Influencers have changed the face of PR campaigns over the past few years. Where once brands looked to celebrities to promote their products in traditional campaigns,influencers now speak directly to audiences that feel a deep connection with them,having followed their rise on social media.
From millennial YouTube stars to social-media-savvy political researchers,influencers offer brands unparalleled channel reach and audience engagement. According to a 2016 survey by EConsultancy, 43 per cent of companies claim social-media stars are more relevant to their advertising strategies,followed by singers (38 per cent), models (28 per cent),TV actors (25 per cent),and sports personalities (22 per cent). They have engaged followings, developed organically – offering the ‘authenticity’ that brands crave.
The influencer environment has changed,too. Members of the first generation of YouTube leading lights now have their own product lines and book deals; they increasingly resemble the conventional celebrities they initially appeared as an alternative to. Brands are turning more to ‘micro-influencers’ – who have a relatively small number of highly engaged followers – to target niche audiences. According to a survey by Markerly, ‘like’ rates on Instagram posts drop off from 2.4 per cent for influencers with 10,000 to 100,000 followers to 1.7 per cent for those with one million to 10 million followers,pointing to a ‘sweet spot’ for engagement in the 10,000 to 100,000-follower range.
Brands looking for a way to circumvent ad-blocking have turned to the more collaborative approach offered by influencers. While it’s fairly easy to block posts with #spon or #ad hashtags, higher levels of engagement mean brands can form fruitful partnerships with influencers. Lubomira Rochet, chief digital officer at L’Ore´al,which works with French YouTuber and make-up reviewer EnjoyPhoenix, among others, told the Financial Times last June: "We need to reinvent the experience and we need to make it less interruptive, more immersive, more rewarding, more personalised."
The challenge for brands is how to discover, track and partner the wealth of influencer talent out there – it’s a shifting landscape, with new faces constantly emerging. Brands have traditionally tended to outsource media relations to agencies, and so they have naturally picked up the baton for influencer marketing; more than 85 per cent of agencies now offer ‘influencer outreach’, according to the PRCA.
Specialist influencer and digital comms agencies have also sprung up to meet the growing need; even niche areas such as public affairs now have dedicated agencies focused on building relationships with political players. Agencies’ combination of a more nimble approach, breadth of expertise and ability to maintain relationships with a wide variety of influencers whose skills can be brought to bear on specific projects makes them a natural fit for influencer-led campaigns.
In-house teams are immersed in their brand values and know how to present their message authentically
However,brands need not focus all their attention on agencies when planning an influencer strategy; there are advantages to using in-house teams,too. In-house teams have a deep understanding of the brand that agencies simply don’t have time to develop. They’re immersed in their brand values, and know instinctively what those values are and how to present their message authentically. Their immersion in the brand’s values and culture also equips them to spot emerging influencer talent and build relationships with those individuals early on,when they’re in that crucial sweet spot of reach and engagement.
These long-term relationships can help brands deliver more authentic messaging through trusted influencers’ channels as they grow organically. Crucially,in-house teams also know what success looks like for their brand; they won’t be wowed by vanity metrics about reach or follower counts that don’t speak to the engagement that influencers have with their audience; they know to look for KPIs relating to the way in which influencers affect consumer buying behaviours, advocacy and loyalty.
The challenge for in-house teams lies in the effort it takes to build and maintain networks of influencers – something that agencies can dedicate resources to through a focus on influencer marketing.
However, tools have emerged that enable in-house teams to curate and build relationships with networks of influencers much more easily. For example, the Vuelio media database not only equips PRs with accurate, real-time media lists that help brands target contacts based on sector, interests, location and coverage topics; brands can also identify and track social influencers through the UK’s biggest network of bloggers and digital influencers.
Crucially,brands can build consistent,lasting relationships with influencers,too. Vuelio can automatically record every engagement and interaction,and ensure the lines taken are consistent at even the largest, most unwieldy organisations.
Armed with these new tools, brands can bring influencers in-house – and present their message and values more effectively to engaged audiences.