Is Influence Marketing an Advertising or Public Relations Function?


Onalytica evolved from the public relations and communications side of the marketing world rather than the advertising side. As a result, its approach to influence marketing is decidedly different than many of the advertising-oriented tools you find on the marketplace. It’s almost as if Onalytica stands as the PR argument for influence marketing philosophy while IZEA and others champion the more transactional approach.

The British software company also brings to mind another conflict in perspective for me. I think of Onalytica’s approach to communications as very “British” if you will. Communications and public relations seems to have a more academic background in Britain in my experience. American comms and PR seems to be much closer to a spray-and-pray, just-drive-impressions approach.

In this episode of Winfluence, I talk about both conflicts with Alistair Wheate, Onalytica’s head of product. We also talk about how the influencer algorithms work and highlight some ways influence case studies stand out. 

Give it a listen, then chime in via the comments or tag me on social (@JasonFalls most places) to tell me your thoughts on the divide between PR and advertising, or UK and USA. Makes for a fun discussion!

Winfluence – The Influence Marketing Podcast is a companion piece to my forthcoming influencer marketing book, Winfluence: Reframing Influencer Marketing to Ignite Your Brand, set to publish in early 2021 from Entrepreneur Press. I interview the Who’s Who of Influencer Marketing weekly — from brand managers to software creators, and from agency strategists to influencers themselves. If you know someone who should be a guest on the show, shoot me an email at jason – at – jasonfalls – dot – com.

Winfluence Podcast – Alistair Wheate Transcript

Jason Falls 0:31
Hello again friends thanks for listening to Winfluence – The Influence Marketing Podcast. Today we visit with Alistair Wheate. He is the head of product at Onalytica. It’s an influence marketing platform and services company based in London and one that has a very different perspective on influence and influence marketing than most US based firms.

Jason Falls 0:50
Alistair and I get into those differences in the discussion which was quite fascinating. analytic evolved from the public relations and communication side of the marketing world. Rather than the advertising side, we talked about the relationship building approach versus a more transactional direction, which I think is the weak point of many influencer marketing solutions today.

Jason Falls 1:10
But we also dive a little deeper than normal into the discovery of influencers. Onalytica has a powerful influencer discovery and analysis function. Alistair is the head of product. So we talk about the product and how its algorithms find and prioritize people of influence. Now, you’ll hear me use that phrasing a lot, especially when you read the book because it signifies that we may be talking about people who don’t have a big online presence, but are still influential, which is one of our keys to Winfluence.

Jason Falls 1:41
Winfluence – The Influence Marketing podcast is brought to you by my book of the same name with influence reframing influence marketing to ignite your brand is due out in early 2021 from Entrepreneur Press. In it you’ll learn the problem we face with influencer marketing today, how to approach influencer marketing strategically How the practice solves problems for your brand through approaches that align with advertising, public relations, ratings and reviews and word of mouth marketing to learn more and get a notification when the book is available for pre sale head to WinfluenceBook.com and sign up for updates. Now here’s my conversation with Onalytica’s head of product Alistair Wheate.

Jason Falls 2:27
My favorite case studies in influence marketing typically revolve in around one of two areas. One is when you use one influencer or two influencers and have a you know, a big bang for a very little buck kind of activation and the other is when brands use influence marketing for more than just driving you know, broad awareness reach impressions or you know, people to convert or download or buy. So when you’re using influencers to influencing audience to change their thinking around a topic or, you know, to get more of a communications message message across about your brand. And it seems like every time I go to analytical to look at their case studies, it’s a treasure trove of like my favorite case studies and I use several of them in the book. So Alistair Wheate is the head of product at Onalytica. So I thought who better to talk about those types of case studies and that approach to influencer marketing. Then Alistair! Alistair, thanks for joining us on the show.

Alistair Wheate 3:34
Hey, great to speak again, Jason.

Jason Falls 3:36
So, you know, I’ve I use several case studies from Onalytica in Winfluence because I do think that a lot of what your clients have done with the guidance that you’ve given them with the data and the information that you’ve given them, to help them develop programs pay off on that ultimate, you know, idea of we’re trying to use influential people as a channel to achieve a strategic goal of influencing an audience. Whereas I think the other perspective, the current perspective in the marketplace of influencer marketing, rather than influence marketing is let’s get someone who has a lot of followers to talk about us. And I think those are two kind of philosophically different things. I wanted to ask you the Onalytica on its website actually uses the term to describe what you do organic. Yeah, I think I think there’s a there’s something on your about page that says we help brands develop organic influence marketing programs or something of that nature. I don’t know the exact verbiage is, but tell me why that is such an important part of your philosophy.

