Just what is influencer marketing? PRs probably get tired of hearing just how much their industry has changed in the past five years, let alone 10. It is true that PRs must continuously educate themselves on the new techniques that have sprung up, by and large because of changes in technology and how the Internet is being used — both from a consumer and a brand standpoint.
These changes have particularly taken hold in the blogoshpere, where it’s now not enough just to put out content; the real skill is in how to monetize it, expand its reach, and promote it to the right audiences and influencers.
Rachel Honoway knows a thing or two about influencer marketing. As the CEO of Fresh Press Media — "a marketplace fostering transparent and longstanding relationships between influencers and advertisers" — she has taken the guesswork out of this burgeoning new industry: influencers, meet advertisers. Advertisers, meet influencers.
Here, Rachel shares her knowledge of influencer marketing and what PRs need to know about this new discipline. As she says, “PRs sit right in the middle of this new marketplace."
Q. Just what is influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing encompasses everything from a friend telling you about the amazing restaurant where she had dinner last night, to the article you just read listing the three mobile "must have" apps for PR professionals. Consumer buying decisions are influenced by the conversations they have, their social networking interactions, the blogs they read, the reviews they scan, and all the interactions they have online and off. Though advertising, direct marketing, digital marketing, and traditional PR also play a part, the word of an influencer is rated higher in a buyer's decision than the carefully crafted messaging of a brand or PR agency.
Influencer marketing is all about identifying the individuals who have the most influence and then motivating them to talk about a product, a brand, or a concept. The most common form of influencer marketing is the sponsored post, in which a brand pays a blogger a flat fee to write a post mentioning their product. Many build on the experience by sending the blogger an actual product to review, or by asking the blogger to also (or alternatively) share the information on social media channels.
Q. Why should PRs care about influencer marketing and what do they need to know?
With their relentless focus on tracking ROI down to the slightest movement of the mouse and the sliver of a penny, digital marketers have been able to attract growing portions of marketing budgets over the last decade.
All of that tracking and analysis has led them to the same truth that PR professionals have always understood: what’s being said about a product, a brand, or a company in the "real world" is far more impactful than any conversion strategy marketers might employ.
The ability to manage, direct, and even create those conversations is a power that lies in the hands of PR professionals. That’s their skill set, the art they’ve been collectively honing for hundreds of years. As luck would have it, PRs speak the same language as bloggers and other top influencers: both operate in a stats-based environment, love concepts, employ conversation, and know how to communicate.
PR professionals are a company’s or an agency’s best asset in attracting, engaging, and motivating influencers.
Q. We always worry about operating out of silos. Where does influencer marketing fit into the integrated agency model?
I can’t, in good conscience, promise that influencer marketing has the power to unite all the disjointed arms of marketing. I think it can, however, serve as a great starting point, with PR professionals perfectly positioned to lead the effort using influencer marketing as a tool.
Since PRs sit at the top of the funnel, every other marketing strategy is in some way affected by the work they do. They should talk to the ad guys, the SEOs, the PPC people, the DM staff, and the rest of the acronym-ridden marketing team; asking what kind of educational and buzz-worthy information can be spread using bloggers and social media marketers. They’ll see better-informed and even more enthusiastic prospects trickle through the PR stage of the funnel, meaning better results for their strategies. I think that’s a pretty strong argument to get the whole marketing team out of silos and working as one unit.
Q. Just how do you measure the success of an influencer marketing campaign?
Influencer marketing sits on the same foundation as PR. It’s the art of managing communications in, out, and most importantly ABOUT a brand in the marketplace. Just like PR, influencer marketing is measured in reach and engagement. How many people viewed a post, commented on it, shared it with friends? How many tweets were generated and retweeted? Which media outlets picked up on the trend and reported it?
Like PR, influencer marketing strategies have a long shelf life. Compared with an email about a sale, for example, which generates highly trackable transactions the day of the sale and for a few days beyond, an influencer campaign with blog posts can impact upon publication, and then posts are shared, commented on, and discovered continuously through searches and a re-energized focus on topics.
Q. Where do you see influencer marketing going in the next five years?
According to a recent Huff Post article, influencer marketing will be responsible for $100 million in holiday sales in 2016.
Even with predictions like that, influencer marketing is just now starting to catch the attention of marketing professionals. Just as social media has grown drastically over the past few years, influencer marketing is going to be a strategy that everyone wishes they had jumped on sooner. There’s no time like the present to get on board.
Rachel is long-time advertising technology executive who is passionate about cross-channel marketing and developing elegant, simple technology solutions that allow all types of marketing professionals to practice their art. She is CEO of Fresh Press Media, a wholly owned subsidiary of FMTC, LLC, which has been providing enterprise-level solutions to publishers since 2007.
Jeannine Wheeler is a PR Director who has worked in three countries, including Russia, the US and the UK. She is currently Sr. Vice President of Pure Energy PR, a full-service boutique communications firm with a focus on the energy, healthcare, technology, construction, real estate & land development, tourism & hospitality and food & beverage industries. Jeannine is in the firm's Austin, Texas office.