Gary Lee is the CEO of mBLAST, providers of cloud-based solutions to help PR and marketing professionals better identify and engage with their key influencers.
From diet pills to get rich quick schemes, our culture is often obsessed with finding the quick and easy solution for every challenge. Lose 10 pounds in two weeks (no diet or exercise required). Make six figures from this simple investment, guaranteed.
We in the marketing and PR industry are not immune to the promise of the quick fix ourselves. Nowhere is this more evident than in the latest fad of “influencer marketing.”
Well intentioned marketers and PR professionals are rushing to various services and websites to discover their key influencers: The bloggers, journalists, and web celebrities who exert enormous influence over their market and can almost magically create buzz, traffic spikes, and sales with a quick product mention.
There’s nothing wrong with this strategy per se. And it’s hardly new. For decades, smart marketing professionals have worked hard to identify voices in the media that influence their market. We’ve been grappling with the concept of influence and authority long before the words ‘social’ and ‘web’ were ever uttered in the same sentence. After all, it’s the marketer’s job to amplify messages and reach audiences. Finding those special individuals who can help spread the message is an essential advantage.
However, what is new today is the sheer volume of voices that one needs to track in order to determine who the real influencers are. With 24-hour cable news cycles, blogs, niche sites, Twitter, and social networks, today’s media landscape is more crowded than ever before. As a result, the challenge of finding the voices that matter has grown exponentially and the industry is in desperate need for a new way to identify influencers.
Considering the atmosphere, it’s not hard to understand the allure of the “Influencer Score” offered by sites likeKlout. When expectations for results are at an all time high and resources are at an all time low, who couldn’t use a quick and easy solution?
However, we’ve come to place too much weight on a single metric when considering influence. And in the wrong hands, this reliance can cause serious harm to the meaningful relationships and reputations we’ve sought to build as marketers and PR professionals.
Now that it’s 2011, I have two core ideas to stress to our industry.
1. Influence Cannot be Reflected by a Single Metric
Influence cannot be reflected by a single metric, and influence does not equal popularity. The rapid growth of social media has warped our concept of influence and too many have mistakenly conflated influence with popularity. The size of one’s audience (readers, fans, friends, followers, etc.) cannot be an accurate determination of one’s authority and ability to drive actions. My apologies in advance to Bieber Nation. Justin Bieber may have over 6 million followers on Twitter and may be influential in some circles, but his voice carries little weight in most markets (e.g. enterprise security or convection ovens).
When calculating influence, we need to first consider relevancy. An influential journalist or blogger must actually be talking about your market. They’ve got to be writing on topics that matter to your audience. These are the individuals who can capture the attention of your market and help you spread your message where it matters most.
By ignoring or undervaluing topical relevancy when considering influence, marketing professionals run the risk of putting their energy and focus in the wrong places. And ‘influential’ journalists become inundated with inappropriate and irrelevant PR pitches that go straight to the trash bin. It’s a lose/lose situation for everyone involved.
2. Marketers Need to Do More Than Just Make Lists
Good marketing and PR entail far more than making lists of your top influencers. At the end of day, successful PR is all about building relationships, person to person, not person to score.
Metrics and scores are indeed valuable. When viewed through the lens of topical relevancy, they can do a fantastic job of identifying a set of potential influencers and help you to determine where you should focus the majority of your efforts. But good marketers need to dig a little deeper than the simple number. We can’t assume that the diet pill (no matter how well engineered) can solve all of our challenges.
What Does It Mean?
As a PR professional or marketer, it’s your responsibility to find out what truly matters to those that matter to your market. In other words, you’ve got to understand what your influencers actually care about. Dig into their previous blog posts and articles. Skim their clip files. See where they’ve been cited and interviewed. What are they talking about? What are they saying? What were they interested in last month; what do they care about this week?
It’s then and only then that you can move beyond generic communications and begin to build relationships and create personal pitches that are far more likely to resonate with your influencer and earn the response you want. Working with influencers can be immensely beneficial in marketing — you just need to be smart about it.