Trust + reach = influence
About half of our team began our careers in the ‘90s (the other half don't even remember Girbaud jeans or Hypercolor shirts, which is a real shame). Back then, there was one solid way to influence an audience: through journalists and traditional media. A lot has changed since then.
We have more tools than ever before to reach a specific audience; however, the model is still the same. Simply defined, it’s trust + reach = influence.
Influence is scalable; it’s not an “all or nothing” type of asset. For example, a person could exhibit higher trust than reach, or vice versa, and have influence over an audience, community, area of business, etc. Now you are looking at a landscape where influencers can reach multiple audiences through multiple channels. The best examples we find right now are of traditional journalists who have additionally made the leap into content creation on blogs and who also participate on other social channels like Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, etc.
Since we are in the field of public relations, which is by practice an integrated communications field, I would say there is no “best” tactic for influence. Rather, look at whom you wish to influence, and then research where they are and who is an influencer within that scope or topic. Many pros go astray and think that more tactics results in more success. We think that means they are not good stewards of time; it’s about a strategy that employs the right tactic for the right audience. The right tactics will likely not mean employing all of the tactics, but an appropriate mix of well-honed messaging per tactic. Work smarter, not harder. It’s not a matter of laziness. It’s the skill to perform research that makes the previous statement valuable. The goal is to do the right thing — not do all things. The smarter route is most likely a more economic route for your client as well as a sustainable means of communication with the audience.
So how can you connect, create and maintain influence? Easy.
Look beyond the traditional media route. Examine your campaign. What or whose vote of confidence would mean the most to the success of your brand? Don’t assume that means a newspaper or a magazine. For example, let’s say you are pitching a lovely piece of furniture. A write-up on Apartment Therapy may be of more influence than a paragraph buried in Better Homes & Gardens.
Expand your definition of influence. A Twitter user with thousands of followers may be of more value than a traditional journalist, even if the tweets are not more than the limited characters with a photo or web link. Let’s say that a Twitter rock star has a following of 25,000 and each follower of theirs has but a few hundred followers. This precise and prolific rippled effect will net you more eyeballs and the potential for viral content — or at minimum more shared content — than that of a journalist in a traditional medium.
Ditch the outlet novelty and focus on the individual’s popularity. Influencers may not be around long, or even worse, their audience may not have clarity or power of focus, so don’t pay too much attention to titles. Focus on the individual people and how they match your brand goals. This is much more important. Likewise, don’t go after influencers if they are not the right fit. It’s about the right influencer for your audience. This might not be the one with the highest number of followers.
Remember that influence is a scale of trust. Keep track of people who have built a steady and loyal stream of trust with their fans/followers. This is, after all, your chance at third-party endorsement fame. When researching your influencer scope, pay attention to what their flock does with the information after it is presented by the shepherd. Some forms of influence are easier to measure than others (thanks to the black hole of social media), so check out more than the comments areas to gauge how their audience reacts — they may be comment shy. Be sure to check out re-tweets, likes and other cool forms of high or low performance indication. I like a little bit of a gamble, so if it’s not real clear, I’d prefer to flatter the recipient and send it to them anyway. You never know when someone will flip into an influencer so the benefit of the doubt works for you here.
Build your network before you need it. Don’t make your first pitch to an influencer, traditional or otherwise, when you need something. Meet them, talk to them, get to know them before you need help. There is nothing more irritating than getting requests without value or context, or from strangers. So, whatever type of client you represent you should be researching this type of “connective tissue” between your client and their audience and then connect with your influencers right away. Maintain this relationship like any other; don’t just run a list and send emails or launch tweets into the universe to complete strangers. If this is your common PR practice, you are doing it all wrong. Go back to square one and develop the relationships you need to benefit both your practice and your client base.
When using these methods, don't forget to keep messaging succinct, relevant and use the right channels to deliver it to your targeted audience. Craft what they want and need, not what you think they want and need. There is a big difference between those two things, so do your research, use your brain and ask the right questions to develop your perfect mix.