A difficulty in technology markets is that many of the most powerful conversations are not taking place on public social media channels. The most influential dialogue may be between small groups of highly-specialized experts and the fans who follow them.
These influential conversations may be taking place in closed forums and discussion groups. They are influencing a very small, very technical audience and that may be hard to measure.
These are micro-influencers. They may have smaller audiences, but they are deeply immersed in their topic. They are the few that generate most of the conversations that will impact your brand.
Why influencers are important
Influencers can help shape a content strategy by showing what is interesting and engaging to your target audience, as well as helping to identify gaps.
Influencers can be considered content curators, and help to identify:
- Important articles
- Hot topics
- What’s next
Many studies have shown that user-generated content from passionate experts is rated as the most trustworthy content on the media landscape, even above traditional news and industry channels.
The authentic word of a trusted influencer is almost always going to win out over a brand’s own corporate messaging in the eyes of customers.
Influencer identification: Methodology
We have sophisticated tools at our disposal today, from those that give us a broad overview of the key players in your target topic to those that we use for a targeted approach: the latter yielding better results within niche markets.
In order to identify key micro-influencers we use this process:
- Research the topic and build a keyword map of sub-topics.
- Use the keyword map to create a Boolean search*. This increases the relevance of search results and enables segmentation of influencers.
- Identify influencer identification platforms for each specified channel.
- Run the analysis using a social listening platform.
- Refine the results by tightening the scope of the Boolean search. The keyword map and Boolean search is an iterative process, where we expand the searched terms (through synonyms and related variants) to ensure we are able to capture relevant data, and then use qualifying keywords and “stop words” to reduce noise from unrelated results.
- Conduct desk-based research. Technical forums and communities have influential subject matter experts that may not have a presence on mainstream social media networks. Similarly, influencers contribute to sources that can’t be picked up by a Boolean search e.g. trade magazines, gated whitepapers and reports
- Evaluate the results to identify the top influencers in each channel
*Boolean search is a type of search allowing users to combine keywords with operators (or modifiers) such as AND, NOT and OR to further produce more relevant results. For example, a Boolean search could be “hotel” AND “New York”. This would limit the search results to only those documents containing the two keywords.
The initial audit will identify top-ranking influencers for your “pillar” keyword topics using quantitative analysis based on follower network size, relevancy of posts, and post engagement.
We then undertake a qualitative analysis – manually validating each influencer in terms of relevance to our client, and to ascertain how a relationship may be forged and leveraged to provide business benefit to them.
Once validated, we then enrich the data we have for these tier one influencers and migrate them into a social CRM for managing the influencer relationship program.
Influencer validation and data enrichment
Editors and journalists
The quality of influencers is determined through a combination of experience – Publitek already works with a large number of trade and business publications – and manual validation, whereby we assess any influencers that we are not immediately familiar with.
This influencer list can be directly imported into a social CRM and supplemented with notes and tags.
Analysts, academics, bloggers and social media users
Where we have a smaller dataset, we run a manual validation on each influencer to ascertain their relevance and suitability for an influencer relations program. This is done by assessing influencers, either by:
- Visiting their social media profile and reviewing their post history,
- Assessing their comments and posts in forums, or
- Assessing their contributions to trade media magazines, white papers or reports.
Once validated, and before we add them to the CRM, we enrich the data with enough information that enables each contact to become “unique” in the database.
Once the data has been enriched, we tag each contact with the “pillar” keyword, as well as any other notes regarding outreach opportunities.
How do we rank influencers?
We rank influencers by three metrics:
A measure of total audience size within the context of their field. Things like blog visitors, Twitter followers, YouTube subscribers, etc.
A measure of how much activity someone creates when they publish and the level of interaction with this person’s content. Things like Twitter Retweets, linkbacks, comments etc. are factors of someone’s resonance.
This is the most important factor, the measure of how relevant someone is to a topic and how much they talk about it. Relevance is a factor of how often someone uses the keywords that drove the search; the timing of the keyword usage (more recent posts are weighted more heavily); the diversity of the keywords used by an influencer; and the placement of keywords (title vs. body).
How many influencers to connect with?
Nicole Smith of Intel is quoted as saying “engaging with a set of 10 to 15 people over the course of the year is a good number to build strong relationships. If you’re spread too thin, you’re unable to provide people with a valuable experience and they’re not getting a full look at what your company is doing.”
