How do you determine influence?
Terry Foster @Terry_Foster, president of Cision Canada (Thornley Fallis client), set the stage for the October 25 Social Media Ref panel with this trailer from a few years ago that set out to describe an “influencer.”
“The main thesis of that really is that the definition of influence hasn’t changed – it’s just who can be an influencer has changed,” said Foster. “It’s no longer just politicians, celebrities and people we see in the media – it’s about people who create their own paths.”
Foster refereed the ensuing discussion with panelists that included
-Eric Alper, director of media relations at eOne Music Canada, @thatericalper ^EA
How do you qualify an influencer? What do you look at when qualifying influence?
We’re looking for mentions that will be at scale and will have an impact on our client’s business, which ultimately determine authority. ”Creating with an influencer a piece of content that’s actually going to reach an audience – that is a scaled audience and that will actually have an impact on the bottom line for that business – because that’s ultimately what it’s all about for our clients.” ^PT
We set influencers by looking at our objectives. “Are we looking to get word of mouth buzz? Are we looking to get blog posts written? Are we looking to get media articles posted about a particular brand? Once we’ve determined that objective, we can narrow it down [to] influencers based on a number of criteria to ensure we’ll be reaching the right people that will be spreading the word about our brands.” ^MJ
So how do you start measuring influence? Do you begin with the quantity of the audience or the quality of the audience?
Both. We want to make sure we get engagement (quality) but brands are also very focused on numbers based on goals set out at the beginning of campaigns. ^MJ
Is your strategy different when an influencer has an audience of 1,400 versus an audience of 14,000?
Numbers are really important. Tens of thousands of followers mean very high quality content (unless those numbers were bought). Social proof also comes into play in that we know when something is getting a lot of eyeballs (i.e. individual posting content to 90,000 followers versus someone posting to their nine followers is seen very differently). “But having said all that, we do have to keep in mind that what these numbers are really measuring is influence in terms of being able to distribute a piece of content widely.” ^PT
What opportunities are interesting to you as an influencer when approached by a brand or agency?
“It all depends on – and I hate this word and I’ve hated it since the beginning –just about being authentic to your brand and to your life.” It also really depends on what you’re offering – anything can be bought, anything can be sold. ^EA
What are some of the ways brands can cultivate relationships with influencers?
“From our perspective, it’s a little old school to send someone a product, have them tweet about it and that’s it. Our approach today is really to go to a number of influencers and say basically we want to partner with you in an exercise of co-creation. Let’s do something together and usually that means creating some content together that may be tweeted by the influencer, may go on their blog, but then will also come onto the brand’s own properties – on their shared properties and then be amplified by social media.” ^PT
“Traditionally PR has been very focused on one-way communication, which with the traditional model of the media was entirely successful. We would release a press release over the wire and that would receive pickup. We would of course do follow-up, but with these influencers it’s very important to form a partnership that’s mutually beneficial because it’s important to remember that all of these individuals also have their own personal brand. And if you want to do something that’s successful with them, you have to create an experience or a partnership that benefits both brands. Or it’s not going to come off as authentic.” ^MJ
How important is the authenticity of the approach? How do you create that authenticity?
“It’s crucial. There are a number of elements, one of them being determining what that influencer, that writer, that blogger, etc. is generally interested about and showing that you’ve done that [research]. That’s pretty straightforward and that’s something that should have always been done with media. Really showing that you have taken the time to read their blogs, read their tweets or understand what kinds of networks they’re involved in, understand their likes and dislikes and making an effort to tie what you’re pitching back to that.” ^MJ
What are your thoughts about discovery tools like Klout?
“The billions of pieces of content that are being created online every day make this whole business of determining who is influential on what subject quite difficult manually. The idea of Klout is fantastic. So [it’s] the idea of automating our ability of determining who is influential on what score. But when you get into Klout of course, there are a lot of little wrinkles…Klout is measuring one’s ability to create content, disseminate it widely – so it’s an influence over being able to get a lot of eyeballs on a piece of content but where’s the connection with actual influence? With the ability to change people’s behavior or create a trend? Those kinds of tools are great to start with, but at the end of the day, manually read through someone’s Twitter feed, read through someone’s blog before approaching them on a subject.” ^PT
“I think it’s a good place to start but I think nothing replaces looking and doing that research – going in and reading their tweets and Facebook posts and their blogs. Nothing will ever replace that – it’s just a silly number.” ^EA
What stories get real traction at the Huffington Post?
“We’re a little bit weirder because we have a bit of a voice and a bit of edge to what we do. The big splash that we made recently – in the US anyway – was a “top image.” The image was a coat hanger…no newspaper would make that stand – ever – because it’s just too much of an editorial voice.”
“Something I did recently which went crazy viral – it had like 10,000 shares was…guy jumping onto a frozen pool.”
“This is the difference. On one side we make very serious political stances; on the other side we do really really ridiculous viral stuff.”
“And then we also on another side do very personal essays…” (e.g. pair of siblings, one has Down syndrome)
“…because we are an internet only property – it’s this weird swirl of things.” ^RN
What would be an influencer’s reluctance to work with a brand?
“I don’t want to sell out my followers – I think it just comes down to that.” ^EA
“People don’t want to sell their audience out if they’re an influencer. This is something we really navigated as an agency. When we first started working with online influencers in 2005-2006, we happened to work with a couple of academics who did a study of a program that we did giving out Nokia phones to influencers across Canada. They looked at every single blog posting and they looked at exactly this issue that Eric is talking about. How do influencers navigate between what they called “commercialization” and “community”? The influencers have built up this community and it’s an asset. The influencers have built that up through their own integrity. This issue of disclosure has become an important issue…that has to be addressed.” ^PT
-A graphic recording by Sacha Chua on Sketchnotes from the Social Media Ref event
-A blog post titled “Influencer “Outreach” is Dead” by panelist Patrick Thoburn
-Julie Geller of Cision Canada also introduced a new web series called “The Influencers”