SEIZING INFLUENCER RELATIONS’ OPPORTUNITIES Scott Guthrie
Public relations is the natural home for influencer relations. Working with online influencers offers a massive business opportunity but only if practitioners embrace, evolve and push this fast-maturing discipline forward.
• Why an influencer’s appropriateness trumps the size of their following
• The importance of disclosing paid-for relationships prominently
• How the best results come from forging long-term, mutually-rewarding relationships between brand and influencer
Influencer relations has come of age. More than a buzzword, it represents a huge business opportunity and should be part of every PR practitioner’s toolkit.
Four years ago Brian Solis , Principal Analyst of Altimeter Group , described reach, relevance and resonance as the pillars of influence in his report: The rise of digital influence and how to measure it .
A 2015 survey  showed 84% of marketers and PR professionals plan to leverage influencers in 2016.
As the discipline of influencer relations matures, it is time practitioners become more considered and data driven in meeting clients’ objectives. Get the balance right between process and passion and influencer relations will become one of PR’s biggest opportunities.
Figure 1 Snapshot of Google Trends on the phrase “influencer marketing”
Here are six ways PR practitioners can take the lead in nurturing the future of influencer relations.
#1 Cede control
41.2% of communicators cite lack of control over messaging as a challenge of influencer relations . On the flipside, 77% of influencers say creative freedom is a primary factor in feeling likely to work with a brand more than once .
Brands turn to influencers because they want their stories to be told with an authentic voice. Often, however, brands also think they can control the message via influencers.
Figure 2 The role of influencer as translator turning a brand’s key messages into content which resonates with a select audience
Influencers know their audiences. They know what their audiences like – and what they don’t care for.
Successful influencers listen to, and interact with, their fans. This leads to forming communities that feel more like friendships than fanships. For example, 70% of teenage YouTube subscribers say they relate to YouTube creators more than to traditional celebrities .
The more you try to control the message via a straight-jacket of a creative brief, re-write requests or push for further edits, the more the authentic voice is diminished to a whisper.
Influencers grow their follower base through voicing opinions which chime with people. So, let them speak. Let them speak in their own voice. That’s why it’s so important to ensure you’re working with the most appropriate influencer in the first place.
This is a process which starts by using tools like Traackr to do the ‘heavy lifting’; identifying influencers at scale and sorting them by reach, resonance and relevance. But it is up to the contextual intelligence of the PR practitioner to make sense of the data and to vet each influencer on their best fit to meet clients’ objectives.
#2 Go beyond audience size
When selecting an influencer, don’t be seduced purely by numbers. Being popular is not the same as being influential.
Being popular is about being liked or admired by many people. Being influential is an ability to change something; be it altering behaviours, changing opinions or adapting actions.
Influence is context based. Unless the influencer has a strong connection with the target audience, that influencer is creating noise, not action.
Gaining large numbers of followers, impressions or visitors doesn’t always translate into greater influence. A smaller, more targeted following may generate proportionately higher engagement rates.
Reach gives you potential numbers of eyeballs. Influence shows what action is being taken.
#3 Abandon the usual suspects
Have a data-driven answer ready when your client asks: “Can’t you just get us Zoella?”
Influencer relations has more to do with credibility and impact than it has with reach.
Always link your influencer selection back to your objective. This is dependent on a deep understanding of your audience, their needs and their pain points.
If your influencer relations campaign calls for plenty of eyeballs, you can gain reach by marshalling the power middle, or micro influencers at scale. The added benefit is increased engagement compared with contracting with one heavy-hitter influencer.
Proportionally micro inﬂuencers have the highest engagement levels. Instagram influencers with between 1k & 4k followers have 4.5% engagement rate. This percentage slips to 2.4% engagement for influencers with 4k to 100k influencers. Above 100k influencers engagement halves again to 1.7% .
The comparatively lower cost of contracting with the power middle or micro influencers enables brands to think more laterally about meeting their clients’ communications and business objectives.
Brands can harness influencers with different perspectives, working across different categories and territories to carry a brand’s key messages from different angles whilst achieving deeper engagement levels.
#4 Turn tactical and temporary to longer term business growth partnerships
Influencer relations programmes take time, organisation, sincerity, effort and money; both in resource and out of pocket payments.
So when working with influencers, it makes sense to shift the time horizon from tactical and temporary to a longer term business growth partnership.
The relationship between follower and influencer is accretive; it strengthens and develops over time. Influencer relations practitioners should value this social currency between creator and following, emulating it in their own dealings.
