Peter Granat, Cision; Influencers play a vital role

PR workflow software is now arguably the most important tool in the PR agency's armoury.

Influencers are all around us, but identifying the ones that are relevant for our clients and brands is often a challenge. Once you've identified those influencers, you need to ensure that engagement with them is linked to business objectives.

In the social media era the word 'influencer' is fast overtaking 'journalist', 'analyst' or any other ringfenced descriptive term that we were once comfortable with. Influencers are everywhere and they're not simply confined to journalists - now we have bloggers, tweeters, podcasters; a constantly changing variety of people to whom PR professionals need to reach out. But finding the right influencers on the right channels that make an impact for our clients' brands can seem like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Luckily, with the right technology we can identify the influencers we need and even track that engagement through to see how digital outreach matches our true business objectives.

The first question to answer is what makes someone 'influential' in the first place? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, influence is 'the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself', while marketing thinker Brian Solis reminds us that 'influence is not popularity'.

So, for example, a lot of Twitter followers do not necessarily equal 'influencer'. HP ran a study this year that found a large majority of Twitter users act as passive information consumers and rarely retweet content back into the Twittersphere. 'To become influential, users must not only catch the attention of their followers, they must also overcome their followers' predisposition to remain passive,' said HP.

There are a number of factors that makes an 'influencer' and viewpoints differ on which are most important. For example, our CisionInfluence Index treats individuals as 'nodes' in a network, connected to each other by numerous channels. Analysing various metrics specific to these channels - frequency of blog posts, inbound links, comments, unique commenters, views, votes, Twitter followers, retweet frequency, Facebook fans and other metrics - allows us to measure the strength of the node in terms of the individual's potential to make content visible to others.

Further analysis of the nature of the content shared within different parts of the network means we can assign a 'digital influence score' to individuals for particular topics.

It is important to remember that those influencers change regularly: journalists change titles or specialism, bloggers get offered roles and move on, and PROs need to keep on top of these moving targets throughout their 'influencer lifecycle' to stay competitive.

This is why PR workflow software is arguably the most important tool in the PR agency's armoury. A decade ago, PR companies may have got away with using press lists on Excel spreadsheets containing journalists' email addresses and phone numbers. Now, those spreadsheets are obsolete almost as soon as they have been updated. Constantly updated software-as-a-service has filled this gap.

Once you've identified the right influencers, the process of sending them the right content is back in the domain of the PRO. Post-engagement, however, it's essential to monitor outputs - did the influencer blog/tweet about your client's brand? How many people did it potentially reach? What was the sentiment of what was written about the business? The traditional 'coverage report' for clients should now include a whole array of social media metrics. CisionPoint, our on-demand PR software platform, fulfills this need.

Reaching the right people need not be tough and we can get a better sight of the true value of PR. Now that's influence.

Views in brief

What's the best brand PR campaign you've seen on Facebook?

They're few and far between - I'm still not convinced people want commerce with their communications. I like Burger King's Whopper Sacrifice campaign, it's against the Facebook grain. Also Kellogg's Pop Tarts - everybody loves that one.

What's the key to managing a brand's Twitter feed?

As with any comms activity, the key is having clear communications objectives that are firmly rooted in overall business objectives. Then keeping on top of everyone tweeting in your name and about you.

Peter Granat is CEO, Europe, Cision.

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