Identifying the Influencers

Written by J.Brooks Christol 

Public Relations is the strategic process of proactively and reactively teaching a target audience about a brand via the influencers in the audience’s lives, therefore instilling a carefully-crafted brand identity as truth. PR used to be, by and large, Media Relations – that is, getting your brand message into the hands of the most influential people in the world: journalists. Everything up to the colon remains the same. Who represents “influential people” has changed dramatically.


We talked in the last post about influencers being a unique audience for public relations strategy. This is not to say that advertising can’t be influential, or that PR doesn’t work direct-to-consumer. But the primary audience of any PR campaign really should be the people who influence your customers. Journalists used to be the de facto influencers, and if you had a budget, celebrity endorsements worked, too.


Who influences you? Is it the journalist? Just like print newspapers everywhere, our local MSA newspaper is struggling to keep subscription numbers up. The 6 o’clock news is STILL a trusted source for information, but look at the quantity of content generated by faceless newsroom staff on any TV station’s web site vs. what the influencer reports on-air. These are all still qualified authorities, but their role is diminished. Today we get most of our information from the web. We’re just as likely to read Huffington Post as we are the local CBS affiliate.


What the web has done, more than fragmenting where we get our information, is also fragmenting where we get our opinions. We buy opinions off the shelf like laundry detergent. I purposely didn’t say “news”, but replaced it with “information.”


If someone has a study about this, I’d like to see it. I’m curious as to what resources do we utilize to LEARN new things. Back in my day (and I’m a mere 35), once we left school, we learned by reading the newspaper, the occasional non-fiction book, or a pamphlet. Today we learn more by reading the comments section of an online article than we do in the article itself. And what is the quality of that knowledge?


So, if reporters are a dying breed of influencers, to whom do we target? Well, let me defend myself against myself. They aren’t a dying breed. Reporters and journalists are resourceful. Out of necessity they have diversified their reach into the world as Tweeters, Bloggers, Facebook personalities, etc. There will always be a market for authoritative influencers. Today, in PR, we have to control the conversation in a much deeper way. We do this by identifying the influencers of our audience…and often times it comes down to…wait for it…the audience themselves. We’re talking about peers.


PR is no longer a game of kowtowing to reporters. It’s now a game of building relationships directly with the audience’s peer networks through conversation; a dialogue. Most of that happens on the web, of course, but it can also happen offline.


Need examples of where this conversation takes place? Here is a short list of places we think about PR on the web: Facebook, Twitter, all the other social platforms, news web sites, comment sections of new web sites, pseudo-news web sites, comment sections of pseudo-news web sites, bloggers, comment sections of blogger sites, chat rooms, fan clubs, hate clubs, mailing lists.


Who influences us constantly changes. Sometimes it’s the media. Sometimes we dismiss 100% of media claims because of…well, how we feel at that moment. Sometimes we are influenced by celebrities. Not as much as we used to, but endorsements are still a lucrative piece of a celebrity’s career. Politicians? Believe it or not, they used to be respected and revered. Journalists? Yup, still influential. Celebrity Journalists: I bet you didn’t even know there was a sub-category for folks like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert or the cast of The View (du jour). Your wife’s best friend Amy. Your wife. That “friend” on Facebook that you’ve never met.


In PR we can no longer control the conversation. The influencers are too many and the channels are too fragmented. But we can monitor, interact and guide the conversation. We can foster positive response and influence emerging influencers. And as part of an integrated marketing strategy, we can generate that ever-elusive and fleeting goal of every Flack….BUZZ. The next post will be a little less intense, I promise. We’ll dive into Earned Media vs. Paid Media and the 49.5 Shades of Gray in between.