With mainstream media rapidly declining in scope, influence is increasingly being exerted from below by individuals using the power of self-publishing to reach out to their peers.
In recent influencer engagements, we’ve learned a few things about how to work with these new media. An important point to remember is that they do not behave like reporters. Journalists are skilled in the “game” that goes on with public relations professionals. You know: It’s the one in which PR is paid to keep pushing and the journalists is paid to be skeptical. The two parties engage in this back-and-forth with a wink and a nod, knowing that each has a job to do.
Influencers often don’t work this way. To them, their online outpost is a display of their passion for the topic that they cover. They care deeply about the subject matter and they usually know at least as much as the PR person who contacts them. Often they know quite a bit more. In some ways, engaging with influencers is like pitching product reviewers.
Know Your Stuff
You’d better come prepared to this engagement, because some influencers will take lack of knowledge on your part as an insult. This can capsize junior agency people who aren’t prepared for the depth of questions they will get or the scorn they may endure if they can’t answer. Again, journalists know how the game is played, but influencers are more likely to expect the person on the phone to share their enthusiasm. I recommend you put experienced people on this job.
Influencers are also likely to have an opinion. While journalists are expected not to share any biases, bloggers often do what they do precisely because they have opinions to share. Fortunately, a little advance reading can often clue you in to someone’s agenda and even help you decide if they’re worth contacting all. You don’t want to come in with a strong Windows pitch, for example, to a blogger who’s passionate about the Mac. You also don’t want to be blindsided by someone who has made his or her opinions clear and who is offended by the fact that you don’t know them. Again, 15 to 20 minutes of reading can save you a lot of aggravation.
Finally, influencers are more likely to want to get their hands on the product or to talk in depth with the people who develop it. Unlike journalists, they’re probably not interested in analyst quotes or customer case studies. It’s more likely they’ll want to talk to the VP of engineering or the CEO than to the head of marketing. Before you start an influencers program, be sure that you have these people on board.
Their time will be well spent. The right influencers have as much credibility in their community as product reviewers or analysts. They usually have extensive networks of online and real-world contacts and they’re likely to have experience with not only the your products but those of your competitors. Engage in a conversation. You might learn something from them.