I’ve recently worked with several clients on influencer marketing campaigns. These are proving to be popular new complements to traditional PR programs that approach media relations from a completely different perspective. Influencer relations is gaining popularity as the media landscape shifts and domain experts gain prominence.
The media industry is slashing and burning its way through a wrenching transition. There have been more than 5,300 layoffs in the U.S. newspaper industry just this year, and three major dailies, with a combined total of more than 400 years of continuous publishing, have closed just last month.
The situation is just as bad in b-to-b publishing, where more than 275 business magazines have closed since the beginning of 2007, according to BtoB magazine.
With mainstream media dwindling at the same time the number of citizen publishers is rising, it’s not surprising that individual influencers are becoming a promising target. Even professional editors and reporters are increasingly turning their attention to the blogosphere and Twittersphere as a source of expertise and even news. The first place a reporter goes when looking for sources these days is Google. As a result, popular bloggers are suddenly inundated with media inquiries. This is an opportunity for marketers. Some publications are even recruiting bloggers to contribute to their branded sites. These financially driven actions are having the effect of amplifying the volume of individual voices.
An influencer relations program seeks to strike up conversations with these domain experts on the assumption that their opinions are reaching increasingly large audiences, both through their own websites and the amplifiers I just described. This is quite different from a conventional PR campaign, which starts with analysts and journalists on the theory that they are the influencers. We are beginning to rethink this dynamic. Conventional PR will be harder to do in the future as the ranks of staff journalists shrink and the shrinking number that is left struggles with an overwhelming volume of PR pitches.
In contrast, most bloggers get very few inquiries from marketers and are more likely to spend time listening to what they have to say. This is a pretty appealing option for marketers who are frustrated with being one of the 300 or 400 daily inquiries an already seriously overworked reporter gets.
The Human Touch
So how do you find influencers? There are a number of commercial services that attempt to perform the task programmatically, but my experience has been that they only get you halfway there. It’s not difficult to find someone who writes, podcasts, or tweets about a topic, but assessing that person’s biases and style is an entirely different issue.
For example, in a recent project for a company with a novel approach to weight loss therapy, we discovered that the topic was more controversial than we thought. Some people have very strong opinions about the subject, and pitching the client’s novel approach to them would have been the equivalent of sticking our hand into a beehive.
You also can’t assume that domain experts necessarily want to talk about their domain of expertise. In a recent engagement that looked for pharmaceutical researchers, we found that people with Ph.D.s in that area blog about everything from cooking to environmentalism. In fact, only a minority paid much attention to pharmaceuticals at all.
At this point, there’s no way to ascertain the agenda, biases or voice of influencers without digging in and reading what they have to say. If you don’t do that critical homework, you risk alienating the very people you’re trying to reach. Bloggers expect you to know something about them. Unlike the mainstream media, they don’t understand how the pitch game is played and they don’t care. They know a lot about their subjects and they tend to regard clueless come-ons with disdain.
For now, there’s no substitute for the human touch when it comes to influencer relations campaigns. Next week I’ll talk about some of the nuances of dealing with these new audiences.
Upcoming presentations and webcasts
- Influencing the New Influencers: How PR Can Harness Social Media to Build Brand, Buzz and the Bottom Line –- Bulldog Reporter webcast, March 27
- PR Lifelines in Healthcare — keynote presentation, Indianapolis, April 10
- Social Networks: The New Architecture of the Web — a KDMC webcast with Poynter/NewsU, April 14
- World Without Media: What Will Fill The Void? — New Communications Forum, San Francisco, April 28
- Inbound Marketing Summit — San Francisco, April 28-29 **Use discount code VIP50 to save 50% on the registration fee.**
Tip of the Week: Tweet Later
Have you ever come up with a Tweetable idea at 11:00 p.m. and realized that none of the people you want to tell about it are likely to be on Twitter? Then get yourself an account at Tweet Later, a service that lets you create Twitter messages and schedule them for delivery hours or even days later. You can also create a standard message to deliver automatically to people when they start following you. The pricey premium service offers all kinds of options for scheduling tweets at different times and in different combinations, but the basic free service is useful if you simply want to make sure the largest number of people read your message.
Just for Fun
My Newspaper Death Watch blog is my labor of love, and is also garnering attention from large news organizations like El Mundo and, most recently, CNN (keep an eye out for the story in the coming week or two). So I have a soft spot in my heart for blogs that keep tabs on the newspaper industry. Criggo keeps tabs on stories, picture captions and classified ads, among others, that tickle your funny bone or just make you wonder why on Earth anyone would put this stuff into print in the first place. PLEASE NOTE: Some of the stories on this site are not appropriate for all audiences. If it were a movie, it would be rated R.