LaunchSquad's Jason Mandell Talks 'Influencers' Ahead of the Critical Issues Forum

LaunchSquad's Jason Mandell Talks 'Influencers' Ahead of the Critical Issues Forum

Last week, we interviewed Ogilvy PR’s Chris Graves as a lead-up to the annual Council of PR Firms Critical Issues Forum taking place in NYC next month. Today we’re following that with a discussion with LaunchSquad’s own Jason Mandell on the topic of influencers, a key issue that will be discussed at the Forum.

1) When you’re trying to promote a client, how do you determine who’s going to be an effective influencer?

Every client and situation is different so there’s really no rules or methodology that we follow.

It can be easy to get caught up in the science of what we do, but we try hard not to lose sight of the human element of what we do.

One of the areas where we see a lot of programs fall short is that they start with the idea that influential people are a means to an end, with the end being an endorsement that reaches a large, relevant audience. There’s the formulaic mindset that throws out the humanity of what we do and says Product/Service + Influencer + Large Audience = Success. It’s a very transactional mindset and we feel that it does a disservice to our industry and the clients we serve.

Our approach is really about identifying and engaging with people that we think may like or even love a company, product or service. That engagement is often very high touch and if we can inspire a powerful wave of passionate, engaged and connected people about something new, the broader influence part will in a lot of ways naturally take care of itself. So we often try to focus on these early influencers as our primary audience, as opposed to the people they ultimately reach.

Our jobs are much more fun and interesting than they were 10 years ago, that’s for sure!

2) How do you feel the role of influencers has changed since your time at LaunchSquad, specifically when it comes to social media?

It’s been pretty massive. The pre-social world of influence was pretty simple: you basically had media and you had analysts and you focused almost 100% on trying to convince them that what your client was doing was interesting and worth sharing with others. And if we were successful, we’d get a story in their publication and that was basically it. For most clients, we had to focus on maybe 10-20 key folks and then a “long tail” of maybe another 20-30 or so. It seemed pretty hard at the time of course, but compared to today things were so much easier!

With the explosion of first, the Internet, and then the various ways we use the web to connect with each other, we’ve gone through a period of constant and very disruptive change. Now, there can be literally thousands of people that have enough voice in a particular market that we need to identify and pay attention to, and often try to engage and “influence.” And each of those people has multiple channels for “publishing,” not just their magazine or blog. For example we can find ourselves in a situation where it is as or even more important for somebody to post about our client on Twitter than write a story about them.

Another interesting facet of all this change is that influencers are also looking for us to help them increase their exposure, and thus their influence. So often we work hand-in-hand in trying to share and promote something they have written or want to reach more people with.

3) Academics Duncan Watts and Sinan Aral conclude in their research that we actually are quite misguided when it comes to understanding influencers and their true impact. Do you agree that there might be a lot more out there when it comes to understanding influencers?

Absolutely. I’m very much looking forward to their session at this year’s Critical Issues Forum.” target=”_blank”>Chris has certainly built it up and I’m eager to see what they have to say. But I think it’s important to remember that determining influence is one facet of what we do. Just as if not more important is understanding what will capture influencers’ attention, which of course fundamentally comes down to “story.” We understand generally someone’s motivation to share and wield influence. We allow increasing glimpses into our personalities and lives and the new types of influencers largely tap into this craving – on both sides. For professional communicators, what we need to do is identify the latest trend, meme, topic or cause that’s going to give them a reason to engage with you and your client, and then want to share that with their readers, followers, fans, etc.

4) Which social media outlet do you feel is generally the biggest influencer, or does it depend on the product/company?

​In terms of instant engagement​ and understanding the influencer, Twitter seems to have an edge overall right now. At least in our world of innovation, technology and startups. But it really can vary depending on the client and specific campaign we are creating. Facebook can be really important for some consumer tech brands, especially if there is already a hefty following. We’re seeing Instagram pop up more, as well as Vine. Staying tapped into these constantly-evolving communication channels and tools is vital to our ability to provide the right counsel and strategies, and reach those ever-important influencers in the best way.

About Jason Mandell

Jason Mandell is partner and co-founder at LaunchSquad, a 100-person firm that helps emerging and fast-growing companies share their stories with the world. Mandell serves on the board of the Council of Public Relations Firms as well as the Hamilton Family Center, a homelessness prevention organization in San Francisco. Learn more about Jason here.

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