The business world is changing fast and the PR industry is not immune to this.

Client requirements are expanding, while budgets are getting smaller due to tight economic conditions. So clients are increasingly looking for more creative ways to get extra mileage out of their limited budgets. This puts pressure on agencies to be more creative in their approach to business challenges.

One area of communications that has seen an increase in popularity is that of influencer relations. Clients and agencies alike are looking to engage with industry specific influencers with large audiences to tap into. Sadly, this is one area that many agencies have not perfected as yet.

Often influencers are identified based on numbers – their number of followers, engagements, etc. What is crucial to a successful influencer strategy, however, is to understand each of those influencers – what makes them tick, what type of engagement are they looking for from brands and how do they engage with their own followers. Without this understanding, you run the risk of failing dismally in your campaign, as the influencer might not subscribe to your brand values at all.

You also cannot prescribe how and how much engagement they need to commit to. If a topic or an event is of interest to them, they will talk about it. If it’s not interesting to them, or they believe it will not be of interest to their target audience, they won’t – it’s really that simple.

To try and force-fit an influencer to your specific campaign will lead to disaster, because you simply cannot fake genuine endorsement. That will lead to mistrust and will ultimately damage your brand. The key here is to ensure that you not only understand each influencer, but ensure that you provide them with content that is of value to them and their audience.

It is also important to remember that it is not always just about the numbers. A blogger of influencer, with hundreds of thousands of followers, who has never spoken about anything relating to your brand or the industry you operate in and who suddenly starts talking about your brand on social media will raise flags and ultimately their audience will know it’s paid for. The content might also not be relevant to their audience, which means that investment is ultimately wasted. A blogger or influencer with a slightly smaller following, but who understands your industry and speaks about your brand authoritatively is worth far more.

Finally, if your brand has been marred by complaints and negative sentiment, getting a celebrity to endorse the brand publically will do very little to change your situation. In fact, it will do little other than make your customers question whether it is the truth, or whether the celebrity in question received special treatment. In addition to that, it could damage the celebrity’s own personal brand.

So before you embark on an influencer strategy, take these recommendations into consideration:

· What do you want to achieve with the strategy? Do just want to spread the message far and wide, or do you want to derive actual conversation and business value from it?

· Have you selected influencers / bloggers that subscribe to your brand values, understand your industry and are seen as authoritative figures in that sector?

· Are you giving the influencers / bloggers the freedom to engage with your content in a manner that suits their style and meets the needs of their audience?

The biggest mistake you can make is to jump onto the bandwagon and believe that an influencer campaign is right for your brand, because everyone else is doing it. In doing so, you can do a lot more damage than good.

Source: Lizelle McDermott, managing director of McD Squared

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