Benefits of longer-term, mutually beneficial relationships include:
• Faster turnaround times from briefing to production
• Financial savings as the identification and negotiation phases are removed for each campaign and discounted publication rates can be negotiated for multiple pieces of work over the longer term
• Better results. The influencer’s understanding of your client’s values, product and brand improves over time. He or she can be more creative in developing content which carries your key messages but which feels more relatable to the target audience.
Brands, PR practitioners and the influencer are all responsible for ensuring paid-for content is labelled properly and that disclosure is displayed prominently. Yet in the UK just 22% of influencers always comply with the CAP Code, the advertising rule book enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority .
In the first half of 2016, the Federal Trade Commission, the United States’ consumer watchdog, settled with Lord & Taylor  and Warner Bros.  over failure by these brands to meet disclosure regulations with influencer-generated sponsored content.
The issue of effectively making sponsored content distinct from editorial content will become a major one as influencer relations continues to enjoy such widespread popularity amongst communicators.
The bottom line is that all paid-for influencer work must:
1. Disclose, clearly and prominently, whether content has been paid for
2. Be open about other commercial relationships that might be relevant to the content; and
3. Give genuine views on markets, businesses, goods or services.
#6 Embrace video
Tie-ins with vloggers will continue to grow in popularity within influencer relations. 95% of 16-34 year-olds watch video clips online each month . 44% of internet users watch vlogs on a monthly basis .
YouTube will increasingly come under fire from other platforms pushing video.
Over half of Facebook active users watch videos on the network. The social media monolith is making moves to also dominate live streaming video content. It is attempting to woo Snapchat, Vine and YouTube influencers to experiment with its Live Video feature .
Linkedin, too, has embraced video for its influencers. The professional network has launched 30-second videos from influencers to capitalise on the B2B market .
Influencer relations practitioners must thoroughly understand their audience and where it ‘lives’ online to thrive in this increasingly splintered video-orientated media landscape.
Public relations as the natural home for influencer relations
Influencer relations sits naturally within the cadre of public relations. More than a buzzword, PR practitioners have been delivering key messages via third parties since the industry’s infancy.
Today the vehicle shaping those messages has altered from newspapers, television and radio to include social media influencers. Reaping the highest rewards from influencer relations means building mutually rewarding long-term relationships - a bedrock skill of the PR industry.
But if PR practitioners do not embrace, evolve and push influencer relations forward other marketing disciplines will.
 The rise of digital influence (March, 2012) http://www.briansolis.com/2012/03/report-the-rise-of-digital-influence/
 The state of influencer engagement in 2015 (June, 2015)
 Brian Solis, Influencer marketing manifesto (July, 2016)
 Examining Influencer Marketing, Danny Spyra,
https://yahooadvertising.tumblr.com/post/146015652191/examining-influencer-marketing (June, 2016)
 The YouTube Generation Study. November 2015
 Crunching the numbers on social media influencer engagement (Takumi blog February 2016)
 http://www.prweek.com/article/1396166/brands-encouraging-influencers-flout-transparency-rules-paid-campaigns#BQQXec2aEeH1TmUd.99 (May 2016)
 Lord & Taylor Settles FTC Charges It Deceived Consumers Through Paid Article in an Online Fashion Magazine and Paid Instagram Posts by 50 “Fashion Influencers” (March, 2016) https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2016/03/lord-taylor-settles-ftc-charges-it-deceived-consumers-through
 Warner Bros. Settles FTC Charges It Failed to Adequately Disclose It Paid Online Influencers to Post Gameplay Videos (July, 2016) https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2016/07/warner-bros-settles-ftc-charges-it-failed-adequately-disclose-it
 Video is the future of social, Global Web Index blog (May, 2016)
 Over 4 in 10 watch vlogs, Global Web Index blog (June, 2016)
 Facebook to Pay Internet Stars for Live Video, Wall Street Journal (July 2016) http://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-to-pay-internet-stars-for-live-video-1468920602?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Issue:%202016-07-19%20Marketing%20Dive%20Newsletter%20%5Bissue:6607%5D&utm_term=Marketing%20Dive
 Y our LinkedIn Feed is Coming to Life with Videos from LinkedIn Influencers, Linkedin blog (August, 2016) https://blog.linkedin.com/2016/08/02/your-linkedin-feed-is-coming-to-life-with-videos-from-linkedin-i
Scott Guthrie is a digital management consultant specialising in influencer relations. He produces daily comment and curation about the evolution of influencers at http://influencermarketinglab.tumblr.com/
Scott also writes regularly about influencer relations, creativity and organisational health in the social age.