Alistair Wheate 4:45
Yeah, great. Thanks for the introduction. So for us, influencer marketing, I think means something different to what a lot of people will think about when they hear the word influencer marketing, really because influencer marketing is mostly talk about But in the b2c context where it’s brands, like you said, you know, paying an influencer to promote something online and really they’re interested in the influence because of the audience the influencer has in an order they’ll try and look for some kind of brands alignment with the influencer.

Alistair Wheate 5:15
But for us, the engagement with the influencer may well be actually a paid engagement. But it isn’t only just done as a kind of standalone kind of broadcast, we pay the influencer some money, they get ciceri nice about as you know, we go get some clicks back to website or we get some brand exposure and job done. The End If there is a paid engagement, it’s part of a ideally a longer term engagement and a longer term partnership between the brand and the influencer. And actually my roles changed a bit so I’m still involved in the product heavily but we are really wanting to build our relationships with influences and both in brands but also external influences. And a lot of influences probably hate the word influencer. You know, they probably would say I’m not an influencer because they as soon as they hear that with image, they think of this kind of b2c transactional type in a rented garb, you know, kind of thing. And I say that’s, that’s, that’s not really what this is all about.

Alistair Wheate 6:14
So the organic side of it is about brands, wanting to build relationships with influencers, mainly we’re working in the b2b space. And they look for influencers who are in the same space as them, they’ve got expertise in the same fields, and they want to find some equal value partnership. So that equal value partnership is really the key that there’s got to be something that’s beneficial for the brand and the influencer. And some of those influences are in I think, I think broadly speaking, looking at three categories of influencer, you get some who are independent influences, right? They are often people who have worked sometimes for the large, large tech brands or professional services or whatever area where they’ve got expertise. They’ve got recognition as an expert. They’ve gone solo and you know They need to kind of make a living from working with brands. So it’s kind of right that at some point in online, they think there’s some kind of payment for that.

Alistair Wheate 7:06
But it doesn’t work when it’s just a kind of standalone thing really needs to be part of an ongoing partnership. The second category of influences are people who this these are the ones probably maybe you don’t like to include influences so much where they are working often maybe in a smaller business and they they’re online as an influencer to help really promote their business, or they’re an academic or they’re a journalist or there’s some someone who’s just, you know, they’ve got a day job, right? They’ve got something that pays the bills, but they’re using their social profile, to help their day job or to help their own personal brand. And so for brands to work with them. If the brand helps that influencer get visibility and helps that influencer get recognition as an expert. It’s good for that, that that influencer, maybe that brand that they’re representing. And the third category that we’re seeing a lot now is it’s really exciting, I think is where we’re seeing this kind of overlap between employment legacy and influence marketing. So we’re also seeing that many brands, they’ve got people in their own business, who are getting into groups or social media got their LinkedIn profile together and Twitter channel, or maybe their own blog, YouTube videos, whatever. And they started to become recognized as an expert, but they still work for the brand. And so for them, they’re doing a pilot for their own personal profile, but it’s also helping that company that they work for. And so these these brands have got them this way of linking up their internal experts with the external interest community. So I think that the most effective marketing programs are where we see all three of those groups brought together. And often they might be that sort of the the, quote, unquote, professional influences, you know, I want to do some paid activations part of it, but the majority of it is this non paid, organic relationship building where there’s some kind of beneficial benefit for both sides.

Jason Falls 8:54
I know that you that Tim Williams, your CEO, has been doing a lot of interviews on your website of late And sort of the Onalytica, you know, conversation right now does kind of go around that third group a little bit that that employee advocacy, you know, a push, I think is what I’m seeing out of you guys. I wonder if, if you ever, if anecdotally you ever had a case where you went back to a brand and said, here are a group of people we consider influential about your brand, and they were surprised to see some of their own employees as a part of that group of influencers.

