It wasn't long ago that the main objective for communications and corporate affairs professionals was to build relationships with journalists – the main influencers of public opinion. With the growing popularity of digital media, corporations now have a far wider range of individuals that they need to engage with.
Among the single largest signs of this growth has been digital influencers; bloggers and YouTube personalities who now have considerable influence among subscribers and who can play a major role in the success or failure of a company's efforts to engage with the public.
There are also important differences between the quality and quantity of online influence, an issue that was highlighted in research from social media research firm Zefr. The company found that metrics like followers alone are poor indicators of the engagement between influencers and the public in general.
The research highlighted that established public figures often have a far wider reach, but the nature of that reach is much shallower. The new generation of social media influencers may not have the same number of followers, but they are much better positioned to drive engagement.
As a result, influencer relations strategies have become more important for organisations that are looking to expand their focus and reach new audiences in an increasingly fragmented media landscape.
Is it possible to influence these influencers?
While these alternative channels for reaching the public have attracted considerable attention, the question of how effective they are is still up for debate. To address this, recent research from Penn State University in the US has considered how effective these efforts are at winning over influencers.
The research considered whether free product trials and similar efforts were successful in influencing the perceptions of these individuals. The research focussed specifically on the technology sector as one where free trials are among the most prevalent engagement strategies.
Importantly, the study found that these efforts have only limited influence on the end result of a product review. The research found that bloggers very rarely feel obliged to provide a positive review when they are offered a free trial.
The study also revealed an interesting insight into the way these professionals are approaching possible influencers. Rather than treating them as an advertising channel where the message has to be as positive as possible, they are looking for honest, impartial communications relating to their company.
As online influencers become more central to an organisation's communication efforts, being able to accurately measure the value these avenues offer and then crafting a strategy to match is going to be increasingly important.