While public relations and marketing were once conceptually different disciplines, they evolved by hosting a greater scope of activities. Each expertise remains defined by its core: reputation and perception management for PR, and sales for marketing—but over time, the industry has witnessed the increasing crossover of boundaries.
This phenomenon leveraged the value of PR in marketing contexts, leading to highly tailored communications strategies called integrated marketing campaigns, which typically include a mix of both disciplines.
A good example of this crossover is influencer marketing. It has all the characteristics of PR: the aim to influence through discourse, target audiences, key messages, a strategy—except for one essential fact: it is paid publicity. PR has always been about ensuring that influential people speak about, or endorse brands, ideas and projects, but the ubiquity of digital platforms is changing the dynamics and creating new opportunities for brands to reach their audience.
Who are the influencers?
Under what conditions does someone earn the right to be called an “influencer”? It is a status that usually relates to popularity or ability to have an impact on others (on social media, this might relate to the number of online followers, for instance).
This new breed of professional influencers takes on many forms, from connoisseurs of a specific topic to brand or product category devotees or tastemakers. Influencers typically know how to optimize their presence on social media, such as by making a cross-channel impact, which is why they are such an asset for communication campaigns. Their approach is especially relevant in the context of modern marketing, which has become increasingly pervasive and personalized.
The benefits of influencer marketing
When done right, endorsement by an influencer can seem more “grassroots” or genuine than a news release or a traditional ad. Influencers provide compatible avenues through which to communicate stories as part of a content marketing strategy and the medium is gaining momentum and popularity with brand managers.
The challenge lies mostly in choosing the right influencers to deliver the messages, the type of agreement secured (i.e. a one-time mention or an exclusive collaboration), and how the content can be adapted to optimize its relevance. It is far from an easy task, but a PR professional can help.
Another advantage is the large pool of influencers out there for most areas of interest. This is appealing given the low cost of hiring their services for a campaign. These dynamics, however, are bound to change as influencers are increasingly aware of their value: some are even working with agents.
A fleeting or lasting trend?
Influencer marketing has become an important component of PR and marketing campaigns in the last couple of years, and we can still expect some growth. In some markets, such as China, the popularity of influencers is such that it has become one of the country’s most desired occupations among young people 1. And while some brands may be interested in following the mainstream, others might prefer focusing on “what’s next”. So, it may be time to explore the next chapters of influencer marketing: micro-, and even nano-influencers.
Working with micro-influencers can be interesting in terms of ROI: although their audience is relatively small, their ability to influence or generate engagement is strong due to high levels of audience captivity and credibility. In other words, your niece, who is active on social media, may suddenly seem very appealing to communication professionals looking to implement a micro-influencer program, since her 1,000 followers are attentive to the messages she posts.
We can therefore expect more so-called ‘normal’ social media users to become increasingly solicited for similar purposes in the near future, because for a micro-influencer campaign to have significant impact, many of them need to be spreading the word at the same time.
How to make it work for your brand
Marketing used to be about “what we say” and PR, “what they say about us”. If influencers are paid to say about us what we ask them to, where, then, does influencer marketing fit in?
One of the most important elements to consider will be the type of influencer—mega, macro, micro or nano—to bring on to a campaign, since each will differ in reach, cost, associated brand loyalty and level of trust by their followers.
If you are ready to try it out, or if you want to learn more about influencer marketing, NATIONAL's influencer marketing experts can help to identify the opportunities for your brand and increase your ROI.
——— Written by Vanessa Lyssan, former Senior Consultant, NATIONAL Public Relations