Advances in media technology and 21st-century business expectations, as well as intricacies, have continued to blur the lines of divergence between public relations and marketing. The contemporary PR practitioner now has to integrate a couple of marketing tactics into their communication plans. One of them is influencer marketing and it is one tactic that we use wrongly too often. This piece addresses some myths about influencer marketing and how PR practitioners can maximise it in their campaigns, for plethoric success.

Let me stress that it’s not all PR campaigns that require the use of influencer marketing. And the nature of your business determines whether you need an influencer marketing plan and the extent of employ. Influencer marketing is more commonly used in business-to-consumer (B2C) markets than in business-to-business (B2B). But this is not to say B2Bs don’t do influencer marketing- it’s just a bit restricted.

Just like any other tactic, you should be deliberate with influencer marketing. You don’t use it because it’s a nice-to-have or because other brands are using it. You employ this marketing tactic only when it’s clearly a necessity for the achievement of your communication objectives. When developing a communication plan, guard against the urge to use all known tactical elements just to make your plan look elaborate and sophisticated. Focus only on the requisite components and ensure clinical execution to deliver tremendous results.

Who’s an influencer? No consensus definition

There are disparate conceptions about who an influencer truly is. And there is also the misconception that an influencer must be a person- an influencer can also be an organisation of influence, one whose perspectives on industry issues are respected and considered authoritative. An example: If you’re a medical brand and the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, endorses your product with a seal, such endorsement has a huge potential to positively influence purchase decisions. Dettol comes to mind in this regard and the brand doesn’t fail to highlight this endorsement in all its marketing collateral. This is a classic case of organisational/business influencer.

Influencers are often people who are perceived to have some social influence (persuasion and compliance) or people considered to have authoritative knowledge in their chosen disciplines. An influencer is almost always famed for their affinity for a given field or subject area. Influencer marketing takes the form of product placement and endorsement by the influencer and frequently comes across as testimonial advertising.

The real rationale behind using an influencer is to leverage their ability to influence the buying decisions of their fans/followers. This implies having the influencer talk about the USPs of the product or even use it in a video while testifying to its benefits. This act has the potential to influence the followers or fans of the influencer in buying the product. Influencer marketing is a potent way of creating top-of-mind awareness for your brand, but you have to be very strategic in choosing influencers. In fact, you need an influencer strategy if your campaign is big on this form of marketing.

However, apart from product marketing, you can use influencers to garner public support for a cause or movement. For instance, you can use Aisha Yesufu of the ENDSARS movement in Nigeria, to get members of the Nigerian public to support the advocacy for better welfare for the police.

Large following isn’t large influence.

The gaffe some marketing communication specialists make is to focus too much on an influencer’s numbers. They erroneously think large following online equals large influence offline. Numbers can be deceptive. On social media, some people have risen to ‘popularity’ by buying followers. If you use such influencers because of their numbers, your efforts will be futile. When choosing influencers, you’re advised to look beyond the numbers and think more about the level of social influence the influencer can pull off. You need people to buy your product and build brand loyalty. Thus, you require influencers that can shape your prospects’ purchase decisions in your favour. Numbers alone don’t do this, but social influence does. I’m not downplaying the place of large following when choosing influencers, but it shouldn’t be the sole determinant.

Identifying relevant influencers

The task of choosing the right influencers for your brand is onerous, and there are considerations such as campaign type, target audience, the product(emphasis on the USP being projected), degree of influencer’s social influence, campaign objectives, industry, level of influencer’s reach and even the nature of your brand. These factors determine the influencers to engage. For instance, if your brand plays in the fashion space, you need a fashion influencer, one who functions in your niche market, with a substantial following and genuine social influence. If you’re a toothpaste brand, you can engage a renowned dentist as an influencer. If it’s a B2B, like an oil and gas major, you can leverage the influence of a top industry analyst whose views on industry concerns are widely revered.

Before identifying the influencers to use, develop criteria to determine the type of influencers and extent of influence. Depending on the level of following, influencers can be classified as mega-, macro-, micro-, and nano-influencers. It’s crucial to note that influencers also exist outside social media.

Avoiding influencer-brand clash

It’s important to ensure that you use the right influencers, to avoid what we call ‘influencer-brand’ clash- a situation where you use an influencer whose persona doesn’t befit the character of your brand. The influencer you engage should reflect some of your brand values. A serious brand shouldn’t engage an influencer who’s known for their non-serious, ‘pedestrian’ but hilarious skits on social media. For instance, a clash will be evident in using a Brodashaggi as the influencer for an ExxonMobil campaign. The influencer can hardly reach (talk more of being able to influence) the brand’s target audience. There are brands that befit him, and he’ll be useful in their campaigns. You also need to match the influencer with the product’s purpose.

Influencer marketing can be very effective only when you’re strategic about its adoption. It’s a subtle way of creating awareness and increasing sales.

Stanley Olisa is a Media and Communication Consultant in Lagos.

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