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Influencers 101: Identifying, Engaging and Nurturing Influencers

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Image by Dennis Forgione under the CC license.

For a while now, the term ‘influencer,’ has been a PR buzzword. For all brands across all PR practices, there has been a huge emphasis placed on harnessing the power of influencers and incorporating an influencer program into PR efforts. Why has such a focus been placed on influencers? What makes them such a key part of the PR plans and activities we execute on behalf of all our clients (from healthcare to consumer tech)? Let’s start with the basics…what is an influencer?

An influencer is a person (who does not work directly for a brand) who has the power to influence the behavior of consumers or, in a B2B situation, decision makers at businesses. How do they get this power? Influencers are able to impact behavior and decisions because they have successfully established themselves as experts in their given field. They have their finger on the pulse of industry trends and they are constantly forecasting what’s next for whatever their industry space may be.

Influencers are, by nature, social. They have robust social channels where they are committed to sharing meaningful content, starting thought provoking conversations and constantly engaging with their followers, the very people they are influencing. Influencers can be found speaking at industry events, contributing articles to top tier media outlets and (here’s where PR kicks in) partnering with brands in their industry space.

So, we’ve established what an influencer is and what they do, but that leads us to the next, and very important question…how do you find them!? And, more importantly, how do you find the right influencer for your brand?

Identifying Influencers
  • Social media is the natural habitat of influencers, so start there. Get on Twitter and look at who is using the hashtags your brand is using. Who’s contributing most to these conversations? Are they hosting Tweet chats? Are they posting content (either from their own blog or articles they have contributed to)? Does this content resonate with your brand messaging?
  • Once you identify one influencer, look at who they are following. Their network should provide a wealth of additional influencers, all talking the same talk.
  • Look at the leading industry conferences/associations on Twitter and see who they are engaging with. Check out their speaker line ups and see who has presented keynotes on topics that your brand could speak to.
  • Take to LinkedIn and check out who’s posting in the groups that fit your brand’s industry – see who is leading conversations and posting meaningful content.
  • Compile a list after you’ve combed through the above. It’s often helpful to drop potential influencers into an Excel grid; that way you can stack them up against each other in one, easy to view place. Look at the following things:
    • Social following – how big is their network? You can use social listening tools like Klout to help, too – this blog post from Hootsuite lists some additional methods for measuring an influencer’s network. [One caveat here – keep in mind that you need to look at the quality of followers not just the quantity. If an influencer is speaking your brand’s language and has a smaller, targeted group of followers, then they are likely to be a better fit than an influencer talking about your brand’s general industry, with a huge and not as discerning following]
      • Social frequency – how much are they posting? Influencers worth engaging with should be posting multiple times a day, contributing to multiple groups and engaging in multiple conversations (think: Tweet chats, webinars, etc.)
      • Content, content, content – what are they sharing? If it’s just re-Tweets of articles without commentary or context, then move on. Influencers should be mixing things up content wise – posting content from other influencers, media outlets and more. Make sure that they are talking about trends and industry news, not just piggybacking on existing conversations, but also sparking new topics of discussion
      • Website/blog – do they have an owned website or blog? They should! This will not only show their ability to create their own content and give you a good idea of their voice and writing style, but will also be a forum that you may want to partner on, moving forward. Take note now – would your brand’s own content look at home with your influencer’s own content? If yes, then that’s a fit.
Engaging Influencers
  • Now that you’ve vetted your list (and received approval from your client) it’s time to get to work. Start small. Here are some initial steps you can take from your brand’s Twitter and LinkedIn accounts:
      • Follow/add all the influencers you’ve identified as a fit – a good metric can come of this. Set a goal (ex. 50% of influencers following your brand by the end of three months) and track who follows you back. For more ideas on how to measure ROI, has some suggestions to showcase the impact of your client’s influencer program.
      • Make a habit of sharing content from your influencers – use the RT or Favorite functions to show them some love. Be sure to tag them in posts that push out their content.
      • Keep an eye on their preferences – figure out what topics make them tick. What areas of expertise do they showcase most often? Make note and keep this in your back pocket. If you take the time to get to know exactly what your influencers are talking about then your conversations with them will be genuine and organic.
Nurturing Influencer Relationships
  • Without making this part sound like a Dating 101 post (although, after further reflection, there are some definite overlaps)…you have to take the relationship to the next level, moving forward from purely social interaction. Here are some ideas to take the plunge….
    • Stalk their event activity (wow, this could be a Dating 101 post. Or, rather, a bad one!) – are they attending any events that your brand will be going to? If so, send an intro note and ask if they’ll have time for a quick coffee/swing by your brand’s booth and meet with your brand’s executive. Make it super informal, casual and mutually beneficially. Don’t start the conversation by immediately asking them to work together on a paid partnership…this is about nurturing a relationship and establishing an understanding that your brand is aligned with their area of expertise.
    • If you can’t meet in person, craft an intro note to propose a phone call with you brand executive – start by explaining why you were first interested in contacting them (ex. Did they just post something that echoed your brand’s own position on an issue OR do they belong to a LinkedIn group that your brand’s executive is a member of?) Just as you would when you pitch media, the key is to customize your interaction.

Once you’ve locked in a conversation and (assuming) it went well, what’s next? Influencer programs can be anything your brand (and your influencer) choose to make them. From contributing blog posts to your brand’s website or vice versa, to including your brand in upcoming articles written for top tier media, to hosting Tweet chats and sharing your brand’s content via Twitter or LinkedIn…the opportunities are endless.

Looking to see how influencer programs can really come to life? Here are three examples of impactful influencer relationships from PAN clients:

  • Integrate, a cloud-based marketing software provider, recognized the value of fast-acting influencer engagement, when a real-time response via Twitter to an influential analyst in the marketing tech space sparked a long-term engagement. Read more about the brand’s interaction with influencers in this prSPEAK post.
  • Creating social buzz during ad:tech, the 2-day global conference for modern marketing and media in San Francisco, was a major goal for the brand. The PAN team engaged a top industry influencer to live Tweet from the event and by the end of the first day, the event hashtag was trending on Twitter, garnering over 50 million impressions. A huge win that demonstrates the power of tapping into an influencer’s network during a timely moment.
  • Tahzoo, a fast-growing CX agency, tasked PAN with identifying the top influencers in their market space. After culling through lists of potential candidates, the PAN team developed a list of individuals and went about beginning engagement via Twitter – Re-Tweets, Favorites, etc. Within the first month, over 60% of the list were following Tahzoo on Twitter and the PAN team secured two intro briefings, proving that showing a little love to influencers on Twitter can go a long way.

These are just a few examples of how influencer programs can move the needle for brands. Remember, the most important element is making sure that your brand is engaging influencers that are a fit and, if you’ve followed the steps outlined above, you should be a match made in heaven!


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In our annual Brand Experience Report, we asked marketers and customers how they are using and experiencing AI to better understand how the technology is changing that relationship.