Consumer Communications: Influencer Marketing vs. Earned Media

It’s no secret the traditional media landscape is changing – and rapidly. In response, brands, journalists, marketers and communicators are constantly adjusting how they operate. As communications professionals, navigating this swift evolution of the news industry means continually evaluating where – and how – consumers are being influenced most.

Due in part to a major shift from daily morning paper readers to digital news junkies, social media influencers are continuing to rub elbows with the traditional media crowd. As the two worlds collide, the ongoing rift between media and influencers is palpable. These tensions were notably amplified on a global platform when a round of Vogue editors recently slammed fashion influencers for sitting at the same table they claimed they hadn’t yet earned a seat at. Which begs the question – is there enough room for them both in this town?

We’d argue the answer is “yes” here, but proceed with caution; know when it is appropriate to involve media and when to activate influencers on behalf of your client.

Communications goals are everything

As any good PR professional knows, media goals are core to strategic planning and the key to a successful media program or campaign. Is your client creating buzz for a big announcement? Is the directive to convert sales or move product for a new launch? Evaluate the opportunity that both media and influencers present as the carrier of your client’s message. A digital influencer marketing partnership certainly presents its benefits – messaging control, guaranteed coverage, bespoke content – but paid partnerships come with the inevitable caveat of a “sponsored by” brand mention (will this affect the integrity of the campaign?). Traditional media are trusted sources of news and information, giving client coverage a sense of credibility and often vast exposure across consumer households.

Determine the outcome that will be most valuable for your client and let that drive media vs. influencer marketing strategy.

Identify your audience

Maximize your audience – identify who is most likely to move the needle for your client and who your client should be engaging during the campaign. Landing a piece in the Wall Street Journal is indeed impactful, but is that actually the publication that’s influencing your client’s customers most? For example, nearly 50 percent of surveyed millennials reported their purchasing decisions were influenced by social media in 2015; brands must consider breaking the conventional communications mold in order to reach consumers where they’re most active.

Determine the best messenger

The type of news you’re sharing should also direct your outreach tactics. While an embargoed product launch may seem like a unique way to involve influencers, remember they are not beholden to (or familiar with) the same standards and ethical guidelines as traditional media. While influencers are – most often – held accountable via partnership contract, consider the risk a client is taking with proprietary information in the hands of unpracticed partners (one quick slip of an Instagram Story and your embargo is out the window).

At the end of the day, influencer marketing and earned media both play valuable roles and present unique opportunities for B2B and consumer clients. The key is to know when and how to activate each group to best benefit your client.

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