Influencers. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re here to stay. That’s because, in reality, they aren’t actually anything new—the phrase has just become a PR and marketing industry buzzword in the digital age.
However, there’s also no question that a well-implemented influencer program can drive significant and positive results for both B2C and B2B brands.
Influencers are a key part of any comprehensive public relations initiative. But what gets talked about much less than it should is the amount of strategic planning and work that goes into building a successful influencer outreach program. The word “influencer” is seemingly everywhere. And the buzzy nature of its use can undermine the time, strategy and depth actually required to drive real ROI. Those of us on the PR agency side are no stranger to hearing the following from clients or new business prospects: “What about throwing in influencers?” or “Can’t you just pull together a quick list of influencers?”
We always want to please our clients. Yet the temptation to immediately respond with a resounding “Yes!” or “Of course, no problem!” should be resisted. In each case, there are a few basic questions that must be asked—and answered—before moving forward with any influencer activity, big or small.
Question 1: How does your organization define “influencers”?
The term “influencer” has become incredibly broad – and increasingly vague. So the first step is the most critical, and perhaps the most difficult: define what “influencer” means to your organization. From journalists and Instagram stars, to academics and celebrities—not to mention micro influencers with limited reach but a strong, niche following—there are many types of people who fall into the influencer category.
Putting parameters around the term first will allow you and your agency to more naturally define the type of influencer campaign or program that makes strategic and business sense. If you skip the hard work of truly and fully addressing this question, you’re setting everyone up for a potentially time consuming, frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful experience.
Like any communications effort, influencer programs can also range greatly in scale. For a B2B brand, this work could be as focused as seeding new research from your organization to a select group of like-minded experts who are active on Twitter—asking them to consider sharing the data with their audience. Or the effort could be as significant as a comprehensive paid partnership with a prominent third-party voice in your industry. For consumer brands, you might choose to invest in a few sponsored Instagram posts around the launch of a new product. Or the most effective approach could be to go all-in with a long-term brand ambassador strategy.
Question 2: How much are you willing to invest?
While it’s certainly possible to develop an influencer program without a paid component, driving measurable success via organic outreach only is becoming increasingly challenging. Odds are, no matter what your focus or goal, at least a small budget will be required.
Early on you should determine what funds are available to allocate to an engagement with any high-demand influencers who will be critical to your success. Truly effective influencer marketing campaigns are rarely free. And frankly, you get what you pay for.
If your agency partner is playing a leading role in shaping this program, be sure to share the budget range with them from the start. This is vitally important in allowing them to shape both influencer strategy and approach. And if managing the influencer program is a new addition to your agency’s current scope, factor in the need to increase their budget or determine where you can pull back on other activities.
When starting the process, avoid one of the most common pitfalls. Don’t underestimate the amount of time the influencer identification process will take—especially if you hope to engage with a sizable target audience. There are a number of databases available to begin this process. But it is nowhere near as simple as running a search and trusting an algorithm. Each potential influencer must be vetted carefully, with high-touch human insight, to ensure they are the right fit for your brand and for your program goals.
These are the two more vital questions to answer. But there will be many others along the way. Who are you trying to reach? What action or outcome is most important to you (e.g., engagement, sales)? Is this a short or long term engagement?
While the phrase “influencer marketing” is everywhere, the approach itself is not as omnipresent as it seems. According to research from Altimeter, Traackr and TopRank Marketing, only 24 percent of brands are running ongoing influencer campaigns—a number which drops to 15 percent among B2B brands. This same research indicates that 43 percent of companies are still only experimenting with influencer marketing.
These figures mean there is continued need for PR agency partners to have a seat at the table in influencer program strategy, development and execution. If you want to be successful, make sure your agency responds to your influencer inquiry with the right questions that will help shape activities or a larger program that will meet your goals.
This article originally appeared on the CooperKatz blog; reprinted with permission.