Influencer relations: Notes from a big country

June 24, 2016

Last week we attended FutureComms16, an all-day conference hosted by mynewsroom.com which looked at storytelling, social media and digital PR challenges. 

As ever, it’s fascinating to hear about the challenges and victories that PRs in other sectors are experiencing, and compare notes. However, the first two sessions stood out in particular. The issue at hand was influencers and how to use them effectively. Influencers in this context meant bloggers, and the panel (which included bloggers) discussed their experiences of brands and bloggers working together.  
 
Consumer PR is heavily geared towards engaging with bloggers, whether for quick wins (product reviews) or longer term associations (sponsorship, collaboration). It’s a no-brainer: a recent survey by BlogHer found that 61% of online consumers in the US admit to having made a purchase based on a blog’s recommendations (see here for more on this).
 
But, as we heard from the panel, it’s not always straightforward. Many bloggers, particularly if they’re more successful, have no day job and are dependent on brands for their income, something brands are still getting used to. At the same time, bloggers are keen to retain their autonomy and integrity. Journalists are cushioned by their employer’s brand but bloggers have to address accusations of ‘selling out’, if they arise, by themselves.
 
Brands with limited experience of these sensitivities may find themselves going wildly off track, alienating the blogger and potentially also their customers. As someone who deals principally with professional services communication, this was eye-popping, both in terms of the potential wins and the navigation that’s needed to get there.
 
So what are the lessons for those working in law firm PR? If you’re on the point of dismissing this as the preserve of consumer comms, don’t. The influencers are already at the gates, and have been since time immemorial.  
 
Every time a law firm hosts a keynote speaker at a seminar they’re engaging with influencers. The only difference is that most professional services influencers aren’t digital natives, at least not yet. Whether fellow professionals, academics, or industry leaders, they won’t generally be blogging regularly.
 
However, this is going to change as millennials, and centennials (those aged 15 to 18) grow into these spheres. For this generation, blogging and tweeting are as natural as breathing and afford them the opportunity to interact in a highly targeted way with people all over the world.
 
So what challenges will law firms be facing in the Age of the Blogger, and how close are they to those already faced by our consumer marketing colleagues? Closer than you might think.
 
Law firms are less likely to be dealing with creative wunderkinds with rock star demands, but they may well find themselves having complicated conversations around reciprocity. Meanwhile, as we all know, law firms are highly controlling of any output associated with them, which could give rise to problems when conversations with influencers migrate from conference rooms to the much larger arena of the web.
 
So what can law firms do to ensure they’re not left behind? Firstly, research bloggers and other influencers in your key industries—you may be surprised. Secondly, make sure that your firm has a strong policy in place to deal with the challenges outlined above, or you could quickly have a communications crisis on your hands.
 
Thirdly, if you are not already doing so, make sure that your law firm is positioning itself as an influencer on the issues that matter, via blogs or other digital collateral. The digital world is out there and law firms risk being left behind if they don’t start carving the path for themselves in good time.

For more on this from Tal Donahue and Alex Spurgeon click here