Enhance your brand with earned influence

What is earned influence, and how does it relate to public relations? The concept was recently discussed by PR Council Chair Chris Graves on PRcouncil.net:

"If we dive deep into the core of what public relations can be, at its most meaningful and most competent, it is a powerful differentiator from advertising and other marketing disciplines. Because at our essence, we understand the art and science of building relationships. When successful, those relationships allow us to engage others with purpose and respect, to share, educate, inform and entertain. Through these relationships, we earn the right to try to join conversations and maybe even change minds. We earn that right to influence others. Call it earned influence."

But how can you use the concept of earned influence to enhance your brand? It's all about genuine relationship-building. Here are five factors that help you create valuable audience engagement in today's crowded digital marketplace.

1. Locate your audience

Once you've determined who you're trying to reach (your target audience), it's time to find out where they are. Which online or social platforms are they using to communicate? Researching your audience's demographics and socio-graphics can provide insight into the digital spheres where they gather.

Knowing your audience's preferred method of communication means you can tailor content specifically for that platform, instead of taking a blanket approach and trying to haphazardly cover it all. Keep in mind quality versus quantity; top-notch content where it needs to be, versus generic, duplicate content across every platform.

2. Produce content that's valuable

Your audience will be more likely to engage with you (and, in turn, create earned influence) if you have information they're looking for. Ask yourself: Am I answering their questions? Am I providing added insight to their interests? Do your research to find out what information gaps are out there, then fill them with unique, meaningful content. 

3. Determine the best timing

Once you've determined the type of content you will deliver, and where, consider how to stay up to date. If you know what time frames, holidays or events drive your user engagement, take advantage of this insight to provide timely content. Maintaining your brand's voice online is a much more onerous task than posting updates to your personal Facebook page. Invest effort in ensuring your corporate content provides intelligent insight and accuracy. Commit time to the task and results will follow.

4. Be consistent

Now that you've put in the work to engage and influence your audience(s), keep it up. The way to maintain a loyal following is through consistent content that continues to be unique and meaningful. Be sure to monitor your engagement stats so you can gauge when your interaction rates are at their highest. Then, follow through on providing content around these times. A content calendar can help you to plan your content and posting schedule, as well as track your engagement metrics.

5. Converse with your audience

With great content comes great engagement, but are you responding to it? Online communication is a two-way street, and the best way to earn your influence is to engage with your audience to create a meaningful relationship. Just as often as you curate your own content, you should be listening and responding to your audience's conversations. As you review and engage, you'll be able to gain raw feedback, something you can't garner from other forms of communication (think: print ads, billboards, newsletters). Be social, and keep the conversation flowing.

Incorporating these five factors together, you'll be putting considerable effort into relationship-building with your audience, and earning a true influence. And, as you keep up your efforts, you'll be able to earn trust and create brand advocates for your business.