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HMC NEWS: Influencers: What are they and should you be using them?

It’s a tale as old as time in the PR world. Find a famous person, send them your product, pay them some money, and watch as they tell all the people they know how great your product is.

It’s a promotional practice called influencer PR and its sole purpose is to use the clout of popular people to sell products. And it’s not just for hocking skinny tea or waist trainers – influencers exist in every industry, even if you don’t see them on your Instagram feed.

How did we get here?
Remember at school when the cool kid got a new pair of jeans or some roller skates and you wanted to get them too after you saw how they were #livingtheirbestlife, so you begged your parents to get the jeans and the skates too? Well this is the same, it just happens to be a multi-billion dollar industry now.

In the influencer game, it used to be you’d send a media kit with your soaps and shampoos to a beauty columnist in the hope they gave you 100 words of coverage in their magazine. And if you happened to know them IRL (in real life), they might feel extra charitable and spread coverage to a half page.

How times have changed
Now, I’d be sending my soaps and shampoos to some Instagrammers with a big audience and paying them a fee to post something about my product, or inviting an industry commentator to my event so they say nice things about it to their networks.

Have a think – how many times have you seen someone appear ‘organically’ on your feed driving a new car for a weekend getaway, going to a new restaurant, taking some nutritional supplements or stretching out in some new active wear? Did you notice #collab (collaboration) or #sp (sponsored) in the caption? Chances are, they’ve been paid to say that.

Influencers can be a great way to get the word out about your product, event, or initiative, and it also doesn’t have to exist exclusively on social (it’s just ‘social’ now, by the way, not ‘social media’ – keep up). Many influencers are likeable, authentic, and have great reputations and networks you can leverage and align your brand or cause with. Hell, some of them might even do it for free if they really love you.

But that doesn’t mean it will work for every brand, and certainly not for every product. And like any successful PR campaign, you need to know your audience and what makes them tick.

Here are five tips to keep in mind if you’re thinking of aligning with an influencer:

  1. Know your target audience. This might seem obvious but…are they using the channels you want to reach them on? Remember, an influencer can still be, erm, influential, at an event or in media – not just on social.
  2. Find out what your influencer likes to do. Don’t just assume they’ll do everything you want because they’re getting a kickback. An influencer can be a brand in their own right, so it pays to do some research to find out what they typically align themselves with, and how you can both work in partnership to achieve common goals.
  3. Encourage creative connection with your brand/cause. Can an influencer wear it, play with it, eat it? The more engaging and interactive your ‘kit’ is, the better.
  4. Know your budget and product category. Costs (money, time, or contra) can vary between influencers and each influencer has a stable of product ‘types’ they prefer to work with (e.g. health and wellness, sport, food, parenting). An agency can help you whittle this down.
  5. Have a plan. Influencers should be one part of your overall PR or communications strategy. Relying only on influencers for a launch or publicity can be tricky, especially if someone pulls out at the last minute or things don’t go according to plan. Make sure you have other tactics planned so there’s something to fall back on.

And like anything else to do with PR and communications – plan, plan, plan! Have your objectives, strategy, key messages, audience, risks and mitigation, and success measures all sorted before influencers become part of your communications tactics.