This is a two-part series exploring online influencers and their role in social media marketing. Part I looks at the reasons why a brand should focus on wooing influencers over journalists; Part II defines ways of identifying and measuring their influence.

Traditional PR vs social media marketing

Traditional media are longstanding powerhouses – politicians and even prime ministers have been kowtowing to them for generations.

Securing a piece of coverage in a leading national newspaper is an undeniable gateway to spiked consumer interest – which may convert to sales.

But newspapers rely heavily on circulation sales and as the Financial Times pointed out a few weeks ago, “in 1966, the Daily Mirror sold 5.1m copies a day, the Daily Express 4m and the Daily Telegraph 1.4m. Last month, those titles had circulations of 1.2m, 631,000 and 635,000 respectively.”

Less sales mean less editorial space and less editorial staff as a consequence. In short, the assumption that traditional PR is a sure-fire investment is coming under scrutiny, as more brands shift investment to social media marketing and the targeting of online influencers.

Who has online influence

Online journalists might look like the obvious target, but if the key objective is to source people with influence (“the ability to cause measurable actions and outcomes,” Brian Solis), then online journalists are not necessarily the most obvious or effective choice.

In a study of online influence by Brian Solis and Vocus, an influencer is defined as:

• Someone with online reach (although that doesn’t automatically correlate with popularity i.e. celebrity status)
• Someone who produces quality content
• Someone who produces relevant content

 There is no uniform online influencer – they are not automatically a journalist, or a blogger, or even a Twitterer. And their content may not even come in the form of written words.

An online influencer could be on any social platform, producing any number of pieces of content, from videos, podcasts and tweets, to slideshares and infographics and on any number of niche subjects.

The relevancy of those influencers to their followers – and your potential customer base – is what makes their influence so powerful; they aren’t ruled by the editorial policy of a publishing house, so they are free to focus on a topic that interests them. And they are most probably creating content on a shoestring budget or even for free, which means it’s a labour of love not a looming deadline.

Signature 9 recently reported that, despite the larger staffs and budgets of online magazines such as Vogue, fashion bloggers have overtaken their online influence, generating more links, greater social media activity and more overall buzz.

Don’t miss Part II, when we take a look at identifying online influencers and measuring their influence.

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