Business Monday

Influence marketing: the new cost of entry

Special to the Miami Herald

Barbara W. Goldberg is CEO and co-founder of O’Connell & Goldberg Public Relations.
Barbara W. Goldberg is CEO and co-founder of O’Connell & Goldberg Public Relations.

Now, more than ever, brands are looking to garner and cultivate authentic opinions from powerful influencers. Bottom line: People trust people. We live in a time in which consumers prefer to make their own decisions. But they also look for recognized voices to help influence these purchasing decisions — and make them feel confident in their choices. This marketing strategy is hotter than ever.

Instagram, for example, recently changed its algorithm so the most popular pictures show up first in your “feed” (as opposed to the time it was posted). Brands need to partner with influencers who have large fan bases so their products can be seen and heard.

Case in point: Influencers/bloggers today fill the front row of Fashion Week — a place that used to be reserved for celebrities and traditional media.

The growing role of reaching influencers is forcing brands — and marketers — to become more creative. It requires a new way of working. How do we identify these self-proclaimed gurus? How do we engage them? (Who knew “social-media takeovers” would become part of a recommended media mix?)

For example, to promote Santa’s arrival at Aventura Mall this past holiday season, we secured influential mommy bloggers to attend the event and enjoy a VIP experience designed only for them and their kids. In return, these bloggers shared photos, posted articles and encouraged their large respective fan base (of many thousands) to visit the mall during the holiday season. Relying solely on traditional media strategies to convey our message is simply not enough.

We engage in similar tactics for our hospitality clients. When Village Tavern, a national restaurant chain with locations in Pembroke Pines and Boynton Beach, introduced new menu items, we immediately developed a special dining experience for our most influential bloggers. We targeted those with the largest fan base, inviting them to enjoy an interactive cooking lesson with the brand’s executive chef.

In exchange, bloggers were encouraged to share their honest feedback and overall experiences — in real time — with their followers. Understanding the need for transparency, the bloggers were given free reign. All we asked was that they engaged in the process and share their thoughts. Fortunately, it was a positive experience — and the images were very enticing, and they came from a fresh, user perspective.

It’s not enough to simply invite influencers to observe a gathering or attend a special event. We find that engaging them in an activity — or providing them early access — provides a far more interactive and productive opportunity.

There is inherent risk to this approach. The experience can be less than stellar. Things can go wrong. Mistakes can be made. As a result, the brand can be left somewhat exposed. But this is real-life, in real time. It’s about complete transparency and authenticity. Marketers must be prepared to deal with any negative fallout if the influencers misrepresent or reject the product or experience.

It also is not unusual to pay for this outreach, especially with social powerhouse influencers who are reaching millions of key demographics. Love it or hate it, it is legal, so brands are doing this and reaping the benefits.

How to find these influencers? (Hint: A good PR firm can help.) It takes time, online research and good strategic insight. There are platforms and software programs that enable you to target and find influential people on social media.

When recommendations or opinions come from trusted friends or those you follow online, it carries more weight than any ad. Marketing your product or service to an audience of influencers is now often considered a cost of entry in strategic communications — any business, regardless of the industry it is in, can benefit from garnering great online conversations. There’s a good chance your competition is already utilizing this tactic. It’s never too late to start.

Barbara W. Goldberg is CEO and co-founder of O’Connell & Goldberg Public Relations. She can be reached at bgoldberg@oandgpr.com.

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