As our media environment changes, there is an increasing need to focus on influencer relations/marketing as a 'beyond media' strategy for marketing communications going forward. For technology-driven businesses looking to make their mark, this is a dynamic area to focus on, especially with the ever changing nature of the tech blogosphere.
For agency practitioners it is exciting too, as it involves a departure from business as usual - demanding that we all become digital natives and immerse ourselves into social platforms and start to build relationships with new audiences - from think tanks, to regulators, to industry experts, special interest groups and others.
What's more these influencer relationships won't only exist online, we also need to think about taking these conversations taking them offline and actually getting to know these people. When we engage in relationship building programmes with influencers, we ideally want to know how we can help these influencers do their jobs more effectively, give them a higher profile, help them promote what they do better or connect with people within our network.
Using this approach can create a 'triple win' for brands, influencers and agency consultants as the facilitators of the relationship. Here are some examples of achievable outcomes as a result of moving towards a more influencer-focussed model:
First consideration: create awareness within new communities
A company's brand may attract attention in the press and on social media from the general public, but what do politicians think of that company? What legislation is being debated that may affect how the company does its business? Stepping back to think of these larger issues can help to elevate the purpose of your comms activity to more than sharing messages or increasing awareness with current consumers. Where appropriate, connecting with selected members of the political community, powerful lobby groups and think tanks can take a company's views on the market into account when communicating with their online stakeholders.
Shorter term: build your stakeholder network, educate them, discover new spheres of influence
As part of the process of establishing these relationships, you can bring influencers within third party organisations closer to your client's brand by inviting them to contribute content to a company blog, or attend a conference a company is organising, or to share a panel session. By giving influencers valuable opportunities to build their profile, a valuable side effect of this is that they will become more acquainted with your client's position in the market, what their views are and so on. It is often the case that analysts and investors will already be being courted in this way. If so, the processes to onboard influencers onto a similar relationship building programme may already be in place. In connecting with these influencers and working with them, you may also discover untapped communities that may be receptive to your clients' thinking and ideas.
Longer term: shape the conversation, create behavioural change, discover new customers
As these relationships mature, you will begin to see that some of your initial 'long list' of influencers become effective advocates for an idea that those within your client's company believe in. Instead of trying to get them to talk specifically about your products, focus on themes that are genuinely of as much interest to your influencers as they are to clients. The more your spokespeople own those relationships with the influencers the better. This 'depth of conviction' in a shared vision for a given sector, or shared opinion on an emerging, disruptive market trend will travel further than endorsements of specific products.
This shared vision or opinion can also influence behaviours and opinions within online communities, especially if working with relevant 'heavyweight' influencers who are both popular and have their content shared regularly. It can also support inbound marketing efforts by drawing out potential customers and partners from within these untapped spheres of influence.