July 23, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Celebrity or expertise – which is more important for an influencer campaign?

Celebrity or expertise – which is more important for an influencer campaign?

Influencer identification is one of the more important aspects of a public relations, marketing, or communications program. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling a product or an idea, you want and need to have solid influencers identified for your campaign to take and amplify your message to your target audiences.

Where things sometimes get tricky is the “big names versus big brains” debate. Boiled down to its most basic element, this debate can be summed up as who do you think will work best as an influencer—a celebrity or a subject matter expert?

Celebrities get all the attention

Despite the often vocal and public trashing of celebrity voices who speak out on topics that aren’t part of their “day jobs”—whether that’s acting, music, or something else—celebrities are often pegged as ideal influencers. This is, of course, because they are famous. It doesn’t matter why they are famous, the simple fact that they can garner significant attention is sufficient reason for them to be tapped as influencers. Some are more influential than others within certain audiences, but that’s as far as you really need to go when determining their influencer value. Asking the relatively simple question “is this person influential with my target audience?” is about as deep as you need to go.

Whither the subject matter expert

The subject matter expert, on the other hand, likely has oodles of expertise but far less name identification. They can talk your ear off on whatever your key issues are, whether it’s the technical details of a new gadget or the intricacies of how a new medication affects brain synapses, works in the bloodstream, and can probably quote from one or more of the scientific studies done on its effects. In other words, this is your go-to person for the details. He or she is also a great influencer, but for a different reason than the celebrity—this person’s currency is their ability to validate your claims. This influencer, in the right settings, can remove doubt. You just need to make sure they are media-savvy, and if at all possible, good on camera too.

Which is better for PR?

In a perfect world, you’d find both. I’d have to guess that if timing had been different, every wireless company would have tried to recruit Hedy Lamarr as an influencer. There are others who have a foot in each camp, but they are few and far between. Find them if you can.

A more practical way to address this is to see which type of influencer fits your campaign best. While celebrities might garner the attention you want for your campaign, will your target audience trust them as the appropriate conduit for your messaging? If you are running PR a children’s charity, a celebrity can be a great influencer. If you have been tasked with increasing awareness and product inquiries (leading to sales, of course) of the very latest in virtual reality gaming gear, it is probably advisable to select influencers who can speak directly to features, benefits, and technical specifications.

Another option that might work for some campaigns, particularly those with multiple target audiences, is a combination of both. Finding “niche” celebrities who can influence one target audience while the subject matter experts interact with another audience can work very well. An example of the type of campaign where this approach would be suitable is a product that has a new feature that is very consumer-focused with concurrent significant technical upgrades. The target audience for the new feature is the product’s general purchasing audience, while the target audience for the technical upgrades are the “power users.” A well-designed outreach program would determine which influencers work best for each audience, and then work to tailor the influencer outreach accordingly.

Successful influencer programs spend a lot of time thinking about their target audiences—how best to reach them, whose voice resonates best with them, and, most importantly, who the trusted voices are to convey the messages that matter to them. Getting a celebrity on board won’t move the sales needle if the target audience finds the celebrity irrelevant—and tapping a scientist who talks over your target audience’s head won’t work either. Find the right influencers by really thinking about who or what is important to those who you are trying to reach.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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