The Engagers: Sahana Jayaraman on Authentic Social Influence

Sahana Jayaraman on Building Relationships with Influencers

In this edition of The Engagers, I connected with Sahana Jayaraman, a Social Business Strategist with a passion for demystifying “buzz words”, having a POV on “shiny objects” and packaging “data” into insightful content and engagement strategies for her clients.

Sahana has more than 10 years of integrated communications experience working with global brands, helping her clients discover, understand and implement social technologies to further their brand objectives. This includes driving social influence through the creation, management and measurement of content across paid, earned, shared and owned channels.

FleishmanHillard just unveiled a new strategic direction that acknowledges the incredible changes in the way people communicate and how brands fit into an evolving digital picture. You were brought into FleishmanHillard to be a part of this vision. From your unique vantage point, what can a Fortune 500 company achieve today that wasn’t possible before digital?

Today, more than ever, Fortune 500 brands are expected to communicate across multiple channels and with multiple audiences in an almost instantaneous manner. Before digital media it was nearly impossible for such big companies to publish and share content so quickly at scale.

As a result, brand communicators are increasingly leveraging earned, owned and paid channels in an integrated approach. Digital is the ‘shared’ vein that makes impactful moments of engagement across these channels possible.

Also, digital media has opened the door for two-way dialogue leading customers to expect more interaction from their favorite brands. This has caused a huge transformation in the way we think about social influence, and has required marketers like myself to think about influencer marketing as a powerful communications strategy.

Many people confuse influencers for megaphones. You approach them very differently. Can you tell us how influencers fit into your process when you are developing a digital strategy for a client?

Influencers are people, and people value authentic relationships with other people, not brands. My approach to social influence focuses on building relationships based on this shared value. This includes fostering conversation and connecting the dots between trusted experts and niche influencers, just like we would when we network offline. We engage in appropriate conversations and establish credibility by sharing relevant and helpful information. This is most effective when a brand can create communities of shared interest.

Normally I would ask about your kryptonite, or that one thing you really struggle with when it comes to marketing. Instead, can you tell us how your mentors have helped you get where you are today?

When I started my career in PR, blogs were just emerging and social media did not exist. In many ways I helped clients pursue an unchartered territory without an established path. I was fortunate to have forward-thinking mentors who promoted the ‘test and learn’ philosophy and encouraged me to pursue my passion for social, before it was coined “social”.

You told me that before you engage with influencers, you start by listening and even once you know them, you keep listening. What do you listen for?

Yes, I do my research before I engage with any individual or niche community. Listening helps me understand influencers’ passions, network and even tone of voice or reactions to certain topics. This context helps inform key content decisions so that I can pursue a relationship with confidence.

Social influence is not static, but in fact in constant flux of connectivity. In order to remain authentic and relevant, it is critical that brand influencers keep a pulse on daily conversations. Active listening connects the dots between insights, ideas, and people and ensures the relationship continues to evolve.

New technologies and social media have forced brands to be more authentic in their marketing. Can you tell us what authenticity means to you and how you cultivate it in your digital strategies.

I associate human interaction with authenticity, even if you are a brand. Just saying you are “authentic” is not enough anymore. You cannot fake authenticity. Authentic in social means real people connecting with other real people.

Brands who can close the gap between what they say about themselves and what consumers actually experience achieve greater authenticity. One of the ways I have seen this really work is when brands connect passionate experts within their organization with niche communities. This really helps achieve brand advocacy.

Part of your role at FleishmanHillard is staying on top of new digital marketing technologies that can move the needle for your clients. Tell us what criteria you are looking for when you review a tool?

Yes, it seems there is an endless mountain of tools available to marketers today. It is a cluttered and confusing environment. Technology follows strategy. When I review technologies I always ask myself, “How can this tool help me solve problems?”

I like tools that offer me a convenient way to implement and further my strategy, versus “technology presented as the strategy”. The tools I use have a clear value statement and directly address real pain points, versus a perceived problem.

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

Empathy is one of my favorite human qualities. That is why I like Raven, the DC comic super-heroine who embodies empathy and can act as a Raven’s eyes and ears away from her body. Empathy is also critical to understanding niche audiences and creating smart ideas, both highly relevant skills to my business.