PR Council Forum: Return On Influence

On Thursday, the PR Council hosted its PR Genome Project’s Critical Issues Forum. On tap were a number of influential speakers, discussing the changing landscape of media, PR, and marketing, where it all intersects, how technology is affecting the industry and much more. Hosted by Ogilvy PR Global Chairman and Chair of the PR Council Chris Graves in New York, the event tackled a number of important topics relevant to the larger marketing communications community. The first panel discussed influence—how do we define it, measure it, and differentiate it from mere popularity?

Brands want to reach target audiences. They want to converse with those audiences, and they want to have a robust and effective social media presence. That’s why it’s hard to find a brand today who doesn’t have some sort of influencer marketing program, partnering with social media and digital “stars” with fanatic, highly-engaged followings. But how do you define influence?

Promise Phelon, CEO of TapInfluence, believes that it’s a way for brands to have an “authentic, credible connection” with consumers, through consumers. And it’s crucial for brands to get in on the conversation, because it’s happening without them already. These days, a brand doesn’t merely exist in its corporate walls and in the carefully-constructed messaging that’s put out in media. What people say about a brand is part of the brand itself. Choosing to not engage in that conversation is beyond fool hearted, and a good way to drive the conversation is through popular digital influencers.


But author and Managing Partner of Euler Partners Philip Sheldrake made a strong point: “influence” is a word we inherited, so the way we use it has changed. Traacker Founder & CEO Pierre-Loic Assayag piggybacked, correctly asserting that influence isn’t something that was invented with social media. Humans have been doing it forever, but modern technology has changed the way we do it.

Yet, how valuable is a truckload of Retweets, Likes, and Shares? Is it even possible for brands to know if their influencer marketing programs is even doing any actual influencing, or is it merely glomming on to popularity?

Paul Adams, the VP of Product for Intercom and author of Grouped, believes it’s the latter; that we’ve conflated influence with reach and popularity. Adams contends that it’s incredibly difficult to understand—forget prove—why we do the things we do. We have tons of inherent biases, and there are an uncountable number of variables that we don’t take into account. Ryan Detert, a former influencer himself and current CEO of Influential, disagreed, alluding to analytics and dashboards that can prove that social campaigns directly led to people purchasing something. Adams, however, countered by calling dashboards and analytics “the bane of our industry.”

While the panel didn’t agree on everything, there seemed to be at least somewhat of a consensus that influencer marketing, at it’s most effective, is a long game. The goal shouldn’t be for one piece of content to do really well, but about changing consumer behaviors in the long-term.

Stay tuned for Part II of our recap, which covers the day’s other major themes: integration and technological disruption.

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