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Public relations today is no longer limited to just stories in print and audio visual media, as the power balance between consumers and brands has shifted drastically in recent years. Forbes has explained this change very succinctly in an article on modern day consumers, “The customers’ voice has always been a powerful influencer in marketing and today social media platforms act as a powerful megaphone for this voice”. A critical part of PR is its ability to adapt to a changing social environment and media landscape and to then effectively engage with customers in a platform of their choice. In the past couple of decades, the internet and social media usage has quadrupled and is changing the way consumers interact with brands. This is largely due to the diverse range of communication channels that are available today at their disposal.

The Public Relations industry, the specialist group leveraging influencer communication, is estimated to be worth around $1.4 billion and employs over 1 lakh professionals in India alone. PR is an optimization process that helps businesses create a strong presence in the market by cascading messages to its audiences in the right context. Though audio-visual media and print media exert considerable influence, digital channels like social media and online news channels have been gradually blurring the lines of impactful influence in recent times.

Why are Social Media Influencers important for PR today?

Interestingly, a recent study by Collective Bias revealed that 70 percent of the millennial generation is influenced more by non-celebrities than by celebrities. This is because social media has thrown up an entire breed of celebrities and social media influencers in relative fields be it dancing, art, drama or sports from within their own extended networks. This has obscured the need for millennials to look beyond their circles. Such social influencers have built their followers organically through digital channels. Software media monitoring company Tomoson recently reported that a large number of marketers are planning to increase their influencer budget in the coming years as they believe that social influencers are a low cost and effective medium when compared to celebrity branding.

Social media influencers connect with people directly giving it a personalized approach. They also have a lower price tag in comparison to celebrity endorsers. They are typically also flexible to work with and can provide quick results that are measurable. Working with social media influencers that are relevant to your line of business is the best way to court their followers as they have a personal connection.

Social media influencers, build communities around them and PR can use these communities to convey their messages. This will further help in building goodwill with their audience as they give a personalized feel to the campaign and enable conversion through credible personal experience stories. Evolve Back, a luxury resort chain is an example of a brand effectively engaging with social media influencers to communicate its various campaigns.

Content created by influencers in the form of blogs, pictographs, videos, etc to provide product usage advice, tips and recommendations make followers feel as though it is coming from their peers. To attract and reward their followers for keeping in touch, social media influencers often use giveaways sponsored by the brands they endorse, through contests and promotions that builds brand loyalty and helps also increase their audience and followers.

Building partnerships with Social Media Influencers

Though the role of social media influencers has come under scrutiny due to scandals in recent times, brands are still keen on working with them despite the challenges due to their growing influence. A recent report by Mediakix stated that brands will spend between $5 – $10 billion annually on influencer based marketing by 2020. Marketing experts believe that brands should invest time in selecting the right influencers for their publicity based on their product, marketing strategy and the message that the product wishes to convey. Companies on their part should work hard to build a viable communication strategy while working with influencers, in order to create trustworthy recommendations. Instead of telling the influencer to post content in a particular manner, it is best to allow them to create their own signature content about the brand, giving them sufficient space for creativity and to relate to their followers.

Influencers are made up of three essential components, namely; relevance, reach and resonance, so it makes sense to match the campaign and the product offering with the right influencer/s to build trust. Engaging analytics tools to measure the strength and weakness of social media influencers can further help course correct if required.

One needs to keep in mind that social media content has to be interesting and relevant for its audiences. Social media influencers can help to design this content as they know their audiences well and are typically expert at content creation. At Star Squared PR, the team did just that while engaging with social media influencers/partners for hotel chain Grand Mercure in Mysore.

No secret then that engaging with Social Media and its Influencers is today a must have in your marketing arsenal. The trick lies in identifying and mapping them and finding creative ways to engage with them, to ensure the right messaging with the right level of creativity is conveyed. Developing a system to engage with them on an ongoing basis will reap dividends for a brand in the long run.