As digital media continues its coming-of-age story, public relations and brand reputation management tactics have been enduring some awkward growing pains. The value of the once almighty press release has dwindled, and many brands have struggled to understand how to harness the news cycles and gain the attention of audiences.
When it comes to sharing positive corporate social responsibility (CSR) stories, the competition is fierce, and such news seems to often be overshadowed by tweet wars and corporate scandals. However, there is an alternative medium to consider when it comes to telling the story of how your company is making a difference: Influencers, especially those who are natural advocates of your brand, can tell the CSR story that your brand may not be able to and that traditional media outlets might not cover.
Granted, with all the attention on the rise of influencer marketing, much of the discussion revolves around influencers’ ability to move products off shelves. However, influencer marketing is just good old-fashioned storytelling, and unlike the often cold brand speak of a press release or advertisement, that story can be told with authenticity and emotion.
Influencer marketing can be more beneficial still when the right influencer is selected. While audiences continue to cut the cord to mainstream media, you can dial a direct line to the audience that will care most about your choice of CSR initiative through niche influencers. And let’s not forget that research shows that 87% of Americans “will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about.” CSR matters to the bottom line too.
Let’s say you’ve made a significant sustainability effort — you have a recycling program or a ride-share program, or you’ve built an amazing LEED-certified building. Finding an environment-focused influencer can help you reach consumers who naturally align with your cause and will likely have the biggest impact on your brand equity. If your initiative is on a smaller scale, like donating books to a local library or contributing to classrooms, local parenting influencers might be willing to spread the word.
So how can you deploy influencers to tell your brand’s goodwill story? Here are six tips.
1. Choose wisely.
Finding an influencer who is passionate about your social responsibility efforts may require some digging. During your search, ask yourself: Have they written about this topic before? Are they located in a region of the country that’s important to me? Can I see my story fitting naturally into the content they currently produce? Finding influencers isn’t necessarily about finding someone with a big following; it’s about finding the most relevant match. Seek out influencers with a true interest in your cause.
2. Start small. Start local.
Don’t come out of the gate swinging with a supersized influencer program. Build a pilot program, and see how it works. You might want to start small and seek out influencers in your own backyard. Take your cues from them regarding what’s interesting about your CSR initiatives, and use those learnings to scale the program.
3. Forgo the press release. Abandon the lists.
In my experience, the spraying of press releases and praying for coverage absolutely does not work with influencers. They want to be courted by you. They want to develop a mutually beneficial relationship. Start by connecting with them on their social channels and really getting to know them and their content. Advance to an email introduction and then ask whether they’re interested in learning more. Working with influencers requires relationship building, not pitching.
4. Invite them in.
Whether you orchestrate an in-office gathering or connect via Skype, consider engaging a few influencers to get their opinions. Tell them the story about your philanthropic efforts, and ask them how and if this might be a fit for their blog or social channels. Keep in mind that a good influencer with smart, relevant content is likely being approached by a number of brands, many of which are probably willing to pay them handsomely for their time and content creation. By showing that you have an interest in them, you’re building a mutually beneficial relationship.
5. Compensate them.
Just because you’re out there doing good doesn’t mean an influencer will want to write about your program without compensation. You’re a big company, and they are a lone influencer who has carefully curated a following on their platforms. If you ask them to post content on their channels for your brand or initiative, they will likely expect to be paid in some fashion. Granted, payment can come in many forms. It may be an experience, like flying them in to visit your corporate headquarters, or providing them with products you produce. One thing to keep in mind with payment, whatever form it takes, is that the Federal Trade Commission requires that influencers disclose when they were compensated for their endorsement.
6. Clearly outline your expectations.
When you do enter into a formal relationship with an influencer, you have the opportunity to be specific about what the deliverables will be. Even for a “do good” campaign, deadlines can be important and should be clearly communicated. Also provide them with enough talking points so that they can tell your story accurately, while still telling it in their own voice.
Influencers may be running a business, but they rose to their place of influence by sharing their passions and interests with the world. When you can identify and build a relationship with an influencer who respects and supports those passions, you can often find lifelong advocates who are aligned with your brand — in good times and in bad. These individuals have their finger on the pulse of your target market and a platform that can cut through the clutter.
While your company’s support of STEM education or cancer research may be old news to the majority, to some, it’s the only news that matters. Influencers can be the mouthpiece you need to tell your stories in the places it matters most.