Influencer Engagement is when you identify a collection of medium-to-high influence social media publishers - people with their own blogs, Twitter handles or communities - and you invite them into play a role with a brand or organization via social media. Simple example is identifying the top 50 bloggers in a relevant segment or affinity and you invite them to HQ as part of a process to build a relationship with the brand. This is a bit different than simple "pitching" to top media bloggers.
The goals of influencer engagement
There are three fundamental communications goals for engaging influencers:
- Getting their feedback to inform a marcom effort or product or service development
- Inspiring them to become outbound word of mouth advocates (e.g. you want them to post authentically positive things about your brand, issue or organization)
- Building relationships for longer term reputation management (i.e. "putting good will in the bank")
Role this plays
There are three roles and influencer strategy can play in a particular marcom initiative:
- Strengthening and approach to a larger marcom campaign or product initiative by incorporating the feedback and insights generated through talking with these key influencers. Your product or campaign will end up more relevant and therefore more successful in the marketplace. We all "test" - this is another, effective way to get useful feedback
- If Influencers talk positively, you earn third-party credibility for your brand. If their activity achieves any kind of reach or sparks substantial grassroots discussion (more WOM), you can influence the purchase decsion or opinion of the customers or stakeholders that you are trying to drive to action.
- Allys can protect the brand in times of crisis and add value to the brand at all times. Admittedly, the digital influencer contribution to this is difficult to measure but not impossible.
Why you shouldn't use influencer engagement
Most marketing clients want to set up influencer engagements to inspire people to share word of mouth. If they are interested in feedback, it is by far a secondary benefit. As for building up long term relationships that may pay off for brand or reputation goals, while I would like to say that is a primary goal, that too is a nice-to-have. So, when should you avoid these types of programs:
- Don't proceeed if you plan to ask for feedback simply as a demonstration that you are listening with no real intent or interest in acting on anything you hear from influencers. Many marketers will through in a listening activity with a group fo influencers as if it were a step to earning trust (it kind of is). If you don't plan on acting on anything you hear from these folks then don't set everyone up for disappointemt by asking them what they think of the new ad campaign or the way the product feels in their hands.
- Don't proceed if you do not plan on amplifying their word of mouth to achieve some real impact. If you want your influencers' content - blog posts, tweets, videos, images - to reach an appreciable number of folks, then you should be prepared to do what you need to to add that scale and reach. Aggregating that content and then promoting it via paid media is one approach. Forming a partnership with a media entity (e.g. NBCu, Sugar Network, etc...) is another approach (almost always pay-to-play). Both are enhanced with some attention to an SEO program that does what it can (white-hat tactics only, please) to elevate these third-party listings in search. Without these scale efforts, will you really be happy with a few posts and tweets out there? It's authentic (or can be) but will your customers notice?
- Don't proceed if you are not committed to delivering a true "value exchange" with your influencers. This principal (see more in this post) outlines what the influencer "gets" for their time and attention. Don't presume they are fascinated with your product nor ready to be rabid advocates. Also, don't presume you know what that value is for them. Carefully and discretely reach out to afew influencers and run your ideas by them. Could save you a big disappointment later when nobody bites). As you think this through, be clear about the new disclosure issues related to the FTC guidelines on endorsements and testimonials (see this post).
Not every brand is ready to reach out to influencers.They are other ways to use social media. You can drive yourself crazy pursuing such a program when you aren't ready to do what it takes. If there was an easier, softer way believe me, we would be all over it. One more myth-bashing proof point ( the myth that social media marketing is free). It actually takes work and commitment.