Fifteen years ago in corporate communications, our influencer strategies focused primarily on journalists, with industry analysts (e.g., Gartner), and authors thrown in here and there. These folks wrote articles or thought leadership pieces for print publications. In the late 90’s communications started to shift from print to online distribution, and with that change came the blogger. Bloggers (along with the “free” internet) became a huge disruptor of traditional media.

We’ve Moved Beyond Journalism

In my first post, I summarized the shift currently taking place in corporate communications. We’re now ready to delve more deeply into the digital communications landscape, starting with the rise of the influencer. In today’s world, setting a solid influencer strategy means that we need to understand…

  1. Who and where the influencers are
  2. What they do for a living
  3. What they’re interested in
  4. How to measure and understand their influence

Remember the prediction that traditional press as we know it would die? Or the debate as to whether bloggers were “real” journalists?

In the latter part of the past decade, social media emerged. And while it was at first pigeonholed by most of my peers as college students posting messages about drinking, there was a minority in marketing that recognized social media as a growing influence channel. As with any medium, the creator/consumer dynamic stayed true to typical norms. The majority of users were consumers, and the minority were creators. And within the creator community were a growing set of influencers.

Who Are These People, Anyway?

Today, we live in a world where influencers often reach audiences through multiple channels. Walt Mossberg is a great example of a traditional journalist (in his case, at “The Wall Street Journal”), who is amazingly active on blogs (e.g., All Things D, re/code) and is a solid Twitter personality with close to 1M followers.

Walt is an outlier that illustrates an important trend: most influencers either don’t look like they used to, or don’t act like they used to. The most important influencers often aren’t journalists, but rather people who are simply taking advantage of multiple channels to reach a wider audience. Mark Cuban has 2.4M Twitter followers and is likely as or more influential in both sports and business than most journalists covering these two topics. If he says something interesting about a product or brand, his opinion wields influence. Heather Armstrong, 13 years after being fired from her job for insulting her coworkers on her blog (Dooce.com), is a professional mom blogger and social media personality with 1.5M followers – and most those followers include a critical demographic for any brand trying to influence the folks making 80% of household purchasing decisions.

So, this brings us back to the questions that we, in today’s interconnected communications landscape, have to answer in order to craft a well-reasoned influencer strategy:

Q: Where do my influencers influence?
A: They exist on digital media and often in multiple channels. Your “press” list isn’t good enough anymore.

Q: What do my influencers do for a living?
A: They may be journalists, but for your area of focus they may be influencing out of pure interest. They may be moms at home or a software engineers working for big technology companies

Q: What are my influencers interested in?
A: Social networks are fueled by conversation, and that conversation tells us what our influencers like to talk about – and what they like to share.

Q: How do I measure their influence?
A: We used to look at the reach or readership for a newspaper or magazine. Then we added blog page views. Add next, social media followers and page likes. Now we are talking about engagement, the social echo and message amplification, which translates to the propensity of an influencer’s audience to re-post content (e.g., retweet).

A Good Influencer Strategy Leads to Earned Media

What’s exciting to me, as someone who’s spent 20 years in marketing and technology roles, is being on the front lines of the data science that drives sophisticated media intelligence solutions that answer these questions (so that you don’ t have to). Companies like Meltwater (and my team in particular) have been working on influencer scores that span multiple channels and weigh the various components of influence.

When I watch the most successful corporate communications organizations—those that don’t depend on their brand alone to get coverage (e.g., Apple)—I see a strong focus on deliberately influencing specific influencers. They don’t just blast press releases to a long list of journalists. Instead, they target a very small set of key influencers, many of them self-referencing.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the process they use to identify and engage with critical influencers for top effect.