What Influencer Relations Strategy Should I Use?

Have you been asking yourself: “What Influencer Relations Strategy Should I Use?” If so, you are not alone. Everyone one is seems has a different answer. Yet, I think there is only one solution.

Many brands approach influencers with a “spray and pray” model. This means they target a lot of influencers by paying them money and hoping something good will happen. It might work, for a moment. It will not work over time.

Because your goal should be the creation of a web of influencers not an army style, says influencer and social media expert Sarah Conley, you need to think about sustainable influencer relationships. An army of influencers means a mass number of people willingly obeying the commands of whomever is in charge at any given time. They will follow the leader with the money and they will share the messages of that commander. A social web of influencers is a much different thing. By creating one, you are sowing long term seeds that will have a much bigger impact on your brand at a much lower cost.

“Building a web of people is calculated,” says Conley. “It’s about creating deep relationships and opportunities with a small number of people. Those people will act as your beacons within their specific communities. Then other influencers will come to you. You will be creating a web of people who want to be associated with you.”

A web is dependent on the center to exist. A brand becomes the center. The first round of influencers are the first nodes on the web. Those who come next form another node and another circle around the first layer of influencers and the brand. Think of a rock thrown into the water and a ripple that forms. This social spread continues organically until you have a large network of influencers who are in mutually supporting relationships and act as natural extensions of the brand.

“Brands move too fast. They try to do too much at once and we (influencers) can see right through it,” Conley added. She says there are brands she doesn’t work with because they clearly don’t care about her but see her instead as a conduit to her audience. Those are the brands trying to build armies.

“My job is to protect my reader. I have the power to sway people’s opinions, but keeping their trust is very important to me.” So when brands act in an inauthentic manner, she becomes worried about how that brand will treat her audience. In the end, because she practices authenticity with her readers, she wants to see brands be authentic with her, as well.

Authenticity can be a squishy word. In Content Rules, the authors Ann Handley and CC Chapman define authenticity in the following way: “When we say to be authentic, we mean you should make it clear that your stuff has the stamp of an actual person or actual people and that person or those people have the qualities… that make for a compelling approach to content as a solid foundation for the start of your relationship with your audience. You should also be comfortable being who you are.” This is exactly what Sarah means – she wants to work with brands who are comfortable and transparent about being who they are with her and with her readers.

“It’s fascinating when you see a brand, and I’ve been with brands that have done this, work with a big name, big money social media celebrity and yet, they don’t get the results they want. Often, it is because that person isn’t actually in an authentic relationship with their readers. They don’t have real influence because they haven’t built real trust.” If a brand is searching for a set number of followers, rather than engagement, then the influencer work will be less successful.

As a healthcare communications advisor for the past fifteen years, Steve Campanini, CCO of Splash Media and a former VP at Tenant Health, understands the role that trust plays in the ability of a company to deliver on its mission. Trust is more paramount in healthcare than in virtually any other industry because healthcare is so intimate. In many ways, your healthcare provider knows more intimate details about you than anyone else. Steve believes that trust is built in two ways: transparency in your actions and connection to your community. Anyone trying to build deep relationships with their audience needs both.

Trust and authenticity form a two-way street. Brands must show those qualities and they must look for influencers who possess them. Ultimately embracing an approach that centers around trust and authenticity is the cornerstone of creating your own web. This network will then be your conduit to create partnerships that drive awareness and sales.

Many of you may already be engaging with influencers. Likely, you have fans who are already commenting, tweeting, posting. Possibly, you have people who are active, engaged AND have their own valuable following. Have you asked them to post or share content? Have you invited them into your store, sent them samples or asked for their opinions?

If not, get out there and galvanize your audience. The first step of influencer strategy is to work with the influencers you already have. If you are thinking about creating a web, it is easiest to start with those who are already brand affiliated. You could create an “advisory board” of influencers who will help you figure out who else to target; they will easily be able to spot the authentic and engaged in their peer circles. As Amanda Duncan, influencer marketing manager at Microsoft says, “look inward. Who has tagged you in their posts? Who has already engaged with your brand by sharing your content? Those people are already influencers working for you. How are you rewarding or engaging with them already? It may be more effective to work with them than to look for someone new.”

So take stock. To get started, ask yourself this:

  • How do you currently engage with influencers?
  • Do you have influencers already who you are not engaging with?
  • What would you need to make that a more strategic manner of engagement?
  • What would be your goals in engaging more individuals?

What Is a Social Media Influencer?

The buzz word of the past few years has been influencers and because of its buzzword status it has taken on a meaning so bland, it is almost useless. An influencer is literally any person with influence. That can be a celebrity or the owner of a local business who influences what people wear in a small town. However, a social media influencer is a specific type of individual who has influence across social media spheres. They are also a key part of growing your  business’s online presence and more importantly your social media following.

A social media influencer is one who exerts influence over an audience of any size on any variety of social media platforms.

However, as I argue in my forthcoming book “You Don’t Need Social Media Unless You are Doing It Right: A Small Business Guide to Social Media” that type of influencer isn’t necessarily relevant:

The most effective influencers are not the people at the bottom with one follower, nor are they the people at the very top with all the followers. They are the people who have moderately sized followings and who have audiences in more than one circle.

Think about it this way:

  • The person at the apex of an influencer pyramid (i.e. the “most important name” or the person with the biggest following on a topic) has a lot of authority but they only talk about one thing like sneakers.

  • The person at the bottom of the influencer pyramid might talk about a lot of things or about a singular thing but they likely have too few followers for it to be worth your time to engage with them.

  • The real influencers who provide brand value are those in between the bottom and the top who have influencer in multiple segments i.e. sneakers and ice cream and have a moderate to decent number of followers. These are connectors.

In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell defines connectors as, “a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack for making friends and acquaintances.” Steven Johnson, in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, discusses this social construct even further. He argues that it is not just that connectors are sharing information across different groups – it is that they are sharing information that comes from a different context.

This difference is context i.e. someone who is not just an ice cream enthusiast but also a lover of crime dramas  and 18th Century Chinese art helps an idea to permeate new information networks that create idea spread. Not only do ideas spread that way but that as ideas or concepts cross groups, they begin to innovate and change other people’s ideas.

People’s ideas change because they are being hit with information that is new and novel to them. This is the real way that you change broad scale perception and why you begin an influencer approach.

You need your topic to spread into new audiences where it would not otherwise spread because you only have access to your limited audience. When you identify connector-influencers (who from here out we will simply call influencers) you are able to scale your ideas out to audiences where these ideas, in part because they are new, can make a broader impact.

The growth of an idea then comes not from the size of the audience following a specific person but rather their ability to transmit ideas across multiple channels. These people are more effective than other types of influencers because they possess the ability to cross-pollinate.

A real social media influencer is someone who helps a message spread through crosspolinating it across different channels. As you begin to source influencers, you should be looking for not just those at the apex of their relevance but for those who are connector-influencers and can help your idea spread outside of your segmented audience.

There is a fascinating TED talk by Dave Troy who maps social media maps with geographic maps and shows the ghetto-ization of ideas within social communities. Therein, we see the role of the connector-influencer brought to life as they are someone who quite literally traverses social divides. That is the social media influencer who matters. That is the one you want to create partnerships with as you grow your channels and think about new and different means of growing a social media following.

So, I ask you: how are you developing your influencer plan? What are you doing to ensure that you are finding connector – influencers? I will discuss this more in the next post.