Alistair Wheate 9:29
Yeah, absolutely. And we’ve even sometimes seen it with or mentioned the brands, but we did a report on a topic, I think it was sustainable business or something like that. And actually, there was a there was some senior execs from one particular company came up, and they were quite surprised that they’d scored so highly and you know, they asked them to some of their comms team to get in touch to find out more about how we’d produced this report. And we even had some people suspecting that that brand had paid us to put their guns At the top, now what they want a client at the time. But that was because they’d actually, there were quite a large business. I mean, they’re a massive business, but the fact that managed to get their senior execs actually using social to promote some of these really important themes worked, you know, and it got, it got a lot of amplification because there wasn’t just a senior execs on social, there was lots of kind of mid, mid management’s and other experts involved.

Alistair Wheate 10:27
And so I think the the real secret to success for those programs, where it’s not just a kind of a, an echo chamber, you know, we often you see these employee advocacy programs where it’s just pump a bunch of links into some employee advocacy tool, and everyone’s goes on and dutifully shares those links, right? And yes, they can generate some engagement, they can generate some leads. That’s all well and good, right? But that often their engagements are mostly from the other stuff, you know, because they’re all they’re all being very beautiful in liking each other’s posts. But if if there’s a more intentional effort to create Next, those experts externally, that’s really where the magic happens. And that’s often where some of these brands like you to send in a Dale, there’ll be some report that will produce and they’re like, Oh, you know, you know, Suzy, I know her and ratios, I’ve been a big influencer. And she’s got all this engagement, what she’s doing, and often what she’s normally doing, or those sort of people doing it, they’re talking with external influences. They’re actually out there actively engaging with third third party influences. And then when the brands start to realize this, they don’t say, right, well, you know, right, when we actually come to produce our new white paper, rather than doing it through the main kind of we, as we shouldn’t do it through the main channels, but why don’t we actually get some of our staff to to help them you know, so that actually they can have an early access to it, you know, they can make their own spin on it. And one one guy, I think does it really well, is Mike Quinn Darcy from PwC. He’s got a lot of followers on social but one thing I think he does particularly well His he takes reports like the PDFs he puts out. And he’ll go and read the report and just take little snippets out of it and break this big white paper that they put into these little digestible nuggets and put them on Twitter and LinkedIn. And that then just generates a lot of engagement. And they often he’ll get more engagement on his own profile than, you know, the main PPC accounts when they publish it just because it’s broken down to these little nuggets that are much more shareable and social.

Jason Falls 12:24
It’s amazing, the the, I guess, sort of guilt by association is the wrong word. But sort of the the transference of influence that comes when your employees or your staff members are out there, commenting on posts from other influencers in the industry, and all of a sudden they’re a part of a bigger conversation within the industry with influential people and other people see that and therefore that staff member thus becomes influential. I wonder, let’s let’s dive into a little bit because when you said that, you know, your one of your clients came back and said, you know, did that company pay To have those, you know, those executives as as influencers, or how did how did you determine that they were influencers? I think the difference in a lot of software platforms and obviously analytic is a software platform, as well as other things. But a lot of the differences that I see in software platforms and one that I see unique to Onalytica is the method of discovery and how you determine that someone actually has influence because most of the tools out there are predicated on the philosophy that people who have large followings have influence. And I think we all as we mature as marketers and get to know the influence space a lot better we understand that’s not the case. You can have hundreds of thousands of people who follow you, but you may not be influential at all, you may not be able to motivate them to do anything. Onalytica has, I think, a little bit of a different approach to discovery in determining what influencers are. So just from a philosophical standpoint, not necessarily sharing your algorithm, but philosophical — How do you determine who has influence and how to prioritize those influencers to your clients?

Alistair Wheate 14:07
Yeah, good question. And I think this is a an area that we’re always working on, and that there’s a big balancing act between having a good algorithm that gets the right results. And having something that is then easy to explain to people, right, because, you know, there are other companies in the that are some that are no longer around that have been trying to measure online influence. We’re not the first brand company to try and do this. And some tools in the past have gone for very simplistic kind of counting mechanisms of how many followers you have, how many engagements Do you get, etc. And those are many of those older systems have kind of been gained, you know, there’s they’ve been kind of clubs where influences kind of work together specifically to try and increase their scores on those platforms.

