experience of buying 50,000 followers under the profile @Oeuf_Post (“egg post“) created five hours earlier. And all for the modest sum of 33 euros.
- Post frequency is also insufficient in determining influence. Today there are numerous tools allowing you to automatically publish RSS feed updates, or even to program a series of tweets to be posted at a preset frequency. Does that make the person behind the Twitter account an expert on the subjects they post on?
- Retweeting has become a relatively mechanical action over time. HubSpot, who took the initiative to analyze more than 2 million tweets containing links to external content, observed that most users retweet without looking at the content they are retweeting. Can we really talk about influence when users themselves rarely even look at the content?
It seems clear that digital influence can’t be measured based on a series of quantitative data. An influencer can’t be recognized by the number of followers obtained, or by retweets. But influencers can be recognized by their ability to mobilize opinions of their followers within a given subject matter.
This is the postulate on which the ranking algorithm of our Augure Influencers tool is based: people don’t have absolute influence over everything; they are influential because of their connection to a specific topic (cuisine, finance, technology, news topics, etc.).
We have compiled the elements that allow us to detect an influencer in a given field within these three concepts:
- Exposure: the audience capital the influencer has built over time within his fields of research (the number of unique visitors to his blog or media where he writes, etc.)
- Share of Voice: the level of participation of the influencer in the debate on the topic in question
- Echo: the ease with which the influencer gets his opinion on the subjects in question to spread and be relayed (via retweets or links to his blog articles, for example)
Implementing an influence strategy: an action plan
Constructing an influence strategy means weaving together sustained relationships with Influencers. It’s nothing magical, it’s a project that requires consistency, invested time, assigning a dedicated member of your team, and a permanent evaluation of the results obtained, using criteria that are both quantitative and qualitative.
Here are the steps we propose for putting your influence strategy into place:
1ST STEP: IDENTIFY PERTINENT INFLUENCEURS
A tool like Augure Influencer can be extremely accurate in establishing a precise target. Here are a few practical tips for using it:
1. Define the search topics
It’s important to define the subjects your target influencer writes or talks about, and their different related variations, before you begin. Imagine for a minute that you work for the marketing department of a French automaker like Renault. The keywords that will help you to narrow down the field of possible influencers can be classified into several categories:
- The names of the brands and products of the industry in question. In the case of Renault, this request can bring up the brand “Renault” within the influencers already mentioned, but also its competitors: “Peugeot”, “Citroen”, “Volkswagen”, “Fiat”, etc. Product managers can also target their search more narrowly: “Renault Mégane”, “Volkswagen Golf”, and so on.
- Terms defining the sector where the business develops its products, or more specifically, the targeted product category. In our example, the searches can bring up terms like “Compact”, “SUV”, or “electric vehicle”.
- Current events within the industry: “Auto shows”, etc.
- Cross-connected subjects like “cash for used cars”, “CO2 emission″, etc.
- Now let’s imagine that our automaker wants to diversify by entering into a more “geeky” population of influencers in order to convince them to opt for a connected navigation system in their next vehicle. The company could extend its search parameters to include new requests such as “GPS” for this specific campaign.
2. Establish lists and categorize your influencer populations
- Filter in terms of channel type. Relationships created on Twitter are different from those made on a blog. By filtering your results by channel type (media, blog, Twitter, etc.) you can establish specific lists for each platform and create different approach tactics.
- Don’t try to cover excessively broad populations. The era of mass messaging is over. In most sectors of activity, there aren’t that many real experts (and thinking of a personalized approach is necessary for each of them).
- Categorize by subjects or subject groups. Influencers on subjects related to social responsibility are just as important as those at the center of your field, but you wouldn’t want to contact them with the same message.
2ND STEP: MONITOR YOUR KEY INFLUENCERS
By now you’ve identified your influencers and defined a precise categorization scheme. But don’t rush things! Before contacting them, get to know them a bit, by listening to them. There are many benefits:
- You’ll become familiar with the subjects these influencers talk about, discovering the latest trends, staying up to date with the hottest news stories in your field and, above all, taking advantage of their expertise on the subject.
- It’s also an opportunity to identify the expression spaces of your influencers and the best channels to transmit your messages: you’ll find that information isn’t processed the same way on a blog as it is on social networks, and learn a few necessary lessons about your engagement tactics.
