October 2017
By Rahul Prabhakar

Image: hocus-focus/istockphoto.com

Rahul Prabhakar has over 15 years of experience in technical communication and has worked for some of the world's leading technology companies such as Samsung and Oracle. Rahul is a travel enthusiast from India, whose love for folklore took him to more than ten countries, including South Korea, where he stayed for seven years.




How social media can be part of your set of tc skills

As social media continues to strongly influence consumer behavior, companies are looking to engage with influencers to help promote their brands through their populated networks. With their strong communication skills, professional tech writers might be well-suited to fill this role.

The emergence of social media in the last decade has brought with it a paradigm shift in consumer behavior. Consumers no longer rely on conventional advertisement before making a purchase, but rather turn to their trusted sources within online or social communities. These communities greatly influence their purchasing decision by giving consumers an honest and holistic view of the product or its features.

Brands are beginning to realize the extent of reach and engagement social media influencers have and thus want to work with them in order to champion content on their offerings, drive engagement around their brand, and push traffic to their websites or landing pages.

Technical communicators all over the world are known to have a range of skills or abilities that make them successful in the workplace. Being the best communicators within the organization, they can leverage third-party social media tools like blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. to create communication channels with customers, thus potentially influencing their purchasing decision.

In this article I will focus on how social media can be part of your set of technical communication skills.

The impact of social media

According to a case study by the digital marketing agency ODM Group, 74 percent of consumers are more likely to buy a product when referred from a blog or social media site.

A survey from Influence Central states that as many as 86 percent of female shoppers refer to social media before buying something, and are more likely to try a new brand when they have interacted with that brand on social media.

Social media in today's context is

  • all about real-time connectedness, collaboration, and mobility
  • larger conversations within the community
  • free of cost; you only pay the service provider for using the Internet on your devices
  • global and ubiquitous in nature

The impact of social media on businesses today is unprecedented, and with influencers coming into the picture, marketers are constantly buzzing with talk about ways to engage them, mostly with the intention of driving value for brands.

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is a type of marketing that focuses on using key leaders to drive a brand's message to the larger market. Rather than marketing directly to consumers, you instead inspire, hire or pay influencers to get the word out for your brand.

An influencer is a person who is

  • well-connected,
  • regarded as influential and in-the-know, and
  • looked to for advice, direction, knowledge, and opinions.

Typical examples of influencers are people like CEOs, CMOs, PR professionals, creative people, bloggers, journalists and other experts.

Nielsen Catalina Solutions, in partnership with TapInfluence and WhiteWave Foods, released a case study last year revealing that Influencer Marketing delivers eleven times more ROI over all other forms of digital marketing.

According to a Tomoson study, marketers rate influencer outreach as the fastest-growing online customer acquisition channel, ahead of organic search, paid search, and email marketing.

Social media influencers are usually professionals who live and breathe social media through their over-populated accounts while focusing on very specific niches. They can coin terms, spread news like fire and influence people's opinions.

From a brand's perspective, there are three main reasons for working with social media influencers:

  • Brand exposure
  • Direct sales
  • Future collaborations

While brand influencers may or may not get paid, they show their love for the brand voluntarily. Whether an influencer's audience is small or large, an influencer can reach consumers via their blogs and social networks in a way that a brand may not be able to.

Using social media influencers in your marketing is the practice of building relationships with the people who can build relationships for you.

So what does an influencer mean for a brand? Typically, from a marketer's perspective, it is crucial to know how many influencers are talking about your brand. Each and every day, marketers should measure all influential posts that mention their brand.

To understand who qualifies as an influencer, you need to first learn the core concepts that will help you develop an influencer campaign with real results.

Defining influence

In order to define influence, think of what aspects give an individual the power to influence others within their social sphere. The potential to influence can be related to three attributes that are important for marketers to think about: relevance, reach, and resonance.

  • Relevance: Creating content that is relevant to your brand, or relevant to a topic that is important to your brand
  • Reach: The ability to reach a targeted audience that is valuable to your brand
  • Resonance: The proliferation of or engagement with relevant content by an audience that is valuable to your brand

Your brand’s potential influencer should be able to meet all three criteria in order to be considered.

