Why are we so obsessed with what experts think? Right now, we’re in the heart of NCAA March Madness. Yet leading up to Selection Sunday, college basketball fans everywhere were hanging on the words of bracketologists opining on each school’s chances of getting selected for the tournament. The reality is thought leaders and industry gurus shape opinion and influence others. For brands, expanding reach to consumers even policy makers involves leveraging the power of influencers by transitioning them into advocates and brand loyalists who convey your message. As we become more accustomed to a world where social media gives voice to influencers to drive change, influencer relations is no longer about making friends—it is a key component of a larger strategic plan.
In Part 1 of this series I shared an approach that we are exploring at Adobe for transitioning influencers into advocates that involves three main phases: identification, management, and measurement. The core thinking behind this framework involves identifying the influencers we need to engage, managing and tracking those relationships, and then measuring our share of the conversation and overall success working with them.
Last week we looked at options for how to identify and target the most influential people who are talking about your brand or key industry topics relevant to your brand. In today’s post, we’ll explore the next step: How do you manage and track both online and offline interactions with your target group of influencers? I’ll be honest, I think this is a challenge industry wide. And while tools to identify influencers may be readily available, I’ve found it much harder to find out-of-the box solutions that are built for managing influencer programs.
Why Do We Need to Manage Interaction?
Organizations experimenting with influencer relations are most likely reaching out to influencers from multiple directions. Yet different touch points are not always centralized, the effort is difficult to scale, and of course there are very real problems with measuring engagement activity. But if every part of your business is trying to engage with select influencers, how are you keeping track? If you are, are interactions transparent across your organization to ensure a coordinated approach? A centralized database gives you a unified voice, helps scale your efforts, and keeps everyone informed and aware of engagement that’s happening in other parts of the organization.
A New Approach: Forging Relationships
Too often, teams looking to engage with influencers do so hoping to have a one-off interaction for the purpose of garnering coverage by the influencer during a launch or campaign. Unfortunately, this type of thinking overlooks opportunities for building ongoing relationships. In many ways, it’s an old school approach and isn’t representative of the new transparent organization looking to forge long-term relationships. Figuring out the management and tracking of influencer interactions should be a priority for brands. If it isn’t, it may be time to reconsider objectives to focus more on forging long-term, meaningful relationships.
Influencer Management: The Process
Managing engagement with thought leaders isn’t complicated, but to be effective, the effort has to be consistent, reliable, and scalable. In Part 1, we talked about the importance of narrowing your list of targeted influencers to a manageable number. Managing and tracking interaction can get out of hand quickly with too many prospects.
Determine Functional Ownership. Once you’ve identified your influencers, you need to determine who in your organization owns the relationship. More importantly, who owns the online influencer? Generally there are set swim lanes when it comes to various outlets. For example, traditional news outlets are owned by public relations. Likewise, industry analysts are owned by analyst relations. But for the newer breed of influencers—those who’ve built their identity online—who should claim ownership?
Identifying ownership lets you assign responsibility across platforms, whether it’s email, voice, or social media. Remember, the goal is to move influencers progressively through awareness, credibility, emotional connection, loyalty, and advocacy. While consistency in ownership helps, don’t confuse it with the responsibility to engage influencers. The social media or PR team may lay claim to owning the relationship, but you still need to involve key subject matter experts within the company that are relevant to the influencer.
Activate Key Employees. Set in motion and activate employees with a strong orientation toward social media as experts to engage influencers in conversation. Connecting is one thing, but building meaningful relationships with influencers is quite another. By sharing relevant content, insight, and more, employees can start to build dialogue, earning credibility and trust.
One Solution for Managing Influencers
There are countless ways to coordinate management, but here are the components of what I consider to be a good solution for managing and tracking influencer engagement:
- Record management: centralized contact base, individual influencer profiles, groups based on business needs, permission-based access
- Workflow rules and management: assign tasks, alerts, rules-based notifications
- Collaboration: cloud access, multiple language support, easy to use UI, mobile interface
- Reporting: lead gen reporting, share of voice reporting, ad-hoc reporting
A system like this could be built on something as simple as Excel or a QuickBase or as complex as your company’s CRM database. I am intrigued by how easily PR groups track relationships with journalists using tools like Vocus or how AR teams track relationships with analysts using tools like ARchitect. These kinds of relationship management tools can be useful for your influencer management efforts too.
Management is the second step in our campaign to transition influencers into advocates. In the final part of this series, we’ll look at measurement of influencers along with a few suggestions for tracking engagement over time and the progress of influencers as they move down the path toward advocacy.
Influencer relations programs are relatively new, and brands are still experimenting with how best to identify influencers, track engagement, and measure success. To me, the management phase is a critical part of creating a unified voice and ensuring a coordinated approach. How is your organization managing your online influencer programs?