Alistair Wheate 14:56
We take a different approach. I’m not saying that we’re 100% immune to any kind of, you know, type of kind of pod type of behavior, but our approach is to analyze influence based upon the context of the context of a particular topic. And so we focus on what we call topical communities. So we map out a topic, let’s say it could be a huge topic like AI or cybersecurity. And we will then analyze as many conversations as we can online on that topic, and then look at who is getting talked about in the context of that topic. And so often, what you’ll see in our rankings are people who actually are not very active online. And they may not even have many followers online. But if the people in that topical community, talk about that person, a lot, like let’s, for example, say that they speak in an event or they write a book or they’ve just written a really influential article, they can still get a high score, even with relatively low follower counts politically to engagement. Because we don’t just look at the engagement numbers. We also look at who the engagement is for And is that engagement coming from someone who is actually already focused and influential on that topic. So you might see, you know, let’s say if we look at mental health, there’s some celebrity who will post about mental health because there’s some campaign that’s running or they themselves might, you know, have some mental health issues, and they want to champion that cause. They may get really high levels of engagement, high levels of, you know, follow accounts, etc. but will score way below someone else in our database, who is who is less an academic and a space who just consistently focusing on that as a topic, and they get lots of engagement from the people who are really focused on that topic. So we’re basically trying to do for people, what Google does websites, you know, we’re trying to analyze all the links between all the connections between people who are with these people are the ones who really are driving the conversation in this particular topic. And what counts is influencing one topic will be different to another topic, just because of the scale of those themes. And the big, big challenge for us is, you know, Twitter’s great for this kind of it’s so open Then there’s lots of interactions between people that that’s the main channel that drives our algorithm. But we also have data from, from LinkedIn, YouTube, podcasts, blogs, as well. We’re really not focusing on on Instagram and Facebook, there’s plenty of platforms out there doing that. And that isn’t that same kind of cross referencing that you get that. But the big challenge for us is to make sure that we always look for signals, you know, we’re trying to look for ways in which we can pick out someone driving the conversation, the particular thing that answers your question.

Jason Falls 17:28
Yeah, it does. It opens up a bunch of other questions, and one of which I actually had circled on here. And I want to touch on this a little bit. How I want to ask a little bit more about the, you know, you mentioned that you don’t focus as much on Facebook and Instagram. And I want to ask about that specifically. I actually have in my notes here to ask you how frustrating is it to deal with Facebook and Instagram? First of all, because if you’re trying to gauge someone who’s influential on the Facebook platform, that’s almost impossible because it’s a walled garden. You can’t analyze you know, you Individual news feeds. So you can’t see all the content that individuals in within a given topic are sharing. So therefore, you can’t really trace where that influence is coming from. But then also, I have found Instagram to be somewhat similar. But also Instagram is somewhat frustrating because there’s no really linking in an Instagram, it’s you can tag other Instagram people. But the Lincoln bio is really the only mechanism that they can use to say, you know, go to this place. And so I wonder how frustrating it is to deal with them. And if that’s part of the reason that you don’t focus on them, or is it just the b2b pedigree is is sort of less important in those networks as to why Onalytica doesn’t necessarily focus there.

Alistair Wheate 18:42
Yeah, so it’s a bit of both. So if you think about Instagram, as you know, here is what I am doing, you know, I’m doing this, I’m doing that. Whereas Twitter really is more about this is what’s going on, you know, this is what’s happening. And it might be that I share some stuff that I’m doing but Twitter is much more about Kind of, you know, big conversation that’s happening. And LinkedIn, I think is more like Twitter in that regard than Instagram. There’s there is more of that kind of conversation happening in LinkedIn. So, you know, we’re doing our best to try and get LinkedIn data but that the the big frustration for us is not really Instagram, it’s is LinkedIn because there’s so much cool stuff happening on LinkedIn. And there is that connectivity that that kind of community happening, there’s just they’re not making the data really transparent, which I wish they would. And Instagram just just doesn’t have that dynamic to where people are really having a conversation. It’s not a place to have a you know, dialogue really, it’s mostly just some posting about what they’re doing. And then they go into the next thing. So even if we couldn’t wants to get all the Instagram data, we probably wouldn’t just get that same richness back about it to help our algorithm in the way that we we need this kind of referencing. We need people to talk about someone else we need people to be sharing what someone else is doing to get the the algorithm that we have to work on the other big thing with Instagram Is as a business they are, you know that there’s no contract if you’re going to have a contract with their, with all those companies taking the data from them, and they switch their algorithm off like two years ago, and all the platforms work with Instagram now, you know, they’re kind of beholden to the whims of Instagram, you know, they could switch to a lot tomorrow and cut them out. So I think it’s, it’s, it’s, you know, not really stable ground for any vendor to really build upon. But they’re also building an Instagram also building their own kind of brand content collaboration tools. And, you know, don’t be surprised if they try to curtail what the influencer marketing platforms can actually access. The other big thing is Instagram really, for people to get the data from Instagram legitimately requires influencers to opt in to those platforms. So there are some brands that got thousands or hundred thousands or even like we’ve seen some saying they have a million influences opted in, but there are people opting in hoping to make a bit of money from brands. In many instances, we care about Not really just out there to make money from brands, and they’re not going to want to opt in to some database. So that’s why we’re looking at blogs, on Twitter and to a lesser extent in LinkedIn, with the limited information that’s available on LinkedIn, we can still do that, you know, we can still analyze a community of experts, even if only a small fraction of that community are actually going to be wanting to work with brands directly.

