The Engagers: Vikki Chowney on Influencer Outreach

In this edition of the Engagers, we jump across the pond to speak with Vikki Chowney, Head of Community for TMW. Vikki talks to us about how she creates influencer outreach programs and compelling content for major brands.

Vikki, you manage community and influencer outreach for some of Earth’s most well-known brands. From where you sit, what are the most exciting opportunities out there for the brands that embrace influencer strategy in their marketing mix?

Let me tell you what really excites me here. My most innovative clients who already “get” the power of working with online influencers are pushing us to take influencer strategy further than we’ve ever gone before. What this creates is an opportunity to co-create!

It’s not just about reaching out to influencers in a traditional pitching fashion where you might create an exciting event you want to invite them to or where you might send them a box full a beautiful stuff that they would get excited about.

We are being given the opportunity to hand select people who are very influential about a specific topic area and work with them on creating something together rather than us as a brand or representative of a brand acting in a silo and just saying, “Hi Influencer, do you like this thing that we’ve done?”

Now I can go to someone who really matters to my client and say, “Look, I have some budget and we would like to work with you on something.” We can buy some of their time, provide material or take them somewhere to do something unique that results in co-produced content that is much more valuable to our clients than some broadcasted, one-dimensional messaging.

So on one hand, I no longer have endless “no thanks” responses and our influencers get to do interesting things and are properly compensated for their influence.

As someone who rocks at engagement, what is the most challenging part for you? In other words, what is your kryptonite?

I would not necessarily say it’s my kryptonite but the most challenging thing is cutting through all of the noise. Everyone and their dog has woken up to the fact there is value in working with influencers. So bloggers and people who have influence on various social platforms are being absolutely bombarded by brands wanting to work with them.

To a point that there are so many full time professional bloggers and influencers who have this as their full time career, you can almost put them in a bracket with press now. You see that in the way agencies plan now — top tier bloggers and influencers go in the same list as press. Therefore trying to create something that is exciting and valuable for this individual is the most difficult point.

All it really requires is a bit of creativity but it’s not easy. You have to consider even the most basic stuff (think email subject lines). This is stuff that PR has been doing for years to get on the radar of the right people.

How do you work with professional bloggers? Do you think they are a valuable relationship?

Yes, if you are pairing reach and volume of eyeballs you might get from working with a specific blogger with the fact that they are suitable in the things that they write about. Just going after influencers who have a lot of scale attributed to them and perceived reach is pointless if they are writing about something that is completely irrelevant to your brand. You always have to pair the two things together. They have to be relevant and also have reach.

For many marketers, outreach is tough. What is your advice to someone who currently has no influencer outreach strategy in place? Where should they start?

I would say start within your own environment, look at the places where you might not consider people to have influence but they might be super passionate about your brand. Look within your own social platforms, within your Facebook account, your Twitter feed. Find the people who are regularly corresponding with you and work with them first.

Then as a next stage you have to build a benchmark — using a tool to look at who has influence within a certain topic or talking to people who you trust who write about a certain industry.

Then the third stage is to apply some kind of human analysis on top — some kind of common sense in terms of reading that person’s content and gleaning insight from the content they produce.

What sorts of skills and best practices are required for influencer outreach?

I’ve actually recruited a lot of my team from PR agencies. In terms of skills, what I always look for is a true understanding of what makes good content. That means our community managers can look at what influencers say and almost have an editorial spin on it, “You guys are talking about X and we are about to do a project about X too, how can we work together?” Combine the editorial skills with creativity and you have the ideal person who can do this influencer activity.

You’ve spoken and written about Social ROI, specifically that there are no easy answers here. How do you recommend measuring the results of influencer outreach? Do you have any guiding pillars that can help a marketer develop their own approach?

We look at this two ways.

1) We measure social activity broadly. For example looking at the value of a Facebook page. We build up different levels. Each stage represents a deeper level of interaction with the brand. From hand raising to sharing. Sharing is something that we perceive to be the most valuable social interaction.

We created a different version of this for influencer outreach because influencers do not necessarily interact with your brand the same way as a consumer. It goes from handraiser, to advocate and ambassador. You want influencers to move through these stages and interact with your brand at a deeper and deeper level.

When we start working with influencers we place them on the pyramid according to where they most appropriately fit. Then we create programs that specifically aim to move people through these stages. Dell has done this very well and we have been inspired by their best practices.

2) We use other metrics, such as sentiment and quality of interaction coming from an influencer. Another way to measure is by benchmarking the before and after opinion in relationship to a brand and the engagement with the content influencers have created.

If there really was a team of superheros named the Engagers and you were on it, what name would you give yourself?

That is best question ever! I am going to go for the Black Widow. Black Widows are nimble and efficient. They have 8 legs and I do believe that you need multiple skills to do this job.