Journalists and key influencers
Influence is defined as “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself’. The growth of social media has added a new dimension to possible influencing factors.
To be influential, you must build trust, establish your authority, deliver value and form a mutual connection. Outreach also has an impact on influence, as large outreach enables a message to be more widely dispersed; however, outreach alone is not an accurate metric of influence. Traditionally, ‘key influencers’ were in positions of authority or public standing and were well placed to disseminate their messages and inspire action through the established outreach routes of the mainstream media i.e press, television or radio. Nowadays social media channels have democratised the process of information generation and dissemination giving almost anyone an opportunity to influence others via citizen journalism. This phenomena has created a new set of ‘key influencers’ which include both ‘expert’ and ‘hobby bloggers’ and these now need to be considered alongside the more traditional sources of influence within the food communication arena.
Identifying key influencers
Despite their potential outreach, many ‘citizen journalists’ will not be influential because their networks may be based on weak ties or links and they may not have built trust, proved their authority or provided substantial value to their network. However, over time as their networks and authority become more established, these individuals and their networks become more influential and under certain conditions, particularly those of crisis, the degree of influence of the ‘citizen journalists’ may exceed that of the mainstream media or other authoritative sources.
Regarding social media, the metrics used to identify key influential will vary across each channel. Metrics should be selected based on the knowledge, as outlined earlier, that to influence someone you must i) build trust, ii) establish your authority, iii) deliver value and iv) form a mutual connection. The essential component of influence is that it inspires action, thus metrics such as retweets (Twitter) and comments are important. Outreach is essential for dissemination purposes as without outreach you cannot influence anyone, thus metrics such as followers (Twitter) and fans/friends (Facebook) are important. To date there is no industry or academic gold standard for the identification of social media influencers.
Increasing effectiveness of communication by key influencers
There is clearly potential for those responsible for food risk/benefit communication to maximise on the benefits offered by social media to quickly disseminate information. However, it is important to recognise that much of what exists on social media are comments on, or links back to material published by the most influential professional media journalists and citizen journalists. Therefore, more proactive communication with these key influencers operating within the food topic areas is desirable and likely to have an impact on the overall effectiveness of any given communication strategy across all the media channels.
In particular this should include:
- Identify influencers in both the traditional and social media arenas: recognising that their influence may vary across subject matter or situation, e.g. food risks vs food benefits, crisis vs routine.
- Quickly responding to specific enquiries from both traditional and citizen journalists, particularly in food risk/crisis scenarios. (Consideration should also be given to the needs of professional journalists to access additional information over and above what is being officially published such that they may develop their articles into contextualised and interesting stories for their audiences.)
- Increasing the amount of information released in a food risk/crisis scenario particularly by maintaining and enhancing channels such as official websites, email alerts and telephone contact, but also by developing and maintaining an effective presence on social media.
- Ensuring press offices are adding value to the communication process and not acting as a barrier to journalists accessing ‘expert’ content. (Increasing access to experts in times of food risk or crisis is considered essential by the majority of professional journalists and continues to be a frustration for them when they are attempting to balance the needs of ‘speed vs accuracy’ within their published articles.)
- A greater focus on communicating the degree of risk and levels of uncertainty may also be beneficial.
- Ensuring accessible language is used all communications (Many journalists will not have a scientific background and avoiding overly scientific an cumbersome language in communications targeted to them is desirable)
- Monitoring of communications from key influences in both the traditional and social media arenas is crucial as it identifies undue amplification or transmission of misinformation (which can remain prevalent in the social media arena for a considerable period of time)