I wanted to say so many things, but just ended up saying that we’d need to create a list based on their outreach and communication objectives and an online research of who matches those. I was then surprised to hear that another firm that had also met them for social media engagement had shared a list of top 10 influencers…relevant to them!
I was impressed – this other agency (and I know quite a few people from it – no, I’m not taking names…stop guessing) had done the work that should ideally be paid for, by the client. This prospect was kind (open?) enough to share that list with me during our meeting and all my good impressions went out of the window!
The prospect I was meeting is in a fuzzy IT sector business – not an FMCG’ish or consumer space. Their business priorities are very different from HR priorities and there was no way even one of the top 10 listed by the other agency made any kind of sense to their business. Not even one!!
The top 10 were influencers, no doubt, but for vastly different things. If the other agency thought they were motherhood-influencers, who can talk about anything from toothpaste to IT, then, I’m sorry, they are so terribly mistaken!
I do not need to start all over about target audience and matching a client’s priorities with the right target – I think it is fairly obvious by now. But even after that, a recent mini-outrage on Twitter was about reasonably unrelated online influencers being targeted for a new film – the offer was a free movie couple pass and some guidelines on how to promote it on their personal blogs, Twitter and Facebook pages! The inappropriate targeting did not go well with some of the influencers targeted – rightly so.
These 2 incidents only go on to prove that the PR’ish approach of using a list to target influencers would not work in social media engagement. Why? Here are some reasons.
1. The fuzzy definition of who an influencer is
There was a time when PR agencies used to flaunt a media list. After a list became fairly easy to buy/assemble/procure, they rightly started flaunting relationships with key media people. I belong to the wretched school of PR that values content over relationships that believes, that in a perfect world, any PR pro with decent level of intelligence should be able to talk to a journalist (at an appropriate time, after an even-more-appropriate homework) about a client/announcement/update that is perfectly appropriate for the area in which the journalist usually operates. But, a majority of PR (in India, especially) is still about relationships – the mere access to journalists.
When you think about it, there is no media list equivalent to social media influencer engagement. First, the definition of influencer is fuzzy, online, despite what Klout and PeerIndex would like you to believe; in the mainstream media space, it was quite well defined. Second, an influencer may or may not hold his influence – it depends on his/her online interactions and the amount of effort they put in to retain their influence. I still remember a generalist blogger we invited for a blogger meet (in one of my earlier stints) because of a lone, relevant blog post from him 8 months before the blogger meet. The reason? He was a generalist blogger, no doubt, but we found that he had written gushingly about the product from the client as one of his top 3 proud possessions, in a new year update/post. There was no other mention about our client’s product in all of his blog, before or after that post. I was happy to notice later updates in his blog where he had upgraded, not once, but twice, with products from the same (now ex-) client! I still recall his email response to our first invitation – he was floored by our research and said, ‘You guys have just ensured that I will be customer-for-life with <brand>’!
Without appropriate and adequate research, we would have missed this blogger because he does not write in the space the client operates in. But, the product the client makes is a tech. gadget, something even people who do not write about tech. gadgets need and buy. So, the point here was to go beyond conventional approaches and look at the buying patterns of the client’s products and then choose appropriate influencers. If the intention was to fill heads in a room in the name of a blogger meet…(a) we can pull it off oh-so-easily and (b) it is a complete waste of everybody’s time and intelligence, particularly the client’s.
2. A PR’ish media list is now a commodity; social media influencer list,Â not so
I know of many, many social media agencies and PR pros who do a Google search for ‘top bloggers in India’ and land up in Amit Agarwal’s fabulously curated list (the first result, as usual). These days it is easy to find and search for influencers, but what perhaps needs to be done as a follow-up is to do aÂ thorough research on other aspects after making a long list. Like,
– has the influencer welcomed outreach from brands/agencies in the past?
– how has his reaction been to brands that did reach out to him?
– who is his friends circle? Are they influential too?
– how consistent is his online content?
…and so on.
The point is that there is no short-cut or ready-made ways to cook an instant list of social media influencers. Social media is filled with people…normal people like you and me. Some create great content and say things intelligently and rise in the influencer scale. Some could be put in larger brackets based on specific subjects they talk about more consistently, but they are human too and may end up talking about many more things that interest them. So, for instance, clients in the automobile or gadget space need not focus on auto bloggers and gadget bloggers alone. They could expand to generally powerful influencers too, but after researching on their preferences – selling Windows to a Mac loving popular writer is still a massive blunder in targeting.
A social media influencer list is vastly unlike a PR media list – agencies do not flaunt one at the outset and should ideally sell the idea to a client to pay for research and come up with a list brilliantly relevant to them with profiles and explanations behind each selection. As I always say, this is not rocket science – we have every bit of detail online if only we care to search intelligently.
3. The relationship part!
PR agencies flaunt relationships with journalists. It amounts to something remotely like, ‘I know these number of media folks well enough to talk to them about your business too’. But, like most others these days, journalists are grappling to focus their attention too. So, any PR person talking to any journalist about any client…without relevance, is a step towards deterioration of that relationship. Context and relevance is everything these days.
Can agencies flaunt relationship with key online influencers like bloggers and tweeters? Partly yes. There are quite a few generalist online influencers who, by nature of their work online/offline and by prior behavior, have showcased an interest to be like a broader, industry-agnostic influencer and such people are quite apt for clients with products that are universally used/needed. These set of page 3-type online influencers may not be appropriate for many other industries, however, for obvious reasons. But, there is indeed an advantage in knowing these people through interactions either online or offline so that an agency doesn’t start from zero, when a need arises.
For the more focused, non page 3-type influencers who value relevance, context and their time more than anything else when it comes to brand outreach, a great way for an agency pro to get to them is through the hard way – by being an influencer himself, online. For instance, if you are after a 5,000+ twitter follower count influencer and you write to him from your 5+ follower handle, chances are, he may not take you seriously, despite your bio screaming your international agency status. In such cases, you being a reasonably sane, known tweeter helps!
This is one more reason why agency pros should be online and be there consistently. Being online could be in so many ways these days, not just in a blog. Just take a look at my earlier post on the 5 Cs of content – they apply to individuals as much as they do to brands!
Pic courtesy Fanboy30, via Flickr.