By Paul Miller, Head of Digital Strategy, Cision UK.
Influencers are changing - fast. Once upon a time marketers could simply identify the journals or TV shows that their target audiences would read or watch, but in the last few years the media scene has fragmented significantly.
What we understand to be “influencers” are no longer simply print or broadcast journalists, but now include a diverse array of bloggers and Twitter users, even members of Facebook groups and forums.
The time frame we have to interact with this widening influencer pool has also narrowed considerably. If news breaks it can spread globally in minutes over multiple channels.
It would be tempting therefore to believe that targeting influencers is harder than ever, especially as influencers emerge and disappear, or move between news organisations more than in the past. Fortunately, technology has kept up with the changing pace of the media so marketers can track influencers at the touch of a button.
So, just what makes someone an “influencer”? The Oxford English Dictionary describes influence as “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself”.
Research has also proven that many media consumers are passive, so influencers include those that can convert that passivity into action. This can be achieved through spreading sharable content and ideas, and the impact of these on the response of people within the influencer’s sphere is measurable.
Cision, which develops PR workflow software, uses a number of metrics to gauge the true power of influencers, regardless of the platform they operate on.
For example, when it comes to identifying and rating bloggers we generated an algorithm which reflects key measures of online popularity – inbound links and traffic measured in monthly unique users and a range of engagement metrics. We weigh these elements up to achieve a balance between measurable impact to date (traffic) and likelihood of future impact.
Also, the fluidity of change varies wildly from sector to sector. We analyse and rank the top bloggers in a wide number of sectors and while, for example, the financial blogger arena tends to be more fluid in nature and present a challenge for those aiming to reach them we have seen minimal change in the last two years among the most influential political bloggers.
An influencer may have some sway in one field – such as politics – but not in finance, so being able to identify those influencers according to their speciality helps marketers select their targets more effectively.
Marketers need to consider the full pallet of channels when it comes to identifying influencers. A few years ago the very concept that a 14 year-old girl could become so influential about fashion that brands send her clothes to review would seem far-fetched, but now “haul” bloggers are prevalent.
What’s more, social media has also empowered brands themselves to become influencers. If you look at the way Aleksandr Orlov, the meerkat from Comparethemarket.com’s adverts, has become an Internet sensation we can see how a brand can develop multi-channel influence.
Orlov now has more than 770,000 fans on Facebook and 42,000 followers on Twitter. If they provide non-salesy, entertaining and compelling content brands can also enjoy the role of influencer.
Influencers are moving targets. One day they may be an influential gadget blogger, the next they’re presenting podcasts for a national newspaper’s iTunes channel. Media monitoring tools are therefore an essential part of the marketer’s armoury so that they can track influencers throughout their active career, wherever they are. Marketers need to rise to the challenge and adapt accordingly to remain competitive.
That means identifying influencers, gauging their value to your organisation, engaging with them on their terms with content and messaging of interest to their audiences, and building long term relationships.
As marketers plan for 2011 they must put influencers at the heart of their outreach and link them directly back to their business objectives and understand where those influencers, whatever channels they’re prominent on, fit into their overall communications strategy. Influencers are changing. Marketers must change with them.
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