Why Relevance Trumps Influence in Every Type of Media (Not Just Social)

by Shannon Paul on June 27, 2010

View of saxophones being held up by the bottom of the instrument by the gloved hands of the players in the marching bandDespite so much noise about how social media has radically changed the rules of PR and marketing, the fascination with social media influencers is proof of a persistent desire in our industry to take the same old shotgun approach to publicity and dress it up in a new media veneer.

In the influencer game, everyone with high enough readership, or an audience large enough to be considered influential gets pitched for campaigns without a lot of thought to whether the message they’re asking these influencers to deliver is relevant to those in his/her network. Even Virgin America is jumping on the social media influencer bandwagon with free tickets to what it considers influential Twitter users.

Doesn’t this dance sound familiar? Simply pitch everyone with a soapbox tall enough to carry your message to their audience?

Stop Schmoozing and Find People Who Actually Care

It doesn’t matter how much influence someone wields if the message is irrelevant to their audience.

When this happens, the audience predictably tunes out. Everyone loses. A friend of mine once described this phenomenon with the analogy of tapping an influential hippie to talk to their audience about deodorant. Silly, yes, but you get the point.

When a message is relevant enough, and the delivery is passionate enough, that relevance leads to resonance, which can actually create mass influence. Martin Luther King, Jr., Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore are all examples of individuals who were basically nobodies without a relevant message, whether or not you agree with their position or politics. Many of the people who influence me on a daily basis do so through being relevant (none of them are famous for the sake of being famous). When it resonates, I listen.

Influence may be able to create short-term buzz, but a relevant message can spark a movement.

I’m not recommending you ignore people who are influential, but journalists have been preaching the gospel of relevance to PR practitioners for years. There is nothing new about switching players in the same old game.

Social media tools offer new ways for companies and brands to increase perceived relevance with consumers, journalists and stakeholders of many stripes. The fascination with influencers in social media marketing seems downright, well… retro.

Little Bloggers Grow Up Fast

This is a message I received loud and clear from Liz Strauss a couple years ago. Since I’m only two years into publishing this blog, you might consider me a testament to her theory. Make friends with those online participants and content creators who truly care about your company, your mission and your brand, or who are passionate about something aligned with the mission of your business (some might call this common ground). That may not get the short term spike in online buzz you’re looking for, but you may just spark a real, lasting movement.

At the very least, shouldn’t we all be thinking about both influence AND relevance in equal measure?

Photo Credit: MightyBoyBrian

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{ 18 comments }

June 27, 2010 Rufus Dogg

I get pitched all the time by pet supply people, thinking I write a dog blog. If they spent 3 minutes and 1 paragraph into my blog, they would know right away that I blog on social and political idiocy that drives me nuts. I just happen to flesh out my ideas on log walks with my dogs who I walk until the ideas have fleshed themselves out (or fizzled out.) Besides, I’d been waiting for you to post all weekend and thought I’d drop a comment while I was here. :-)

June 27, 2010 Shannon Paul

That’s hilarious. I never before contemplated whether you were getting pitched from pet supply people, but that makes a lot of sense :D

Thanks for the comment — sorry for the suspense!

June 27, 2010 Rachel

I love this post. I write about cocktails, and I’m not sure which list I appear on that made an automotive company want to pitch me to drive their cars around and then blog/tweet/take pictures of it, but I just laughed thinking that had they really thought about what they were asking me to do, they would have turned to another blogger. Anything that I would have written could have been construed as promoting drinking and driving (even if it was just one glass of wine or someone else was drinking), and I can’t imagine any of my readers would have understood the “cross promotion.”

Welcome back to Detroit, by the way! I hope to meet you soon at one of the social media events.

June 27, 2010 Laura Scholz

As a PR person, I love this sentence: I’m not recommending you ignore people who are influential, but journalists have been preaching the gospel of relevance to PR practitioners for years.

I preach that to my clients as well–maybe Oprah isn’t the best fit for everyone. Sometimes, you can get just as much traction or more if you connect with a local food blogger or hyperlocal blog editor.

