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A Lesson from High School: How to Identify and Engage Your Brand Influencers

There has been a lot of discussion around social media influence lately:

  • Why are social media influencers critical to a brand strategy?
  • How do you identify the right influencers?
  • Why is it important to maintain engagement with these influencers so they support your brand?

While there is not a one-size-fits-all strategy for identifying and engaging with social media influencers, analyzing the dynamics of a high school class can actually provide insight into the makeup of the players in the vast social media space

The popular girl

Probably the most identifiable character of the high school personas, the popular girl’s value lies mostly in her bragging rights to a large number of fans who very often hang on her every word.  Quite the social butterfly, she has access to a broad network and visibility among the masses.  Those who follow and share what she says may do so based solely on her popularity (think today’s teen pop star) and not always because of the quality of the message; however she is always in the know and can certainly make you “look” good.

The class president

The epitome of a leader, the class president has authority, a trusted voice, and is respected by many.  Like the popular girl, the class president casts a wide net and is often sought after to get a message out.   Equivalent to industry thought leaders, he or she can be the keynote speaker at industry conferences and often quoted online and in publications.  The class president is a powerful player to have on your team, but hard to pin down since he or she is wanted by many.

The artist

With a passion for expression, the artist is the active creator.  While the artist may keep to a smaller circle, he or she is well-liked and definitely has a voice – usually adding a unique perspective to a conversation.  Artists are your audience members who are the the content creators.  They will share when they find something relevant and interesting — and they won’t just ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ verbatim, but they will add dimension to a message by incorporating their own ideas, layering it with new insights and spurring conversation.

The nerd

Known primarily for his smarts and less-than-suave communication skills, the nerd is often overlooked by the majority as influential. However, when one is seeking last night’s science homework, the nerd climbs to the top of the call list. Nerds are trusted to have accurate and thorough information.  In today’s social space, the nerd is the niche expert, the one who is deeply knowledgeable about particular interests and impactful to smaller, more targeted, loyal audiences with similar interests.

The newspaper editor

An important character in the high school class, the newspaper editor is a deciding factor in the stories that are highlighted for mass consumption.  Not surprisingly, the newspaper editor can be compared to today’s traditional journalists and bloggers, responsible for sharing and amplifying messages.  This influencer ranges across industry and topic, but is a strong connection to have and alert when you have big news to share.

The rest of the student body

The remaining individuals who make up the high school class are the majority.  Warming most of the seats in the classroom, this group flies under the radar and primarily mingles within smaller, comfortable circles of friends.  Although not always making its presence known, this group is taking in the information out there and finding its way – passing along messages that resonate to close friends and family.  These audience members probably make up most of the members of your social media network, but don’t mistake their silence for apathy. They can be your prime target, and they appreciate the constant flow of relevant information.

A high school class comprised of only one or two of these characters would be dull and ineffective.  It’s the mixture of personalities, the unique perspectives and interests, and distinct reactions to situations that make the group vibrant and interesting.   One influencer is not “better” than another, and a large following does not necessarily mean the right following.  Rather, it’s important to find the appropriate blend of influencers for your brand, which will vary based on overall business goals and even from message to message. Ongoing, careful listening – and engaging with streams of content – is paramount.

Consider a few of these tips, and use some of these questions to drive you in the right direction in identifying and engaging your brand influencers.

Start by monitoring online conversations surrounding your brand and your industry, and review the messages that are being shared.  Pinpoint your biggest fans and note who is leading and impacting these conversations:

  • Who makes up your fans’ networks?
  • Do they seem to fit the profile of your target audience?
  • Where do they hang out online?
  • Are they actively responding to and interacting with content?
  • Are there trends in the types of content that seem to resonate more closely and motivate them to spread a message?
  • Do their behaviors change across channels?

The content that drives action from the popular girl or class president may not do so from the artist or the nerd, as their level of passion and knowledge will vary, as does what they deem valuable or interesting.

Some may appreciate new research and statistical information while others may like to share educational, how-to advice, product specs or broad thought leadership content.  Therefore, delivering content in a variety of multimedia formats, across multiple channels – and tailoring messages to appeal to different segments of your audience to engage influencers is essential.

Do you have advice or best practices to share around social influencer engagement?

PR Newswire (a CMI benefactor) has created an opportunity for thought leaders and experts like you to showcase your expertise and boost visibility by crowd-sourcing an eBook, “The Definitive Guide to Social Influencer Engagement.”   You can submit a chapter – or many – for a chance to be published in an eBook that will be widely distributed.  The chapters have already been outlined and submission is easy!  Visit to learn more or email [email protected] with any program questions.   The deadline is June 29.

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