Let me take you back a decade. A journalism student sits in a tutorial as the lecturer discusses a very pressing and modern issue facing the profession: “is the weblog a threat to traditional journalism?”
Weblog. How many young bloggers today even know that is what the word “blog” is short for? Back when the full term was still in use, I was writing essays on whether bloggers would overthrow journalists to become the principal news reporters and commentators as people looked towards other sources of news.
Fast forward ten years and things haven’t turned out exactly as predicted. While there has indeed been an increase in alternative news websites (admittedly not all of them telling the truth with fake news being shared indiscriminately across social media), many of us still look to established media outlets (albeit their websites increasingly more than their print editions) for updates on what’s happening in the world around us. But for feature writers, it could be argued that bloggers and social media influencers are indeed challengers with an increasing number and variety of brands turning to them to spread the word about their goods.
From food and drink products to tourist attractions, fashion accessories to cultural events, I’ve worked on PR campaigns in these areas that have targeted bloggers and influencers as much as journalists. Even a finance client once asked me to engage with vloggers to promote the value of their offering to students. Bloggers are now rubbing shoulders with journalists at press previews and launch events, high-end lifestyle influencers are being chased by luxury brands desperate to be connected to them and niche hobbyists tweeting or instagramming about their pastime are being sent samples by brands looking for an endorsement.
While it seems that everyone is keen to get in with bloggers and influencers and are prepared to pay for it wherever necessary, it is worth considering that the recently published PRCA Digital PR and Communications Report 2018 found that budgets in the areas of blogger outreach and social influencer outreach have decreased by 9% and 12% respectively. The cut in budgets isn’t necessarily down to a decrease in blogger and influencer engagement activity or a lack of client confidence in the area but instead could be attributed to a rise in the so-called “micro influencer”.
Micro-influencers are influencers with a smaller number of online followers than their big-name counterparts (around 10,000 followers or sometimes even less). They don’t charge as much for their services usually because blogging isn’t their fulltime job – sometimes even just a few freebies of your product will suffice. A smaller number of followers means that these micro-influencers are more likely to be engaging directly with them, finding time to respond to comments and building up stronger trust and relationships. The fact that micro-influencers are more contactable and relatable is the key and therefore when their followers see them talking positively about a brand or product, they are more likely to listen and understand why they would like it too.
So, while bloggers haven’t become the hardcore news reporters predicted in my university journalism seminars, relentlessly seeking the truth and reporting the facts to the masses, they have become an integral part of PR campaigns in certain sectors. For many of Orbit’s clients though, the audiences that matter are still reading and listening to the established media outlets or trade publications associated with their fields. This is likely to remain an important part of the work PRs do for a long time to come. But if your brand has a product to sell to a specific consumer then engaging with relevant micro-influencers and bloggers to be featured on their channels can be a powerfully effective PR and marketing tool.