To become an influencer, an individual doesn't necessarily need to reach a large audience; sometimes reaching a small but niche audience can be just as valuable. Another thing to keep in mind is that just because someone is influential on one topic doesn't mean they can be considered influential on another. For example, if someone is an influencer on all things technology, it doesn't mean that his or her posts about automobiles will carry the same weight.

Just like within our own personal networks, we need to identify individuals who are experts on the given topic.

How to identify influencers

Before you start proactively engaging with influencers, it is necessary to identify the right ones first. It can get tricky to expand the list of influencers beyond a group who are already talking about your brand.

The "right" social media influencer must:

  • Be an expert in a specific niche
  • Be able to produce a variety of content, such as text, videos, photos, infographics, slideshares, rich media
  • Be able to communicate long-term in their chosen niche
  • Be honest, even when the brand tries to dictate terms
  • Have a good reach or engagement
  • Learn when to back out if creative freedom is not given
  • Share what they love
  • Always add value for readers
  • Not consider popularity at the cost of credibility
  • Always be one step ahead in terms of knowing what the next big social media platform or product is going to be
  • Consider the transformed media landscape to produce content that is global and ubiquitous in nature
  • Be aware that readers can now talk back using social media and are no longer disconnected from each other
  • Make the best use of social media; the content should be original, not duplicated, and be created to convene, not control

A good starting point to identify influencers is by diving into the data you have access to. For instance, start with Twitter - the primary channel for syndicating content from a wide variety of sources, especially blogs that contain in-depth thought leadership or original long-winded content.

By querying a keyword or a collection of keywords, you will find influencers relevant to a given topic. You will also see how often individual posts are pulled into that topic to determine the degree of relevance for the topic you're interested in.

With relevance established, you can determine how frequently those on-topic posts are engaged with to establish resonance. You can check whether or not this content actually gets shared.

By shortlisting potential influencers, you can also analyze the quality of their follower network to make sure they are a valuable audience for your brand. This plays into reach. If your topic is niche, you might be fine with accepting influencers who have a smaller number of followers. But if you're looking to drive brand awareness, you should be selective and only accept influencers with very large follower audiences.

If the devil is in the details and the details are in the data, that's where informed marketers should be.

How to engage influencers

Most marketers believe that they're already engaging with social media influencers, and would probably seek to grow this engagement.

Typically, brands have a process in place to respond to influencers who mention them. There are many ways to engage influencers, such as:

  • Encourage influencers to create original and valuable content for the brand
  • Familiarize influencers on advances the brand is making in the market vis-à-vis the competition
  • Entice influencers to follow social media accounts of the brand and regularly champion brand content

The degree to which an influencer is likely to advocate a brand can be determined by their social behavior (for example, what they post and how they interact with the brand).

The best and safest way to engage new influencers is by starting small: make them aware of product announcements and check their response before calling on them to support the brand content and campaigns.

Can technical communicators become influencers?

With improvements in hardware, the cost of creating content has come down drastically. Amateur content creators are ruling the roost in social media.

Here's what you can do as a technical communicator:

  • Find, follow and study social media influencers in your chosen niche/domain
  • Start power networking through
    -    events, meetings or conferences
    -     WhatsApp and Facebook groups
    -     agencies (both digital and traditional PR)
  • Register with influencer marketing companies for paid campaigns
  • Learn and master relevant social media platforms, marketing strategies and content creation
  • Build a loyal group of followers through writing, editing and sharing content
  • Intentionally design and plan out content ahead of time
  • Stage the product in correct light, appropriate backdrop, and carefully designed flat lay
  • Take multiple photos to get the right one (or pay to hire a photographer to take them). Edit and crop said photos
  • Craft the perfect caption and hashtags to maximize engagement
  • Post at the perfect time to optimize reach, influence and interaction
  • Follow up with readers and respond to their comments and questions


User-generated content is growing more and more influential. If you're thinking of becoming an influencer, stay exclusive, original, and honest. Create a message that people actually want to hear and share. Whether it's in the form of research, infographics, surveys or fun facts, you need to make sure your message is unique and interesting.

Further reading