By Thomas Stoeckle, strategic business development at LexisNexis Business Insight Solutions
Reliable measures of return on investment have always been one of the biggest challenges of marketing and PR. It is now more than 100 years since US marketing man John Wanamaker said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is I don’t know which half”. Many would argue that it is even harder to quantify for PR.
The latest buzz is influencer marketing i.e. paying individuals with a high reach and strong network on social channels to promote a brand. It is seen as a proven strategy, adopted by an ever-rising number of brands. More than 60 percent of brands are already doing it, and the number is expected to rise to 75 percent by the end of 2017, according to a Forbes article by Tracey Harrington McCoy, chief operating officer, MtoM Consulting.
However, Instagrammers, Bloggers, YouTubers with a profile that’s attractive for brands are charging ever more for their service, and as rates go too high and RoI is difficult to prove, there is increasing skepticism in the industry. Influencer marketing is already seen by many as a blunt instrument, and without better research, better objective setting and realistic expectations as to its effectiveness, it will become less and less relevant.
Here are some of the key questions that need to be answered in order to make it work:
The importance of digital influencers in PR is part of a wider industry trend toward integration and consolidation of social and digital channels; data-driven micro-engagement; and storytelling across multiple channels.
As customer journeys are becoming more complex, from initial awareness to social discovery, toward purchase consideration, experience with the product or services, and ultimately sharing a positive or negative experience; communicators and marketers will seek to identify and groom influencers who will become loyal advocates as emotional bonds form.
This, however, is not the model of the paid influential promoter, but rather the organic social influencer. In the PESO model, it is earned plus shared media, rather than paid plus shared media. It is influence that is based on trust and proximity, rather than reach, publicity and celebrity.
The surprising outcomes of the UK’s EU Referendum in June 2016, and the US Presidential Elections in November 2016 have both – at least, in part – been attributed to the smart and innovative use of data analytics. Individuals were profiled based on their publicly visible digital footprint, and then political messaging was generated to target individuals according to their specific psychological profiles.
Nobody really knows how decisive the ‘data crunchers’ were. What experts agree on is the fact that bought reach through paid promoters, or influencers is less impactful, than organic reach within a community or network of likeminded individuals.
Influence should, therefore, be understood as a human and social phenomenon. To be real, it has to be earned – hence its link to earned media. Experts often reference the 3 Rs of influence: reach, relevance and resonance.
We have modified the concept of the 3 Rs, and are now tracking and analysing influence based on the below mentioned five dimensions. This is a Big Data approach in the sense that you need to collect large amounts of data over a certain period of time in order to zoom in on specific communities in specific contexts, to identify and profile the main influential voices in a network. Combining the data from these dimensions then provides some comprehensive insights. Most of the time, the key influencers will not just be exceptional against one or two dimensions, but their real impact comes from the cumulative strength across all five dimensions.
Online behaviour is usually categorized into a majority of passive users, a minority of engaged sharers, and an even smaller minority of active content creators. This is known as the 90-9-1 model.
Influencer research is the basis for successful social engagement as it helps to understand what drives and motivates these groups:
Understood and applied in this way, digital influencer management is very different from paying individuals for reach. It is a research and data-led approach that takes into account the context of messages and authors at every step of the customer journey.