From creating advocacy programs to the content co-creation we specialize in at our agency, working with influencers presents a number of challenges, especially when it comes to effectively identifying, qualifying and recruiting.
In fact, according to a study by Augure, 61% of companies say finding “true” influencers is a top challenge.
Everyone is influential about something, but the ability to influence varies greatly across individuals, between different audiences and even at different moments in time.
Defining Influence. As Sam Fiorella, Co-Author of Influence Marketing says, “Influence is the swaying of beliefs, behaviors or actions.” Therefore, it stands to reason that identifying influencers must take into account their ability and willingness to affect action – not just achievement of high fan, friend and follower counts.
The big mistake marketing and communications professionals often make working with influencers is to focus only on the shiny object individuals within a particular industry. Blinded by the prospect of fame by association, some corporate PR influencer programs operate almost entirely on the notion that by proxy, involvement with certain popular influencers will create positive effects for brand marketing and PR goals.
Super or superficial? As a result, fuzzy and superficial influencer program metrics are emphasized to justify the programs vs. identifying brand goals and holding influencers accountable to reaching them like other marketing initiatives. A common example is the highlighting of social shares vs. clickthroughs and impactful actions taken as a result of the influencer’s participation.
So what influencer attributes should marketers and public relations professionals focus on?
Identify and qualify. The most common approach is to find people who are topically relevant to the initiative you’re undertaking and then sort by popularity. With online influencer programs, social network size and engagement are usually the metrics used to distinguish who has the pull, authority or influence the brand is looking for.
Our preference is to narrow down to a short list by finding correlations across multiple influencer discovery tools and then validating through manual inspection of their work.
But here’s the thing: With the right tools, time and a hint of talent, creating the perception of being an influencer is possible by just about anyone. Focusing on the signals that commonly lead to the perception of authority, individuals can work on developing their personal brand and popularity far above their expertise and ability to affect action.
Perception vs. reality. Now I’m not saying that everyone who has cultivated a strong personal brand is superficially popular or influential. I’m saying that it’s easy to create the perception of influence through personal brand and companies should take that into account when creating their influencer marketing programs.
This is why I share that the difference between popularity and influence can mean feast or famine when it comes to producing impact and value to the business when working with an influencer program.
By all means, popularity, authority, credibility are all important characteristics of influencers to work with. At the same time, companies that expect the participation of influencers to contribute in a meaningful way should consider the roles played by popularity and authority.
A brandividual is popular, an influencer creates popularity.
To me, a brandividual is someone who is really popular in their community. They take the time to cultivate their personal brand as if it were a product. Brandividuals are the shiny objects of the infuencer marketing world. The are the famous and charismatic lights that can help your company attract the true influencers.
What do I mean by “true influencers”? If influence is the ability to affect action, then being an influencer means the same. They are people who are credible, authoritative and to some degree popular amongst a community – yet also effective in being able to inspire action amongst that community.
Finding the right mix. So the world of influencer marketing is about more than working with industry specific celebrities as a proxy to the community that loves them. Working with a mix of brand popular individuals as well as the right niche influencers that can really motivate and activate their communities is a winning combination.
Creating influence is where true authority lives. Beyond working with the dynamics of popularity and influence, companies that are evolving their programs are focusing on creating influence for others as much as becoming influential themselves. Looking longer term than a campaign, it’s easy to see the value in cultivating up and coming influencers. There’s an expression along these lines that I like:
Work with an influencer, you’re friends for a day. Help someone become influential and they’re a friend for life.
That’s the essence of the long term approach to influencer marketing. Influence is a form of currency and the only way to get “influence rich” is to help others do the same.
Give to get influence. Right now there is plenty of time to create a significant competitive advantage by working with both established influencers and implementing efforts to nurture those who will become the next wave of influencers. Maybe your established influencers contribute more to thought leadership and emerging influencers are more focused on content and advocacy. The mix really depends on your situation and goals.
As you develop your influencer marketing programs and start to go through the process of identification and validation, think about the mix of influencer characteristics that will help your program succeed. Qualify what influence means to your company and the program. Make it meaningful by establishing relevant business goals, expectations for participants and a means for measuring influencer contributions in a meaningful way.