- This listening also allows you to refine your initial list: by monitoring the publications of your targeted influencers, you can perhaps find out that some aren’t as well positioned on the subjects you’re interested in as you first thought. On the other hand, you will probably discover new influencers within the community your target works in.
Here are a few bits of practical advice (and alternatives) to carry out your influencer monitoring:
1. In Augure Influencers, tag your core targets as “favorites” to receive daily updates from them in a newspaper with all of their publications (media, blogs, social networks, etc.)
2. If you don’t have Augure Influencers, you can also create themed lists on Twitter. To review, you can create both public and private lists. Naturally, the trouble with this solution is that you only get a partial view of what your influencers are doing, who are usually active in other fields besides micro blogging.
3. Another option: add your influencers’ blogs to your monitoring platform
4. The same option, but this time with the social network accounts of your targeted influencers
3RD STEP: MAKING CONTACT
Your influencers are identified and categorized, and you have taken the time to get to know them with monitoring. Now it’s time to get in touch with them, but before you begin, here are a few tips:
- Don’t send any mass messages, always take a personalized approach. With the information you’ve gathered through monitoring, visit their blog again and read their latest articles. You’ll always find something interesting, but it takes a bit of time (that’s why doing monitoring beforehand is important).
- Let the influencer know you’re following him or her. Sign up for the influencer’s newsletter, follow social network accounts, share content posted to their blog with your own communities (via retweets, Facebook shares or by establishing links from your site or your blog to their content). But be careful not to follow or retweet too excessively, the influencer might take it as harassment.
- Comment and enrich their content (with pertinent information). This is a key step to constructively demonstrate your interest in the influencer: give your take, enrich their post by adding links to related content. If the information is pertinent, you’ll gain credibility.
- Stay up to date with events in your sector: influencers are frequently involved with current events, and you should be too! Take advantage of networking spaces for them to get to know you. A meeting with the influencer means a lot more than a Like on Facebook.
- Keep a record of all your interactions with your targeted influencers. For example, if you decide to send product samples to influencers (a common thing to do in the fashion or consumer electronics industries), it’s extremely important to keep a very accurate record of what samples you send. This also goes for events and informal reunions: the record of your interactions should be carefully preserved. During any future contact, making use of this information, stored in the influencer’s file, will be extremely valuable.
There’s no specific time to get to know an influencer: the time you need to gain their trust is difficult to evaluate at first. Don’t skip ahead; be patient, the opportunity will always present itself at some point.
Be one person, for one brand: contact with influencers should be made by one person from the PR team. Bloggers, journalists and users of social networks expect to be contacted by people and not by a business with exclusively commercial interests. Sure, with the right budget you can get the attention of some influencers. But the objective of this guide is the creation of a long term relationship rather than a temporary collaboration.
4Th STEP: ATTRACT THE ATTENTION OF INFLUENCERS TO BOOST YOUR VISIBILITY
A fundamental rule for attracting the attention of your key influencers is to get their interest. For a brand spreading an overly commercial message, it’s very likely that the only way to get visibility via influencers will be through a relationship of an economic nature, with those who “monetize” their influence. Though this approach can be completely respectful, and sometimes even recommendable in certain marketing cases, it doesn’t work for building the reputation of the company in the long term and it won’t let you create a real community of ambassadors for your brand.
The first step to attract your influencers’ attention is to make use of the content created by the brand, widely known as “brand content”. The range of possibilities and variation of this content is extremely broad. Here are a few examples:
- Industry articles and videos: give greater value to your content by writing on precise data related to your industry, which will make your company stand out and help you build relationships with independent bloggers who don’t necessarily have this information.
- Studies and white papers: If you have the opportunity to compile several points of view on a given subject and to present it in a visually attractive way in a white paper or infographic, you may find yourself with a way to distinguish yourself. One example comes from Parsons, the American design school. The school realized a study on women’s expression through fashion and presented it in an attractive way with this infographic.
- Questionnaires: these give you a fun way to interact with your targets and obtain extremely valuable information for your marketing teams. Take a look, for example, at our questionnaires, which let our representatives evaluate the management of their Public Relations.
Holding events organized by the company is another interesting form of content, as long as they have valuable material to offer the audience and are correctly publicized in online and offline media.
