PR influencers a double-edged sword

Key influencers - individuals who command a large, admiring public following - have been used by the public relations and advertising industries for decades and their power is growing.

In the 1950s, international cricketer Denis Compton’s slicked-back hair and film star looks made Brylcreem a huge brand. Today, Nespresso blazes the same trail with George Clooney.

However, using key influencers is not necessarily a recipe for success and careful consideration and planning is needed when identifying and engaging with them.

 The Internet and social media have radically changed the landscape with the rise of social media influencers (SMIs).

 They can be bloggers, YouTubers, podcasters, Snapchatters or social media content creators.

What they have in common is a large, or key niche, online following.

A Twitter survey claimed 49 per cent of would-be purchasers sought SMI guidance and 40 per cent actually made a purchase after SMI guidance.

A survey of teens in the US found YouTube creators filled eight of the top 10 popularity spots.

There are macro and micro influencers.

Models Kendall Jenner, Cara Delevingne and Gigi Hadid have a combined following of 77 million. They command up to $300,000 for a sponsor post while micro SMIs could earn just $50 per plug.

The key to using key influencers in your public relations campaign successfully is knowing which SMIs to target, how to get them on board and being able to gauge how far and where an influencer's promotion has spread.

So what are the rules for recruiting a useful SMI?

You need to take into consideration the following:  

Applicability: The influencer must have a significant following amongst your target audience/s. A company selling floor tiles, for example, would gain nothing from recruiting wellbeing influencers, despite their immense following.

 Reach: For a mass brand, size of following is important, whereas, an owner-operated floor tile company might not necessarily be seeking huge numbers, but might target an influencer who has a strong interior design following in the company's local area.  

 Character: The SMI’s persona must support the product. A floor tile company should not recruit an influencer followed for their living in a tiny house and extoling the virtues of non-extravagance in the home.

 Budget: Be prepared to pay influencerswith cash and/or perks – free products, travel, treats, etc. Results can be remarkable. A company in the US travel industry recruited an influencer couple with a big following. They financed their tour of Asia where they broadcast regular video blogs. The result; a 25 per cent increase in traffic to the firm’s website advertising packaged tours to Asia.

A word of caution

SMIs' impacts can be overhyped. Another survey found that despite social media, 70 per cent of people made purchases after a face-to-face recommendation by friends or colleagues.

There are also legal pitfalls. Under the New Zealand Fair Trading Act it could be illegal not to make it clear an SMI was receiving payment in cash or kind. PR companies and brand owners that organise campaigns posing as influencers could also be breaking trade regulations.

Misleading or deceptive attitudes expressed by an SMI also could be legally attributed back to the business concerned.

The world of social media influencers can be lucrative, but it requires thought, caution and guidance before plunging in.