Much Ado About Numbers: The Fulcrum of influencer Engagement in Public Relations

Moruff Adenekan

ED, PR and Communications BHM

 

Public relations practice has undergone major changes in the past 15 years. Even more so in the last five years. Interestingly, most of these changes are tied to the rise of social media networks, a major change in the media landscape and influencer marketing activities as well as a “bandwagon” which picked up steam about the same period and  for a good reason it has come to stay.

 

In 2014, I managed a campaign with some young brilliant chaps while in C&F Porter Novelli. It was a relaunch of a household seasoning cube MAGGI with the objective of changing the perception that the “product is for old women (old mothers and grandmas).” The new flavour introduced by the company according to research and insights gained by the team appealed to the younger generation including young men and women, new wives and students, among others.

 

Getting ‘credible people’ who fit this profile and are willing to speak on behalf of the product in form of a testimony in a ‘believable manner’ to the target group was a big nut for the PR team to crack. We had to do a lot of research to know who the target audiences were, what they did, where they went, who got their attention, and what they consumed. Through our research, we were able to find out that at the time, that a majority of the people, who fell under the target group of the new product, were not the regular newspaper readers. They listened to radio for music and chit-chat by radio presenters but not for news though. They spent most of their spare time on social media, especially Twitter, Facebook and BBM at the time. WhatsApp and Instagram were not BIG in Nigeria in 2014.

 

Whereas, the traditional spaces for PR consultants to pitch content or stories to were the Newspapers, Radios and TV televisions; but these particular consumers were not there at that time. The team simply followed the consumers (the target audience in this case) to where they play and work – the SOCIAL MEDIA and Radio. And there, we got them using Influencers who most of the target group follow and engage with on different social media platforms, radio presenters who they listen to for different reasons and pop-music icons they respect a lot and engage with. It was a time consuming exercise but it was worth it in the end as we hit the gold. We got the message to the target group..

 

Influencers have been a part of the marketing and branding game for decades. In the past, the powerful influencers almost always attained celebrity status in some form — sport stars, models, or well-known actors — however, that is not what we are experiencing in the age of social media. 

 

From a social media influencer standpoint, celebrities may not have as much draw as up-and-coming influencers who consciously build a large following with high engagement ratio in different niches including politics, finance, sports, and entertainment among others. Interestingly, most of these influencers are in their early twenties and with basic understanding of the issues but they engage their followers a whole lot nonetheless.

 

Most of the time brands get befuddled with the number of the followers. They go after the influencers with the largest following, irrespective of who the followers are, Such people are not the real influencers that BRANDS brands should be looking for, but those whose followers fit the target demographic for the brand; people who have the reputation that  these audiences trust; and people whose posts are largely about issues as opposed to brand representation or promotion. 

 

For some, it is more about the number of followers as against how the followers react and engage with the influencer. Most people we call ‘”Influencers’ are actually ‘”publicists’ as they rarely command any influencer or carry out any form of engagement. 

 

The real influencers hardly call themselves influencers or have such tag on their social media bio. They are consistent in putting out information on certain areas of life, are highly opinionated and are the go-to persons on such issues. There are social media tools designed to help you identify them. Brands and PR people must find them to ensure their views align with their agenda.

 

For example, A Nigerian who drinks Star Lager and flaunts it on social media needs little conviction to post a Star Lager related content. He will  feel recognized if the brand seeds a tray and pots of Nkwobi to him on his birthday, He will speak to the values and attributes of the brand well in a believable manner. Compared to a hired and paid influencer who will most likely post competing brands the following week.

 

One major reason for the result we get today is that PR professionals do not (or are not empowered) to invest in research enough or at all. A lot of journalists and supposed “influencers” spoken to recently said PR people pitch irrelevant conversations to them. Journalists say they declined or simply ignored such pitches. Influencers say they just post it, collect their money and move on to delete the post after a while. Where is the value in this? 

 

Here are a few  steps we take at BHM for effective Influencer campaign activities:

 

The brands we manage like most clients want their message to be where their target audiences are. This demands that we identify the key attributes of the ideal target audience (i.e. their demographics, location, interests, challenges, media consumption pattern etc.) to determine which media platforms they play on and influencers among the type of audience we want. 

 

For clinical targeting, we seek to know what time is best for a particular Influencer to post a content, on what platform, in what format of content (video, text or infographic) for brand/initiative. For some, their audience are most active between 6am and 9am for video content only. If you “force” them to post at any other time or a content different from what is needed/consumed by the target group you won’t get the desired result.

 

We also place a lot of value on peer to peer recommendation. It is more valuable than advertising because it deploys word-of-mouth in the dissemination of information. Since influencer marketing shares this attribute with peer-to-peer marketing, it is a very valuable route to take.

 

Another key success factor is going for people (influencers) who enjoy the trust of their followers. It is always easy for these figures to engage their followers in a way that will make them act in the way that our  brands want. A person (be it a BIG pop-star or movie actor or a celebrity) without TRUST will ruin your campaign no matter the number of his/her followers. Again, a trusted key figure with a highly engaged, concentrated audience speaking for your brand in their own voice and words is a huge asset. Go for them!

 

Furthermore we look beyond the big-name celebrities as some of their followers may not quite be loyal to them. It is not about numbers. Interestingly, some of the most influential figures in many believable situations don’t necessarily have millions of social media followers but a tight-knit, loyal community hinged on the trust and authority built over time. That’s what is needed, that’s what works. 

 

PR Professionals also need to look out for popular journalists, bloggers, entrepreneurs, community leaders, and educators with engaged followings that match our ideal audience. To do this, we need to build an enduring partnership with these people across platforms to ensure a more rewarding relationship. This is because collaborations achieve more for the brands than those relationships that are based on transactions.

 

Another interesting issue to address is the issue of measuring campaign by number of posts and position on the trends table. In my opinion, this kind of measurement is not different from the AVE some PR firm still use to measure campaign success. How about placing quality of engagement over quantity. A good campaign should impact on the brand bottomline or change in behaviour rather than just numbers. 

 

It is important to have a checklist before adding any influencer or platform to your campaign. These checklist must align with the demographics and psychographics of your target audience. Here are some examples: 

  1. Do they see a lot of engagement for your messages?
  2. Do they post any third party or promotional content?
  3. Do they post content similar to what you’re about to pitch?
  4. Do they demonstrate similar values as your brand?
  5. Look beyond the big-name celebrities. Journalists and Columnists are great assets.   

 

We must avoid a pattern in the traditional PR practice where PR people got a bad reputation with the media stakeholders. Journalists are often seen as spin doctors whose inboxes are flooded with irrelevant press releases and overly promotional content that’s of little value to anyone forgetting that these Journalists are space and time starved. But they get published for several reasons chief among which is the influence of money. The same principle of pitching a story to a journalist, columnists or media platforms is expected to apply in influencer engagement. 

 

In conclusion, it is worthy to note that, since it is the target audience is required to take the specific actions that will achieve the objectives of the campaign, any campaign activity that is not targeted at getting the message across to them is unnecessary and a waste of time and resources. 

 

The success of any PR campaign depends on getting the right message to the target audience at the right time so all efforts should be focused on the target audience. As such, failing to prove your value falls hand in hand with proving your relevancy. Remember, your brand can produce some of the most innovative, cutting edge content, but it means absolutely nothing if  this content doesn’t make its way to the right audience. So you need to nurture these delicate relationships around your brand to help your brand earn the coverage it deserves.

 

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