leveraging your best route to audience

The PR industry spends a lot of time talking about targeting key influencers through social media. Influencers are the people who, because they have credibility and visibility within a particular target audience, can help get a brand’s messaging noticed and trusted. Influencers range from journalists to industry analysts to mummy bloggers – and pretty much everyone in between – depending on who the audience is.

With B2C audiences, using social media analysis and a bit of intuition to draw up a list of key influencers is usually pretty straightforward. This is something that comes quite naturally to most PR professionals, in part because that’s how they make their living but also because it’s familiar – we are all consumers.

When it comes to B2B, however, finding influencers can be a bit more daunting. This is especially the case where a client’s messaging requires in-depth industry knowledge, technical jargon, or a high level of expertise. Also, industry specific conversations are often low volume, or exist behind registration walls, making them difficult to find through traditional social media monitoring and analysis.

So what’s the route to audience for B2B brands with a complex story to tell? Staff.

Moving forward, I suspect we’ll see many more brands, particularly in the B2B space, leveraging the capability and willingness of staff to share, via their own personal and professional networks, corporate messaging with relevant audiences.

A few years ago, I helped PepsiCo Europe devise and begin implementing a new social media strategy. Whilst working with them, I came across PepLine, an internal html newsletter regularly distributed to staff. Some of the content in the newsletter was company confidential, but much of it wasn’t. On those items that staff were welcome to share outside the firewall, PepsiCo added one-click share buttons, making it a seamless process for staff members who found that content interesting to share it with their own personal and professional networks.

It was a simple, yet powerful, way of encouraging PepsiCo’s staff – numbering just under 300,000 employees globally – to share content with people who, because of their connection with a staff member, are likely themselves to have some personal or professional interest in that content.

According to a recent survey, around 20% of LinkedIn users have between 51-100 connections. A further 20% have 101-200, and about 17% have between 201-300. Together, that’s just under 60% of linked in users falling between 51-300 connections so, averaging out across that (which cuts out those who don’t add many connections as well as super-users = so focuses on more typical usage patterns), it’s fairly safe to assume most ordinary employees will have about 175 connections.

Say a piece of corporate content is distributed to 100,000 staff globally. If just 1% (so 1000) of those staff members choose to share it via LinkedIn, the potential reach is 1000 x 175 = 175,000. That number doesn’t take into account any sharing beyond the initial audience of direct connections.

But this isn’t purely about potential reach. It’s about reaching the right audience. Using my own LinkedIn network as an example, the 520 contacts I’ve classified (about 40% of the total) include 251 colleagues and former colleagues, 172 partners (which includes vendors and clients), 64 friends and 33 classmates. Accounting for just the first two groups, and ignoring the 60% of my LinkedIn contacts that are unclassified (oops), I’m connected to at least 420 people who work in, or procure services from, the digital and social media industry – exactly the audience my employer should be targeting with marketing materials, industry insights, thought leadership and recruitment messaging.

Leveraging the personal and professional connections of staff can be a great route to finding the right audience with corporate content, particularly in B2B situations where messaging is unlikely to be relevant to, or understood by, those outside a particular industry. It’s surprising more brands aren’t doing this.

(Note: Several small grammatical amendments were made to this post on 16 April, 2013)