When people turn to us for modern PR analytics and measurement technology, one of the first things we do is try to understand their current PR strategy. We like to ask about whether they have an influencer network because the answer is telling. Many reply that they have an influencer network, but when we dig deeper we find that what they actually have is a homegrown (or worse, purchased) list of media contacts in a database. Although it is common to believe that known media contacts and an influencer network are the same thing, in reality, they are vastly different.
The Media Database
Defined, the media contacts database is a PR tool used by professionals to pitch stories on a particular topic, product, or company to a specific group of journalists. Touted as fast access to hundreds of journalists, the media contacts database is created and sold as a no-effort solution.
In short, it’s kind of like the White Pages (remember those?) for journalists. Modern solutions, like Pinpoint Contacts, are changing the concept by offering an analytics-driven approach to media contacts, that allows PR outreach to become targeted and personal, but still, it is still a discovery tool. It falls to the PR pro to connect and make all the difference. As Judy Herbst, Director Marketing & PR for Worthy, stated, "It remains the personal connection that is the root of PR." And that is the difference between your media lists and your influencer network.
What is an Influencer Network?
An influencer network is a group of people who have the attention of a specific audience or market. Some folks who are on traditional media contact lists like journalists and reporters are influencers, but influencers also include:
- Industry experts and analysts
- Vendors with non-competitive products used by your target audience
- Politicians and regulators
How to Build an Influencer Network
Identify Key Influencers
First, you want to identify the influencers who are in the position to sway the targets for your message. Keep in mind that means considering not just potential prospects, but also current customers, investors, potential employees, and partners. Consider the social media networks of each of these groups. Who are your audiences likely to be following? Do they tend to engage when a specific blogger or analyst posts something?
Prioritize Your Outreach
Once you have a list of folks who might belong in your influencer network, you want to dig in further to see who might be the most important people to target. Knowing their total reach is somewhat useful, but it is far more important to understand the level of impact they have on your target audiences. You won’t find that in your media contact database. Consider:
- Connection (both by publication and social media) to your audience
- Audience engagement
- Alignment with your message and brand
Make a Connection
Notice we didn’t say send a generic pitch. Instead, it is smart to connect with key influencers well before you have a story idea to sell. Follow them on social media and engage with their content, share it if possible. (This helps them and your audience.) Introduce yourself and the brand you represent at a high level. Bonus points if you can find a way to do this in person.
When it is time to float a story idea or ask them to share your content, make sure that it is absolutely in line with their interests and that it is appropriate for the types of information they produce or share. If someone always posts videos on Facebook, for example, don’t send them an infographic.
Constantly Refine Your Network
As we mentioned before, people don’t stay put in one role or with one organization forever, and new folks come on the scene all of the time, so creating your influencer network will never be a one-time event. To be effective, you have to have your finger on the pulse of what is happening in your market. Leverage your tools, media analytics software will help ensure that you understand the people who really can help propel your brand.
Measure Impact - Remember that Bigger Isn’t Always Better
The ultimate test of who is an ideal influencer for your brand is what happens when they mention you or share your message. You might be very proud if you get a mention in the New York Times, but it is quite possible that it will not have as much impact on website traffic, lead generation, or revenue as a quick blog post from someone who your market knows well and respects.
There’s an old saying, “That which gets measured improves.” If all you are measuring is the size of your media database, we’re confident you can create or buy one with thousands of names. If what you are measuring is PR return on investment and brand impact, your time will be better spent identifying and engaging with a select list of individuals who are plugged into your most important audiences.