This is a good number for a company the size of Intel, but for smaller companies, the target number should be lower, and engaging with just 5 influencers can generate good results.
How do we engage with influencers?
A starting point is to treat influencers as you do the press, inviting them to the same events, giving them the same embargoed material, etc. Genuine influencers deserve the utmost respect and treating them like this will nurture a long-term relationship.
Long-term relationships should be the goal from the very first conversation. It’s not a sales conversation – the aim is to build engagement. This engagement will draw out meaningful topics and conversations that will create authentic brand affinity with the influencer and their audience.
Connecting with influencers
Once all influencers have been profiled, validated and imported in the social CRM, identify a shortlist of influencers that will be targeted for outreach and create a profile for each that includes:
- Details about the topics they cover
- The type of content they promote
- The reach and make-up of their network
- Where the conversations are taking place
- Suggestions on the key messages and content to target each influencer with
How to work with influencers
The initial communication with influencers will determine their willingness to work with us, and how we want the relationship to work. The initial outreach is likely to be direct contact via email (where we have been able to ascertain the email address of the individual), and if this is not possible, we will directly message the individual through their social media account.
This outreach process may include:
- Identifying and explaining the mutual benefits of working together:
- Shared visions and values e.g. STEM, environmental, energy efficiency, passion for exploring new/untried materials or technologies
- Joint initiatives: Co-authoring research or a white paper, co-speaking at an event or exhibition, Judging awards or competitions (E.g. Engineers Without Borders design challenge)
- Advance / exclusive access to new products
- Agree, in principle, how content will be used
- When & where will the influencer post it?
- What hashtags will they use?
- Where will they direct people e.g. landing page or knowledge centre?
- How will they leverage their network?
- Create the content
- Agree a process for handling potentially negative responses from people within an influencer’s network
How do we measure success in influencer relations?
Outreach program metrics
During the initial outreach programs, core metrics will include how many influencers have been contacted and the number that have agreed to work with us.
- Input metrics are used to measure the quantifiable activities or touch-points in the influencer relations program. Key metrics can include:
- Number of influencers engaged online
- Number of face-to-face meetings with influencers
- Number of influencers featured in your content
- Number of guest posts on your blog
- Number of collaborative content pieces created
Output metrics relate to what influencers do for the brand and need to be quantified and trackable. Key metrics include:
- Influencer mentions of a campaign
- Influencer shares of campaign-related assets (content, unique URLs, codes, etc.)
- Brand mentions from target influencers
- Engagement from target influencers
- Share-of-Voice among target influencers
- Number of target influencers in each stage of your relationship funnel
Qualitative (intangible) metrics
- Brand mentions at a live event, panel discussion, speech, or class
- Mentions in a video or podcast
- Discussion on a live video stream which might have a shelf-life of only a few hours
- Advocacy in private online industry forums, LinkedIn Groups, or Facebook Groups
- Face-to-face discussion and advocacy
- Answers to questions through emails, private messaging, or blog comments
Outcome metrics are directly derived from marketing or business goals. Key metrics include:
In other channels, awareness may be equated to “potential reach” in terms of the number of followers, but for Influencer Relations we measure awareness through engagement – in terms of likes, comments, replies and click-throughs.
Who better to provide independent feedback on new tools and services than those who care about your company and use these services on a regular basis.
Search engines evaluate the number of inbound links from external websites, and the quality/relevance of those website links.
Final Golden Rules
- Assign an owner and ensure they have the time to launch and manage the plan
- Include others who already engage with influencers (PR, analysts, etc).
- Include content teams in listening programs.
- Focus on small groups of influencers and build deeper relationships with them.
- Evaluate the value of an influencer based on the relevance of their audience.
- Constantly monitor online conversations to identify emerging influencers, understand their points of view and topics of interest.
- Establish a timeline of at least three months to give enough time for progress to be made and for results to be seen.
- If you don’t already have a presence in conversations that industry influencers are engaged with then you need to build in time for participation and listening.
- Just as you wouldn’t approach a media reporter with a pitch without knowing their background, don’t reach out to influencers for anything without understanding their motivations, behaviors and sentiments. You need to seek out mutually beneficial connection points.
- Social influence is real time and not static. An individual’s level of influence fluctuates during moments in time.