Is Influencer Outreach Overrated? Chrysler Doesn’t Think So!
Influencer outreach, a method of generating online third-party media coverage for a brand or organization, is popular in digital PR today.
It’s also controversial, as social media strategist and founder of Tatu Digital Media, Janet Fouts, explains, “As social media users accrue more and more followers, buy followers and use black hat techniques to artificially inflate their number of connections it can be hard to sort out the true influencers around a particular topic.”
Influencer outreach has been called overrated by some—and the new “link building SEO” tool by others.
So which is it?
According to Chrysler, it’s a viable tool and one they use regularly as an integral part of their online public relations and communications campaigns. The automaker uses influencer outreach in promoting plant visits, their annual “What’s New Day at the Chrysler Proving Groups” and in new vehicle introduction drive programs, like this year’s 2015 Chrysler 200 Media Drive.
“When Chrysler Group is looking at prospective invitees to their new vehicle drive programs, we’re looking at two types of social media influencers,” says Mike Driehorst, Editorial Director – Online Media, Chrysler Digital Media for Chrysler Group, LLC. “One group is made up of those who likely will write the traditional review/story on a blog or other long version platform. The other group we’re looking at is those who we expect to post in real-time. Those influencers, for example, with large Twitter/Vine and Instagram communities.”
Sometimes, people are in both groups. But, often they are not.
By involving influencers with both types of posts, Chrysler looks to increase the timeframe of expected coverage from real-time, as influencers learn about and experience the cars during the program, to a day, or days after, the program ends.
Influencers who are active on real-time platforms are likely to post about their upcoming involvement in the program, and to check in during social times, during vehicle presentations, and during the actual ride and drive activities. They tend to immerse their digital communities in the program through images and their quick updates and opinions.
While traditional bloggers or journalists may not be as active on real-time platforms but will publish detailed reviews after the conclusion of the drive event.
Both types of coverage are valuable and help meet Chrysler’s overall objectives for drive programs.
Chrysler finds influencers for these programs by using a combination of activities and efforts.
“First, there’s serendipity. Through being active on Twitter, an engaging Facebook presence and other activities, we find people who are passionate about Chrysler Group, or have a strength in a particular demographic (i.e., parenting, young adults, etc.),” says Mike Driehorst.
Chrysler also does general searches on Google or one of their social media monitoring tools to look for people who’ve talked about a particular vehicle or type of vehicle.
“Often, influencers – who want to regularly review our vehicles – find and contact us,” Mike states.
If someone isn’t a good fit initially, Chrysler retains their information to try and grow the relationship for future drive programs.
In deciding who to include in a drive program, Chrysler evaluates whether or not the person is open to reviews, seems to be fair and honest, and has a sizable social network for real-time short posts like on Instagram and Twitter, or longer form like blog posts or even Facebook.
However, as social media has resulted in the blend of professional and personal lives, Mike has friended many “influencers” on Facebook and often has one-on-one chats about things related and unrelated to cars. He also communicates via text and on Twitter using a combination of direct messages and public back-and-forths.
Building social waves
— Simply Real Moms (@SimplyRealMoms) March 23, 2014
During the past couple of years, Chrysler Group has been particularly active in expanding their connections with social media influencers. For nearly every new vehicle drive program since spring 2012, they have included a “social media wave,” with the other waves of journalists learning about and driving our newest cars.
“The people attending the social waves are treated the same as those in other waves, except they have no embargo,” says Mike. “Nothing is ‘dumbed down.’ They still get the detailed vehicle information from the engineers and designers who made them.”
Chrysler tailors each drive program to match the vehicle’s projected owner demographic. Sometimes, though, a vehicle can appeal to an array of people so, in those cases, they invite an array of influencers and digital media.
Chrysler’s Public Relations and Communications influencer outreach programs do not include financial compensation for influencers. “Any sponsorship diminishes the influencers credibility, even if only slightly. The only ‘compensation’ for drive programs is that Chrysler Group arranges and pays for travel and lodging, plus providing meals. But that is typical for drive programs,” Mike explains.
“We also use our corporate social platforms also help amplify their influencers. If an influencer has done a review, Chrysler helps get the word out and tweets links to the reviews, pins their reviews and adds them to ChryslerOnDemand.com,” Mike explains.
— The College Driver (@theCD) March 23, 2014
Chrysler tracks coverage before, during and after drive events, and puts together a report for the brand team. According to Mike, the influencer outreach programs for the 2015 Chrysler 200 and the 2015 Dodge Challenger were very successful because they generated good exposure, generally on the key points of the vehicles, from audiences Chrysler had not reached before—both real-time and for longer version reviews.
“While we can’t control what influencers say, and we don’t even try, our hope is that they will post some type of review or series of impressions. And if it’s positive, then it’s more successful. If I wasn’t confident in an influencer outreach program, I wouldn’t suggest we invite influencers,” he concludes.
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