Tapping Into Social's Sphere of Influence

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Devika Rao, vice president of account services at O’Neill Communications, a marketing agency, breaks down the steps to choosing an influencer: First, identify influencers with expertise in topics relevant to your company; second, note which platforms the influencers use and how far their reach extends; third, review their work, voice, and presence to determine if it aligns with your brand voice, message, and goals.

Rao notes that establishing relationships with influencers is “similar to how you would meet with any member of the media.” Marketers need to “take time to really get to know these influencers—who they are and what their work is,” she says, as well as “pitch them the right information that is aligned with their brand and platforms.”

Nicholson offers a different approach. “When identifying influencers for a campaign, I like to flip the model. First I look to my audience. Who is inspiring them? What do they care about? How can I inspire and educate them and provide value to them? Then I work backwards, identifying the influencers that matter most to my particular audience,” she says.


The size of an influencer’s audience is not the only factor marketers should take into consideration, experts caution. According to Nicholson, marketers also need to look at the kinds of comments influencers get on their posts to ascertain the tone and quality of that engagement—with an eye on whether the activity is from bots or real people, for one thing, but also whether influencers are creating content that is valuable to their audience and aligns with the values their companies represent.

To illustrate this point, Pergolino compares a major rock star to a local band. While the major rock star might boast a wider impact, the local band could “specialize in a specific type of music that creates a following. The specialty, accessibility, and proximity of the local band create influence for them that is different and potentially more impactful to a smaller group of people,” she says.

While the major rock star “can tell people [that] he loves a product and his fans might purchase that product based on the recommendation,” Pergolino continues, the local band’s influence could be harnessed to promote a local product and “create more influence in that regional market.”

For this reason, she says, it is “important to pay attention to all of your potential influencers, not just the biggest names in the space.”

Once audience size preferences have been addressed, the nature of the relationship between the influencer and the company needs to be determined. Nicholson has identified two very unique types of relationships between companies and their influencers: paid and unpaid. The paid relationship, she says, involves a “formal partnership” where the company pays influencers to include the company’s products in their content, for example. The unpaid relationship, by contrast, would involve offering an influencer early access to a product, service, or experience so that he will be motivated to include the company in his content.

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