I’ve been remiss in writing about my recent trip to South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi). For those unfamiliar, SXSWi is arguably the largest (14,000+ attendees this year) and most influential conference for all things digital, interactive, and, yes, “social.” This was my sophomore year – at least that’s what my Foursquare Badge heralded – and from the looks of things, the first year for thousands of others.
Last year, I wrote about the four C’s: content, context, community and curate – and how those words and concepts (yes, another C) dominated the panels, discussions and keynote addresses of the 2010 conference. In 2011, content was no longer king, though it could still be considered queen. This year’s crown went to the concept of “influencers.” Panel after panel strove to debate and educate on how to tap into the elusive world of digital demi-gods – with attendees eagerly awaiting the magic formula for getting them to tout their company, client, product or service. And once again, I walked in and out of some of these sessions bewildered. Why were influencers being touted as “the shiny new thing”? As I discussed it with my friend, Brigette Flood, for her Making Sense of Social blog, it occurred to me that I might have a bit more to say…
In the world of public relations and marketing, we bandy about many terms: advocates, brand evangelists, stakeholders, grasstops. They all share a common bond: these are the influencers we believe can have a larger-than-normal – and many times faster – positive impact on a client’s brand, service or reputation. So, for me, the fixation on influencers at SXSW was again, sort of a “but we’ve been doing that for years!” moment in time.
This is not to say that the explosion of social and digital channels hasn’t altered the game – it has. But the key questions remain the same: who are those people who go beyond a “target audience” for what you’re trying to accomplish, and how do we best engage them in your cause or purpose from a marketing perspective?
So, before you start chasing that Twitter god with 3 million followers to promote your widget, ask yourself these questions:
- Who are you trying to reach/sell to/persuade? This is always the first step: identify your target audience. If you don’t have a clear picture of whom you are trying to reach, any other marketing efforts are a waste of time.
- Who are the existing thought leaders on your subject/product /service? Once you know your target audience, the next step is knowing who they already turn to for advice or insight. These are your influencers, and they may not be the social media superstars or the celebrity of the week. It may, in fact, be the local community activist, a business author or a trade media reporter.
- Where is your audience getting its information? It may not be Facebook or Twitter. While more and more information is being shared on the social Web, there are many other channels of communication that play a large role in where and how your target audience gets its information, and where they can be persuaded.
Leveraging the power of influencers is – and always has been – an important tactic in public relations. But just because “social celebrities” are getting a lot of buzz right now, don’t abandon a strategic approach to influencer marketing in favor of a follower count.