- Product launch events: the secret to success for these types of events is to go for a more fun, instructive approach, rather than a purely commercial approach. Involve your influencers in the event, bring them together, and make sure they understand how your product can be used. Red Bull has done this during the launch of BPM, its app for DJs. The brand chose to organize sessions with famous DJs from around the world, where participants could try out the app to hear what it sounded like.
- Industry events: organize activities in collaboration with other notable figures in your sector, or invite influencers to participate and give their take. Your event will gain credibility with the support of these experts. You can also attend events likely to attract the attention of your influencers that offer content likely to get their attention (white pages, product tests, etc.)
- Product trials: offer your influencers the possibility of exclusive trials of your products: new versions, new designs, updates, etc. The idea is not to offer everything for free, but to reserve it for a few moments of exclusivity to create a feeling of closeness with the brand. This type of test also gives you the possibility to get feedback for your product, to generate a conversation with your influencers and invite them (why not?) to participate in the creation of your content.
- Breakfasts and informal events: the simplest recipes are often the best. By inviting one (or several) bloggers to your company to see where you work, have breakfast, hear about your production process, meet your employees and even have a look at your next project before others get a chance are initiatives that can really make an impression. Be transparent and authentic, don’t hide (hardly) anything and, once again, avoid an overly commercial approach. The goal of these interviews isn’t to “sell” your products or information.
5TH STEP: COLLABORATE WITH INFLUENCERS TO BUILD CREDIBILITY
Now it’s time to move on to the next phase of our influencer marketing plan: create an influencer community.
This step lets you continue to refine your influencer pool a bit more; some of the people selected previously won’t have the same level of interest about our brand.
Here are a few indicators to know if you’ve reached this step:
- Active influencer participation in events organized by your company, and thus positive returns.
- More mentions of your brand in the blogs and social networks thanks to actions put into place.
- Interest of new influencers in participating in your events or content creation.
If up until now our objective has been to attract the attention of Influencers, the objective of this step is to collaborate with them. Content is still the main tool for raising the credibility of our brand with influencers, but here we prioritize the element of co-creation. This means bringing together the expertise of bloggers, members of the networks within our industry and within the company, to offer high quality content to our clients, users and communities.
Co-creation of content with influencers:
- Create a defined editorial style: create content that has a uniform editorial style and concentrate on what interests your business and your users. Don’t hesitate to make modifications to your content if it doesn’t fit with your editorial style.
- Facilitate influencer participation: for example, you can send a document to fill out that they can use to give you their responses.
- Associate your content with the influencer’s Google+ profile and other social network profiles. That way you’ll have greater visibility on search engines.
- Validate all modifications made to your content with the influencer you’ve collaborated with.
- Use every channel of social connection to distribute your content, and mention the participation of the influencer in your social network messages.
- Keep the influencer from publishing the content, so that the influencer can share the same content on his social networks.
- Organize meetings: while conducting a study, for instance, hold meetings to determine together the reach of the study, the sources used, the display format and the distribution. Sometimes, a study made with other bloggers can serve as a reference and be presented during an event where influencers participate.
Hold a company event
Another technique to build the credibility of your business is to organize an event (keeping in mind the advice we’ve looked at in the “attracting attention” section) where the influencer will be the moderator or featured guest.
- Do a cross-check of influencers and events linked to your sector, to find influencers and events online with the same objective that might be interesting for your own event.
- Ask about any similar events the influencer may have participated in. There are plenty of people who write well but are terrible speakers. Here’s a trick: check the influencer’s profile to find out his last presentations and give you an idea about his capability as a speaker.
- Prepare a budget for the influencer to make an appearance.
- Hold preliminary meetings to define the objective of the influencer’s presentation and to be sure everyone is on the same wavelength.
- Promote the event and the participation of the influencers
- If the format of the event allows for it, stream the event live online so that it will have greater visibility.
- Measure the coverage before, during and after the event.
Encourage community participation
Influencers can encourage participation within your online communities, whether on blogs, your Facebook page or your own site, by recommending the services of the products you sell.
A good example of the way a brand can appeal to influencers to encourage participation and generate online discussions is the launch of the Citroën C4 Picasso. Before the launch, the communications team, directed by Floriane Brisabois, had brought together 30 bloggers in Cascais, Portugal, so that they could test the new car. The brand put this video online to spread the word and be part of blogger feedback while the car was being tested:
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But this action wasn’t just limited to the movement and feedback of bloggers during the test. The company also created a website to collect all coverage related to this event, http://technospace.citroen.fr/. The site hosts all articles published by the bloggers about this car, as well as a page that picks up publications made by anyone using the hash tag connected with the release, #technospace.
