Tim Grey: The Importance of Key Influencers

More than 40 years on from the Pentagon Papers, all eyes are still on the Washington Post. As ever, America’s foremost news-gathering organization can’t escape the glare of attention it has so unflinchingly shone on others over the years.

But it’s not what you think. Rather than being at the centre of a Supreme Court hearing or indeed anything remotely related to Oval Office tape recordings, the Post is on a growing number of peoples’ radars because, like all newspapers, it’s currently transitioning into a digital future.

As more local advertisers have migrated to the web and Post bureaus in many American cities have closed down, the Post has had to slash staff and reorganize the newsroom. Like the London Times – that now famously has a pay-wall protecting its website – many businesses are watching the Post because they too are facing a do-or-die situation in the Internet age. If the pioneers of 20th Century print journalism can finally ditch the ink and be online pioneers also, then there’s hope for other businesses struggling to adapt.

So it’s perhaps not too surprising to read – in the New York Times, admittedly – that the Post’s newsroom is a changed beast altogether. With print and web journos working side-by-side, the newsroom is littered with flat-screen monitors giving real-time updates of the most popular stories on its news site, while deadlines are defined as much by online metrics as print capacity.

However, the most interesting detail to come out of the Post’s current situation is its focus on key influencers.

Being widely read is great but for a paper like the Post that’s not enough – they need to be read by the right people, too. This is why one of the key metrics for its blogs is who’s reading them, not just how many. Put simply, if a blog doesn’t attract the numbers overall, but still registers a high percentage of hits from web locations ending in a .gov, .mil, .senate or .house address, then it’s considered a success because it means it’s being read by Washington’s power elite.

A period of transition isn’t easy on any business, least of all because of the unknown impacts change can have on the target market. But as the Post is demonstrating, if customer numbers no longer necessarily translate into sales (the Post has no pay-wall on its website), then identifying and measuring your impact with key influencers can be a real light house in the storm.

So what can you do to measure your success with key influencers?

  • Set your goals first. Think before you leap, because your goals should define who and what you measure, and the tools you employ to get that done. Are you looking to raise brand awareness generally or get across a specific message to your target market? The former might use a direct consumer survey, while the latter might measure media responses to a PR effort.
  • Accurately identify your market’s influencers. Survey customers about who they listen to and where their most powerful third-party recommendations come from. A key influencer can be anyone from a media personality to a family friend who fits a certain demographic you can target. If your business is active in online marketing, consider using social media monitoring software and text analytics to identify the social networks your customers use.
  • Connect the dots. It’s not enough to know who’s influencing your consumers; you need to know how they’re connecting with them as well. Research has shown that different influencers interact with buyers in different stages of the purchasing decision-making process. Some plant the idea through recommendation, while others – like bloggers and product-testers – are sought out for a second opinion. Divide your target market’s influencers into categories so you can then market to each in an effective way.
Originally published 14 February 2012 (New Zealand) on The Small Business Company