In the end, social media is just a new twist on something very old-fashioned–relationships. And relevance is very much a part of that.

Great blog, Shannon! I need to remember to stop by more often!

June 28, 2010 Jeremiah

Reminds me of a pitch I got the other week. It was a brand that should of known better, and they couldn’t decide which product this was actually about; not to mention the typographical errors.

There was no “what’s in it for your readers,” it read basically like “take a bunch of time, give us a bunch of love for product x, and by the way, you should be honored we even thought of you for product y.” (x and y difference intentional, as they mentioned different products in their pitch).

It was definitely a misspelled form letter. Bleh. Not interested.

June 28, 2010 Bradford Barker

Nice post Shannon. I totally agree with your points. Content is queen and context is now king. Relevancy in all channels is a must. Without a relevant message, it is nearly impossible to receive any type of resonance in return.

June 28, 2010 Josh Chandler

Shannon,

I think in some respects because social media is a “fad” most companies are trying to grab hold of whatever momentum they can before it runs out.

They just don’t think through strategically about the reasoning (as you mentioned!)

You just know that once those companies finally catch on to the right way of doing this, it’ll be too late. The promotions and content will be created by us and their advertising campaigns won’t work at all.

Their loss. :)

June 28, 2010 Bradford Barker

Josh, I sincerely hope your comment about social media being a “fad” was facetious.

June 28, 2010 Chris Miller

Great post, inspired me to write a response post on focus :)

June 29, 2010 Keith Burtis

Shannon, one thing I might ad to this article is that it’s MUCH easier to get the attention of a blogger who is passionate about a certain subject matter and that might not have a lot of opportunities to collaborate. Many of the “Influentials” just get spammed daily on projects because of that large soap-box. I really believe that if your reaching out to super passionate people and you give them the ability to get involved in something that betters their life that the value is MUCH higher.

June 30, 2010 Mark Sprague

It’s to bad that these folks can’t be parsed through a search engine indexing process, so that they can be tagged, and you never see them unless the relevancy is just right…good TV plot, eh. Imagine the crap storm if there was no relevancy algorythms at work when you are doing research with Google / Bing.

July 2, 2010 Mandy Vavrinak

Shannon,

I love this post… Public Relations is relationship-based, or should be. Tweet & post is no different than fax & pray as an approach.

I just did a blog interview (will be posted next Thurs) on social media and PR and small biz. I basically said that social media is a connection-creating mechanism and a relationship-maintenance tool. Getting to know people before including them in a pitch is just good PR.

Like you say, influence doesn’t equal relevance. Thanks for posting this… A subject near & dear to my heart. :)

July 3, 2010 Rob Metras

Relevance and positive contribution to the arguments are the most important components to me. I am much more interested in what you have to say than if you are a Twitteratti or well promoted . In your case Shannon I see you as a leader naturally because of your content not because of any internet notoriety. What I also like is I can have direct content versus traditional media biases. Awaiting your first book my friend.

July 9, 2010 Colleen Jones

Excellent points, Shannon. I love how you connect issues of influence and relevance not only to social media but to other types of content and media, too.

It’s not being a “person of influence” that matters as much as offering influential content. And I couldn’t agree more that making content relevant is one of the best ways to be influential or persuasive.

July 12, 2010 Sean - Seo Australia

Of course relevancy is also an important factor in social media but if you have like minded people in your network and if you provide relevant content what your community is in for, there are higher the chances to ignore your tweet/update/message if it isn’t something new one!

July 18, 2010 Andrew Turnbull

Wow, two years? I hope I have half the blog you do in two years =)

July 20, 2010 steve olenski

Hi Shannon,

This post reminds me a little of of something I just scribed about re: knowing your customers… your good customers, your relevant customers, not your one-and-done types… http://tinyurl.com/2c8zas4

May 17, 2011 Social Media

Hey i’m from the United kingdom, What a fantastic post reagarding social media marketing that is. Many thanks for this tends to can be found in helpful.

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