As a PR professional, I have been incorporating social media strategy into our work for several years. From early on, I recognized the value of the online influencer and encouraged clients to communicate with these popular personalities, invite them to events and partner with them on promotions. When an influencer has a large audience that fits the demographic that a client is eager to reach, including them in a PR strategy makes sense.
An online influencer may or may not have a blog, but they often have a very strong social media presence, often focusing primarily on one or two social media platforms. Some influencers focus primarily on YouTube and Twitter, while others are Instagram "stars" with a large Snapchat or Facebook audience.
For example, influencer Cara McLeay has 125,000 followers on Instagram (@carajourdan) where she posts photos related to fashion, travel and beauty. YouTube personality Josh Rimer has thousands of viewers for his comedic lifestyle videos, targeted primarily to the LGBT community.
When we invite an influencer to an event, send them a fun delivery or pitch a contest promotion on behalf of a client, we feel that there is a good fit between the client and the influencer. The client can benefit from being in front of the influencer's large online community while the influencer gets access to awesome prizing, an amazing event or a cool story that their audience will find entertaining and valuable.
While I continue to find value in working with online influencers, I still think it's important to discuss some of the darker sides of this online frenzy. New digital personalities pop up daily and although we often hear about the PR behaviours that annoy bloggers and influencers, it's also important for us to recognize some of the shady influencer behaviours that can leave a communicator frustrated and far from their PR goals.
Below, I have listed a few red flags to watch for, based on my experience working with the online influencer community.
The event regular who never posts about their experience
When we invite an influencer to an event, we research and invite those who we feel will enjoy the event, while incorporating elements that will interest various audiences. Whether it be special local foods for a foodie, a speaker that resonates with a digitally connected audience or a cool venue that an influencer may want to experience, we work with clients to create a fun, well-rounded event. There is never an automatic expectation that influencer guests will post photos or feedback on their experience and the client, although we design events and guest lists to offer an experience that guests may want to share with their online community.
When guests do post online at the event, or after, we are thrilled with this online dialogue and the awareness this creates for the client and for their work. That said, sometimes there is an influencer guest who is keen to attend all of the events but who never posts about their experiences or the goodies they take home with them. We are happy to build awareness with that influencer, and perhaps they will verbally share their experience, but this is impossible for us to know and to track. When we see an influencer attend various events and not post, even when the event is a great fit for their online community, we have to question inviting this guest to future events.
The misleading number cruncher
I usually lean towards the quality of an influencer's audience instead of the number of followers they have. Still, the big numbers are impressive and if an influencer has large local reach, we are excited for the opportunity to share our client's message with this group. Bloggers and influencers know that the big numbers are appealing and sometimes this results in misleading behaviours such as buying followers so that their popularity is inflated. When working with a new influencer, have one of your qualified team members research the quality of their followers. If you find that many of their followers have no online community, or many are from countries far away, there is a chance that "influencer" may not be so influential.
Show me the money, always!
Talented influencers work hard to explore and create content for their online audience. Yes, they get the perks of events, travel and great meals, but they also put lots of time into photography, writing and gathering information for their online communities. Some influencers offer sponsored content and advertising, and sometimes PR teams have budgets to pay for this when the influencer is a perfect fit.
That said, companies often allocate a substantial budget and time into experiences, prizing and takeaways for influencers. This allows the online personality to give away great prizing to their followers, experience fabulous events, or take home an amazing product to try. There is a time for paid content, but I am cautious of the influencer who always wants a "pay to play" arrangement. Our job is to create content and experiences that result in earned coverage and online dialogue and when an influencer always needs a paid structure, I prefer to pass them on to the marketing and advertising teams.
Disorganized digital star
The internet allows anyone who works hard to create a profile and decent following. There is no application process, no manager supervising their work and no education requited. This is something to remember when securing a partnership with an influencer. I always have a close look at previous posts and content. Is the spelling sloppy? Are there factual errors? Have I had repeated experiences of an influencer being late for an interview or not securing a winner for contests? Most online influencers I have worked with are professional, kind and talented, but it's important to be cautious when working with a new online personality.
Overall, I think that online influencers often produce fantastic content and working with them can help spread awareness, reaching large digital communities. Unlike media, there is no governing body behind these social media "stars" so it's important to do your research and to be cautious when working with new personalities for the first time.
For more information on the online influencer, and a list of some of my favourites, check out my Huffington Post column, The Rise of the Online Influencer.
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