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4 PR Tips for Online Influencer Strategy | Social vs. Journalism

Who am I? I'm having an online identity crisis. Am I an online influencer, a blogger, or...

Who am I? I’m having an online identity crisis. Am I an online influencer, a blogger, or…

I’m hoping you can help me; I’m having a bit of an online identity crisis.

Am I a PR pro, a content marketer, an online marketer, an online influencer, a citizen journalist or a blogger? Or, am I all of the above?

Does it matter? Yes: it matters, especially if you’re in PR.

In today’s online world it is becoming more and more difficult to identify and define what job category applies to your average marketing person, journalist or online influencer, and this can make the job of a PR pro confusing. Who do we target in our pitching and campaigns, all of the above? In the converging online world, the lines are often so confusing it can be hard to decide where to focus your efforts.

To illustrate, I’ll use myself as an example. Based on my online persona, I am ALL of the following:

  • A PR Professional, Online Marketing Pro and Content Marketer. This is based on my LinkedIn profile and my overall resume.
  • An online influencer. OK, I’m no Guy Kawasaki: I only have about 1,100 followers on Twitter. But for the sake of this exercise; let’s pretend I have 20X that number.  With my newly acquired fictional 20K followers my Twitter reach within the marketing, PR and content world is (would be) substantial. My fictional self has an important voice in the Twittersphere!
  • A blogger/citizen journalist. I blog here on the Meltwater Public Relations Blog, on a regular basis. And people read my blog, which as of this morning is one of the top-ranking PR blogs on Google. So, I theoretically have influence based on reach within the profession.

 

With this example, the fact that I fit into 3+ categories illustrates a problem and an opportunity for PR pros. The problem is deciding whom to pitch when you don’t have a clear-cut way to define a person as a journalist, influencer, or other. The opportunity comes when you realize it doesn’t matter, influencers come in many shapes and sizes.

The Influence Formula – Online Influencers and Journalists

The formula is simple: Trust + Reach = Influence. Influence is on a sliding scale: if a person has a degree of each element, s/he has influence.

Journalists: This formula is not dissimilar to how PR has historically considered Journalists in their outreach. A journalist is considered a trusted source based on both how well respected their medium is, as well as how well respected they are for their individual work. Their reach is based on the audience of their medium. As an example, a journalist at the NY Times has substantial reach and is presumably well respected, otherwise he/she would not be writing for the NY Times.

Online Influencer: The formula for an online influencer is the same. An online influencer earns the position of “trusted resource” of information based on their reach and the quality of their content.  Their reach is determined on their established network, usually made up of their owned media channels. As an example, Jason Falls is an influencer based on his reach (nearly 80K Twitter followers) and the trust he has build over the years a blogger, writer, speaker, and profession. Jason is highly influential. He’s also a nice guy, that helps too.

Which influencer is more important for you as a PR pro?  That answer depends entirely on your company, product, campaign and goals. That said, now more than ever, we as PR professionals must think beyond the journalist when planning a PR campaign: Jason may actually be much more important to your campaign than the New York Times journalist.

With that, here are a few tips on how to navigate the confusing landscape of influence:

4 PR Tips for navigating the uncharted waters of influence  

  • 1 – Don’t be afraid to look beyond traditional media. Take a close look at your campaign. What are you pitching? Ask yourself whose endorsement of your product or message will mean the most to your audience. Think outside the box; don’t assume it needs to be a journalist. For example, if you’re pitching a stylish new lamp a write up from a blogger on Apartment Therapy may hold more influence over your target buyer than a blurb from a writer at Better Homes & Gardens.
  • 2 – Be open-minded about how you define influence. A Tweep with 30K twitter followers may be more valuable than a traditional journalist, even if the Tweep only tweets and never writes more than 120 characters at a time. Using this example, if that same Tweep has an audience of 30K and each of their followers has a few hundred followers you have to imagine that the potential to reach a viral audience is significant – often more significant that that of a journalist.
  • 3 – Forget about job titles or the prestige of a media outlet; focus on the person. Influencers come in many shapes and sizes. Some are journalists, some are social media influencers, and some are bloggers and so on. And, more importantly, they fall on a spectrum of influence. When working with journalists, an Associate Editor can be just as important as the Editor in Chief. After all, who knows where that associate editor will be in 5 years?  The same is true with online influencers: I may have 1,100 Twitter followers today, but who knows where I could be in a few years. Don’t pay too much attention to titles; focus on the individual people and how well they match your outreach goals.  This is more important than their exact number of followers or title.
  • 4 – Influence is about trust, look for people who have built trust with their followers/fans! The best influencers take on the role of providing 3rd party endorsement, whether that is their intention or not. When researching influencers pay close attention to how their followers react to their stories, tweets, etc. With journalists and bloggers it’s easy to estimate influence level by looking at how widely their stories are shared online and the level of agreement in the comment section of their online stories. With social media the same is true, check to see how often an influencer is retweeted, liked, etc.

 

By considering these four tips when you’re thinking about targeting your campaign you’ll find that your outreach lists become much more targeted and much more diverse. The playing field of the journalist is becoming messy, we have classically trained journalists, citizen journalists, online influencers and everything in between to consider; we may as well stop thinking about the lines and just start thinking about the level and nature of influence.

As for my own online identity crisis, I think I have decided that I am Marc, and there is no defining me.  (Well, unless you consider me an influencer of some sort – then please feel free to define me, because that’s a flattering definition.  And it’ll help my Twitter numbers.)

Marc Cowlin

Marc Cowlin is an Internet Marketer with a proven track record of driving sales and buzz through Public Relations, Social Media and Integrated Marketing. With nearly 15 years of in-house experience with companies such as Birkenstock USA and CafePress.com, Marc offers a unique perspective on Public Relations and its convergence with Social Media and traditional Marketing. Marc currently leads Content Marketing and Global Public Relations at Meltwater.

5 Responses to “4 PR Tips for Online Influencer Strategy | Social vs. Journalism”

  1. Bill Byron says:

    Hey, Marc: I take no issue with your four tips or the increasing effectiveness/wisdom of targeting online influencers to obtain desired campaign or communications outcomes. However, in a decision whether to target a journalist or online influencer, you are either altogether missing or assuming the most essential element – the story. You make no mention of this central element, yet the story really does matter in this choice. Call me old school, but I believe that journalists – in whatever medium they are working – are still superior in understanding what makes a great story and then creating that story. More often than not, trusted online influencers are awesome leveragers of great stories that originate with journalists. And PR professionals should not be shy about leveraging terrific stories through these online influencers. As these online influencers become more effective story-tellers – and they will – the pitch choice between them or journalists will become even more difficult but will be a great problem to have for PR pros.

    • Marc Cowlin says:

      Hello Bill, fantastic point and I agree completely. This article does assume the story is set and the PR pro is looking at the story specifics in order to determine the optimal target, press or online influencer. Determining the optimal target is often one of the most important choices when deciding where to pitch and ultimately the best choice is the choice that will best tell the story. Thank you for commenting.

      • Tom Steel says:

        You both make some excellent points. I recently worked on a campaign where we used targeted social influencers to create the story which was then reported on by traditional media. So whilst you can get some brilliant results on social by leveraging stories originated by journalists, it can go both ways.

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