THE latest term du jour to arise in PR and marketing circles is “influencer relations”. Defined as a new mindset and approach to customer experience, where influence become the driving force for change, this new strategy is all about extending the reach of a business to engage customers.

But is it just yet another euphemism for public relations, a new guise to sex up what the industry has been selling for years and has been made much more accessible to non-PR types? A bid to take back control from wannabe marketers who simply use social media with no formal training or experience?

According to Laura Sutherland, influencer relations is much more than just a blogger strategy. While bloggers can be key to many consumer brands, we must think about the bigger picture and think of anyone who can influence an outcome, she says.

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Influencers can help change behaviour or even change the perception of a product or service. The likes of politicians, activist groups and think tanks are serious influencers who could have an impact on a major piece of legislation, public safety, climate change or industry.

An influencer relations strategy works in-line with a business and PR strategy, explained Sutherland, pictured above, who says the ultimate goal is to develop the business/organisation and achieve specific goals. The Aura PR chief and founder of #PRFest said: “Put simply, influencers are people, and sometimes groups, who you have identified as mattering to your brand and who can help tell your story to their communities. They have the ability to influence behaviour and buying decisions because their communities (or followers) trust them and their opinions and experiences.

“A strategy to engage those influencers is affected by the ever-changing media landscape, the power of social media and the recognition that influencers can reach new audiences. The strategy is about long-term relationship building. Building good relationships with bloggers may see a quick return but building relationships with the likes of politicians may be a longer game.”

It’s key to identify the right influencer, ie someone who can have the impact (short, medium or long term based on your goals) and generally speaking, says Sutherland, you’re probably already aware of them already if you have a solid public relations strategy.

She advises businesses to draw up criteria based on goals, then consider relevance, resonance and reach. Sutherland said: “Using a plethora of tools, I’d look to identify them based on criteria. Manual screening is also essential, looking at what they’ve been talking about before, their sentiments are towards other brands and where they are taking their followers or communities.

“You have to measure and evaluate to know if you get it right. Come back to your strategy, the goals and key performance indicators you’ve set and use proper evaluation tools, like AMECs integrated evaluation tool. Knowing reach isn’t enough – it’s about impact.”

Michelle Rodger is a communications consultant