Harnessing influencers, the right way

Felicity PR's Amy Laski on what bloggers and YouTubers expect from their brand partners.


By Amy Laski

As marketers in today’s fragmented — yet converging — media landscape, we are faced with a conundrum: while social media makes it easier to reach target audiences, it’s getting more challenging to engage and influence them. Consider the fact that 74% of consumers rely on social networks to guide purchase decisions, and yet, according to a recent study, only 19% of Canadian women report having had a meaningful interaction with a brand on social media.

In an increasingly virtual world of interactions, how can brands go beyond traffic to gain traction? Marketers and media agree that “authenticity” is an essential part of the mix. But authenticity is a two-way street, something that is inextricably linked to reciprocity. Brands can no longer expect media, stakeholders and influencers to get on board without offering them something in return.

To find out what brands are doing right, what brands are doing wrong, and what they wish brands would do to engage with them, we went straight to the source: journalists, bloggers, YouTubers and other highly-sought after experts in their fields. Here’s what they had to say.

Get to know me, then engage me

According to leading nutrition expert and communications consultant Sue Mah, the most successful brands enable her to do her job better. One brand in particular engages dietitians in the development of its materials, whether created for other health professionals or the end consumer. If members of the intended audience are involved in the development process, they can help a brand course-correct if they are about to tread into dangerous territory, such as being overly-branded or lacking scientific back-up. “Get to know me before you connect with me,” Mah says. “Then engage me, involve me and invite me to an exclusive event. Tell me what’s new, how you can help me and how I can help you.” Furthermore, since Mah is often called on to comment on breaking news, by giving her a heads up on any newsworthy issues before they break, she is in a position speak in an informed manner about the science impacting a brand or category.

The value is in the relationship

Erica Ehm, founder and creative director of YMCWorks.com and publisher of YummyMummyClub.ca, says that “earned media” doesn’t really exist in the blogosphere. And while bloggers want brands to realize the value of their time to attend an event or write about a product, the trend is moving away from this being a pure “pay to play” transaction (i.e. $100 for one blog post). Overwhelmingly, bloggers are eager to establish longer-term relationships with brands, where they have more discretion over if, when, and how they share content integrating that brand. This is where authenticity really comes into play, giving bloggers the opportunity to support and promote brands that they understand and believe in.

YouTube vs. Boobtube

YouTuber Rachel David echoes Ehm’s emphasis on relationships. She cites Telus and NYX Cosmetics as brands that come to the influencer with ideas and empower them to put their own take on it. NYX goes so far as to feature YouTubers and Instagrammers as their models. “Brands also have to put trust in the creator. It isn’t easy being a YouTuber, actually quite the opposite,” says David. “If a YouTuber has been able to carve out a loyal fan base then the brand needs to surrender a big portion of creative control and trust that the creator knows how to communicate effectively with them.”

David also suggests that while brand plans may be developed months or even years in advance, “YouTubers operate in the present.” Content that is timely and relevant makes YouTube effective, and maximizes its viewership and viral potential.

Measuring influence

One thing that has remained constant as the media landscape has evolved is the question of measurement. How does a marketer know if their efforts are literally paying off?

The answer hasn’t changed either. Brands, and the agencies with whom they partner, should begin by looking at bottom line business goals and then use those to orient communications goals and strategies. As a business school graduate working in the PR world, I’ve often been surprised when my agency colleagues or big brand clients begin a partnership by asking the question: “How many media impressions are we looking to get?” or “How many ‘fans’ or ‘likes’ do we want?”  I believe these are the wrong questions to ask. Media partnerships will only work if you know what you’re looking to achieve from a business perspective.

This sentiment is echoed by influencers. According to David, looking only at numbers is not effective, since followers can be “bought.” Instead, the focus should be quality vs. quantity: fit with your brand, engagement levels and the composition of the influencer’s viewership or readership.

As marketers and influencers navigate this new ecosystem, it’s evident that there’s room for everyone not only to co-exist, but to collaborate. This may not be easy for marketers who have come to rely on predictability and total control over their messaging, but the trade-off will pay off for those willing to put the right pieces in place to develop an integrated narrative strategy, from both the inside out, and the outside in.

AmyAmy Laski is president of Felicity, a virtual integrated communications agency.