Finding our inner ‘Zoella’ in B2B comms – Why PR agencies should focus more on Influencer Relations

So we know about PR, and I’ve said quite a bit about AR – Analyst Relations (which, as you know, I take rather seriously, e.g. this piece from last September we did, ‘The 3 Biggest Misconceptions about IT Analysts’

I’m afraid that we have to add to the alphabet soup a bit, though, as the job’s not done yet. That’s because we’re missing an important ‘R’ to complete the trio – Influencer Relations.

If you work in B2C or digital advertising, or service such markets, this probably isn’t new news. There, vloggers – online personalities who talk about lifestyle and consumer issues, usually via the prism of their colourful personalities, are a huge phenomenon. Zoella is one you’ve probably heard of; her massively successful ‘life, beauty and chats’ YouTube channels have between them a head-turning 16.5m subscribers, for instance.

These guys are hugely important to audiences like Teens and Tweens, and if you market a consumer product, you’ll have them on your radar, big time. But there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent B2B cohort… it’s hard to imagine 11 Million people signing up for a weekly discussion of, say, Enterprise Architecture. (Well, some of us would. But then we’re a bit special that way!)

But – yes, there are ‘Zoellas’ in certain business markets, and it’s a key part of our job in PR to have a structured way of communicating with them, too. We need to perform not just Public (traditional media) and Analyst but also now Influencer Relations.

Reach, Relevance & Resonance: the Three Cornerstones of an Effective Influencer Relations Programme

Who are these Influencers? They’re not always obvious – they’re not always YouTubers, for sure. They are more likely hugely active on Twitter and LinkedIn, as these are more business spaces, and more relevant us us in B2B. Some work on Tumbler, some have traditional blogs that have stood the test of time. Many are familiar off the TED circuit. Some are deep in academe, and only surface for the occasional landmark book or conference presentation. A few might just be plain old celebrities, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The important point is what links them all is they they are respected, listened to, and cited as sources of authority and independent wisdom. So they’re not analysts, strictly speaking, though there might be some crossover.

What they are for certain: talking heads the market pays strict attention to when they intervene in the debate. And we’d love to ad dour client’s thinking to their radar screen if at all possible as a result.

Your first job, then, in building an IR programme is to find out where these influencers live and work – let’s call that the Identification step. Be careful about the criteria you choose to filter these individuals; don’t just go for reach – a B2B software and services company has no real business trying to get a Zoella on board! Work with the client, but also use your own research, to see which names come up at industry keynotes, seminars, articles and the like – the touchstone names that get reverence. These are almost certainly the influencers you need.

Reach, then, is a determining characteristic of an influencer, but so is their relevance. The judgement call here is what (beneficial) impact them talking about our client could ideally offer. This isn’t like getting on a Magic Quadrant or two, but a subtle identification of your guys as credible could open doors you didn’t even know were closed… the equation is Reach + Relevance = Resonance, the impact you could gain, and it’s a fantastic asset for the client if you can fill in those variables.

Your transferable skills will help a lot here

But what do you do with this information? Well, as the man says – ‘just connect’. And the good news here is that you have the skills to do that as a PR by default; it’s what enables you to connect with journalists, analysts and clients, three very different sets of needs already. What could the influencer want? They don’t want ‘bribes’ – their independence is what they live or die by. But they may be attracted to other things you could offer – perhaps a speaking opportunity, a networking one, some consultancy, a chance to air a controversial opinion? Feel them out (but don’t barge in, be judicious with that opening invite to start a dialogue).

Key to this is social media savvy. No one wants to work with robots (and indeed, social media is increasingly concerned with fake accounts – ask Donald Trump!). Your interaction with the influencers has to be subtle, nuanced and engaged. Don’t be too crawly when they say something interesting on LinkedIn; does it warrant more interaction, is there more to be discussed – do you even (gasp!) not quite agree? Intelligent people love intelligent conversation, and influencers absolutely fall into this category – so talk in their own currency!

Summing up, I think PRs too often miss the third leg of the wheel, the ‘IR’ strategy that has to dovetail into the PR and AR ones. That’s a shame, as there’s much to be gained here – and it’s also a lot of fun!

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Founder of Digital PR & Brand Journalism agency, Sarum

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