6TH Step: IMPROVE THE REPUTATION OF THE BRAND USING THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE INFLUENCERS
The goal of this last step is for our brands and products to be recommended spontaneously by influencers. There are four types of influencers to keep in mind for this last step:
- Connected: The influencers who are related to your brand. When you run a search on the name of your brand in Augure Influencers, these are the influencers who come up first.
- Prescribers: Influencers who make recommendations freely about your brand.
- Users: Influencers who are frequent users of your products and services.
- Sympathizers: Influencers who identify easily with the objectives of your company: similar profiles, similar interests.
At this point, the relationship with the influencers is much closer, much more personal.
- Close: familiarity with the influencer is more than just a file and database; you need to know their interests, needs and the best way to get in touch with the influencer.
- Personal: the relationship isn’t just online, but in person too (regular meetings).
It’s important to note that the objective of the business isn’t to run a campaign or any spontaneous action; it’s to develop a relationship in the long term.
Ambassadors of the brand
To get recommendations from influencers, you also need to put in place a brand ambassador program that encourages participation and also rewards it. This kind of program should be organized around the following guidelines:
- Choose the ambassadors of your brand carefully. Someone who’s very popular on social networks, with a certain level of followers on Twitter and blog visits, isn’t necessarily the best representative of your brand. At this stage, you need to choose someone who really knows your products. And yes, if your ambassadors aren’t really interested in your products, how are you going to get them to get other people to be interested and excited? To sum it up, it’s better to have less ambassadors who are really passionate, than more ambassadors with a limited interest in your products.
- The best way to recruit ambassadors is simply to ask. In the monitoring phase, it’s essential to find people who have the essential characteristic of a good ambassador: passion. Sometimes we have reservations about contacting people on social networks, but if you’ve identified someone who is really passionate about your brand, don’t hesitate to get in touch and ask if he’s interested in a role as ambassador. Offer to let him participate in your events, to create content and to visit your offices. It’s the best way to turn an influencer into a true ambassador.
- Once you’ve assembled your ambassadors, don’t hesitate to show them your gratitude, whether by financial means or with material elements, such as membership in a small group of users who can test your products before everyone else.
- You also need to reward the “technological activity” of your brand’s ambassadors by offering them greater visibility through your channels. Social networks are an immediate means of communication and having an ambassador who can use social networks to communicate about your brand is an essential factor for building visibility. Some of the actions you can take to reward the loyalty of your ambassadors are giving them interviews on your blog or responses to their posts on Twitter.
- Think of influencers as members of your team. Let them participate in your product tests and launches and ask for their opinions in your next campaigns, etc. This will strengthen the relationship between the ambassador and your brand and allow them to be up to date on the activities of your company, which is essential in making them “good” ambassadors. When you define your PR strategy you have to think in terms of “us” (the ambassadors and their brand) and not them.
- Keep your ambassadors in mind while planning actions for your marketing strategy. An influencer attracts many followers online, and many of those are opinion leaders. Using influencers as a voice and a leader for your events can be the key to success, which will also strengthen relationships for future actions. Don’t forget that when we talk about brand ambassadors, we’re talking about influencers who are already closely linked to your business; they trust it and are ready to associate themselves with your actions.
Case Study: Content Marketing Institute’s Influencer Strategy.
The Content Marketing Institute is, as they describe themselves, “the leading global content marketing education and training organization” in the United States. From Cleveland, Ohio, to the world, they started their activity in 2007 teaching enterprise brands how to attract and retain customers through compelling, multi-channel storytelling. Their success was absolutely determined by the influencers strategy they developed from the beginning.
We have interviewed Michele Linn, Content Development Director of the CMI in order to know more about their influencers strategy. Here is the beginning of the interview:
The benefits of working with influencers are many, and what you want to get from your influencers will vary depending on your strategy. For CMI, one of our initial benefits was putting together our list of the Top 42 Content Marketing Blogs. Not only were the influencers needed as a source of content, but they were essential in sharing the list.
Michele also wanted to give an advice for companies that are starting to develop an influencer strategy:
You need to identify both your core target audience as well as your mission statement. Then, look for influencers who “live” in the intersection of these to areas: Are they influential to your core audience and do they support your mission?