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 US newspaper industry just this year, and three major dailies with a combined total of more than 400 years of continuous publishing, have closed in 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 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 going 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 who are left struggle 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 your 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. 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.