Influencer marketing is the process of identifying, researching and engaging the people who create the online conversations that impact your brand, programs and products. In CSR, it’s important to engage with these stakeholders because they can be instrumental in spreading a message, garnering support and changing behaviors. While every influencer marketing project is unique, this step-by-step advice will help you scale the power and reach of your online communications and social media activities.
Note: This article first appeared in PR News’ Corporate Social Responsibility & Green PR Guidebook, Vol. 6.
Influencers enhance the communications work you do on the social Web because they have a disproportionate impact on your ability to reach a larger audience and make a memorable impression. Working with influencers is not a new practice. But today, it’s much easier for an individual to build authority as an influencer and much more difficult for a communicator to find everyone who is relevant to their causes.
Influencer marketing has evolved over the last year as a new way to create measurable impact through social media marketing. When social media was first emerging, brands felt they had to count every mention and monitor constant streams to be sure they never missed a post.
The truth is not everybody is an active member of the community you want to build or be a part of. Influencers allow you to filter through the ocean of online content to get to the people who matter most to your initiatives. By focusing on what your specific influencers are saying, you can make a more meaningful impact.
In addition to letting you spend your time where it has the most impact, influencers are your amplifiers. They have an audience that trusts them enough to share their opinion with their own followings. Trust is very important. By working with influencers and gaining their trust, you gain the trust of their audience as well.
CSR is an inherently human-focused initiative dealing with highly engaged subjects. These social topics lend themselves to strong communities, which are as active online as they are in the physical world. It requires you to work with passionate communities, generate stakeholder support and often manage contentious issues. Online influencers are your essential partners and must be integrated into your communications plans.
The social Web is far and away the most effective platform for amplifying passion-fueled topics. Success in online communications is not determined by advertising spending or sales figures, but by the number of impassioned advocates and supporters who spread your message with a relevant audience. That kind of “earned” support is effectively built by identifying and engaging online influencers.
Many CSR initiatives seek to add value by changing behaviors, such as promoting healthy eating or encouraging young women to explore IT careers. To be successful, you’ll need the support and buy- in of wider stakeholders working toward the same goals. Together, you can build a larger podium and send a more authentic message.
Whenever you are dealing with passionate issues and changing behaviors you’ll have to be prepared to handle opposing viewpoints, criticism and challenges. Especially online, where information travels quickly, it’s key to have communications crisis plans in place. Influencers can be effective partners when managing these challenging situations.
Remember, influencers who don’t agree with your organization are incredibly valuable for understanding and gaining insights about the topics that matter most to you. When working with influencers, don’t limit yourself to those who are already on your side. Explore opposing viewpoints and don’t be afraid to engage with them. You’d be surprised how powerful a healthy debate can be for owning the stage, winning hearts and learning more about your opposition.
There are five steps to creating and running an influencer marketing campaign:
You can approach influencer marketing as a five-step process, or you can jump to the steps that make sense for where you are in your planning or execution process.
To find relevant influencers, start by describing the types of conversations and topics that matter to your work. Think about how your target audience discusses topics, causes and issues. A good place to start is your stakeholder personas. Draft groups of keywords that describe these people, their activities and areas of interest that makes them tick.
Concrete Example:If you are launching a campaign to spread the word about an education initiative your company supports, you can find influencers who talk about innovation in K-12 education. However, you could also define a category around parents who blog about new education programs. For any campaign you run, you may have any number of groups. One to five conversations is a good place to start.
Once you have mapped out the types of conversations you are interested in, you need to find the people who are most influential on those topics. Influencers are found across many different publishing platforms, so you’ll want to search on social networks, blogs and other sites to find relevant people for your campaigns. Influencer identification tools let you find influencers quickly without having to manually search the Web for the right people.
When you know who your influencers are, you can learn a lot about the content, people and communities that are important to your CSR programs. Influencers typically publish on a regular basis, so they are good people to follow to anticipate trends. By following content from your influencers, you can better curate news for your own groups, produce timely and relevant pieces, interview interesting people and do research for your messaging strategies and program development.
There are countless ways to engage with your online influencers. A few examples: Do basic briefings on your CSR initiatives; create advanced influencer programs that support your stakeholder consultation processes; or get creative by finding ways to have your influencers contribute to your programs. The more you involve your influencers, the more likely they are to share your story with their audience.
Sample Engagement Ideas:On a daily basis, you can be a part of the online conversations on relevant topics by exchanging tweets, commenting on blogs posts and sharing your own ￼￼￼￼content with influencers. Some companies will pair executives or other subject matter experts with specific influencers and help them build relationships with these people.
One of the most strategic reasons to create an influencer program is to stay on top of what the thought leaders in your field are saying and sharing in your space. The Web is a noisy place with a lot of competing voices. Using influencers as your filter, you can hone in on the most important mentions and seize opportunities to engage with people who have a tremendous impact on your ability to better share your news with the right audiences.
Monitoring Tips:You can monitor your influencers’ content for mentions of your company name, competitors and keywords that indicate potential crises. Pay close attention to your influencers’ content to figure out what types of messages resonate with your audience or determine what types of questions you can answer via your owned media programs.
Influencer marketing can help you reach your goals in many situations. Let’s take a look at five common CSR communications objectives and how influencer strategy can be used to reach your goals.
Influencers are ideal partners for launching a program and driving traffic where you want it to go (website, event, etc.). By identifying people who are likely to share and get involved in the causes you promote, you can reach a much larger audience than if you relied solely on your owned channels.
You can gain more exposure for your work by briefing influencers on your objectives, progress and initiatives. Since influencers produce a lot of content and you can support their work by supplying stories, facts and other interesting pieces.
As you create new programs and expand existing CSR initiatives, you may want to collaborate with stakeholders or incorporate input from potential partners. Online influencers are an excellent way to identify new groups that can help you achieve your mission and get buy-in from the right people.
No matter your specific cause, CSR often sparks intense debates and attracts incredibly passionate voices that can result in critical or unwanted attention. Influencer marketing is an opportunity to engage with detractors and create solid relationships with people who can help reduce the impact of a communications crisis.
Influencers are a proxy to the larger Web and may even be a means to predict future trends. By following influencer content, you can stay on top of trends, anticipate opportunities to get your message out and create timely content for your own channels that resonates with your communities and stakeholders.
Ramping up an influencer marketing program doesn’t have to be long process. While there is a use case for influencers at every level and every stage of CSR PR, it’s a good idea to start small and complete one project before launching into more complex strategies.
To get started, there are a number of use cases that lend themselves well to influencer marketing. Choose one place to experiment with influencer identification and engagement and measure the results. It could be directing more traffic to an informational website, driving more registrations for an event or receiving more donations during a fundraiser.
Whether it’s to gain insight, amplify your voice, become a leader yourself or ensure you follow sensitive conversations very closely, working with influencers means you’re creating new opportunities for your organization and scaling your communications impact.