Jason Falls 21:21
I wonder if if the philosophy that is behind all of what you just said that you’re not really focused on influencers looking to make money from brands, but you’re looking at influencers who are, you know, looking for, you know, either a long term connection or credibility or something like that in the space. And I’m not sure if I’m going to phrase this elegantly as certainly not as elegantly as you might if you had a chance to also look at the topic and ask the question, and maybe it’s a British versus American thing, because it’s, it’s that’s the nest of this question. When I think of the British approach to public relations You know, media relations, corporate communications versus an American approach to that. I think that much more in line with what you’ve been talking about that the focus from the British perspective oftentimes is about issues management about engaging people over the long haul to change attitudes and opinions. And I think the American version, I think, is almost more transactional of, we want to get media outlets to write about us. And there’s, I think there’s a subtle difference there. But it seems to me to be much more, you know, to give you in your country, men and women credit, it seems to be more academic in nature, it seems to be more strategic in nature, on how to approach you know, public relations versus how I think a lot of times American PR firms do it. And I wonder if that’s sort of the reason that Onalytica being a you know, the United Kingdom company has a different perspective than say in Isaiah Or an American company that has what I would consider a much more transactional approach to things. What are your thoughts there?

Alistair Wheate 23:07
Well, yeah, it’s fascinating that because I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms before and I, prior to joining on entaco I worked in that kind of calm space. I was reading before joining on that car was that decision. And you know, that today that was through them acquiring called corner and senior decision, for those who don’t know, is the largest PR software company in the world now. And you know, and prior to them, I was at another, you know, company that built online newsrooms for brands. And, and I think the big difference I found working transatlantic Lee and comms was that, in the US, a lot of PR was really about news-wise you put your press release out in the Newswire, you blast it out as far and wide and you hope people pick it up. And you guys were a much a much, much bigger part of the PR mix in North America than they are than they’ve ever been in the UK. Newspapers are not really that big a deal in the UK. Market politics just because of geography and how British media has evolved. So, in the UK, you know, there’s a big concentration of media in one city, London. And a lot of the times, you know, you have to have relationships with a journalist, you have to know the journalist, you have to kind of, you know, sweet talk that and be nice in good terms with them to try and help them say something good about your brands. And whereas obviously, the US is a much more geographically dispersed, you can’t really, you might maybe have some similar issues just with the local media, but you’re not going to have it really nationally. So it’s a very different dynamic. And I hadn’t really thought about that impacting us and how we did things and maybe that is just you know, PR is different in the UK and that has filtered through to how influencer marketing works. Many of the clients we work with are in our comms teams. And sometimes it’s just the digital marketing teams but I think the best the most effective influencer marketing programs in the b2b space especially, but also in the b2c world when it comes to things like brand reputation, corporate, social, cultural, But social responsibility. The best programs are the ones where the marketing team and the comms teams are working together. There was actually a survey done just the last month of the CIPR or Chartered Institute of Public Relations. So that’s the member body for parents in the UK. And for the first time, they actually asked PR people were the influence of relations, and it was influence of relations rather than influence marketing was part of the job. And a third of them said, Yes. So it’s interesting that that PR people really are recognizing that influence relations as a part of their job. So it’s, yeah, I do think that that’s part of it. It’s just bringing some of those comms skills into the mix. And many times I’d say that a really effective influence marketing program is actually more using skill sets from the PR world in the marketing world.

Jason Falls 25:46
Well, my next question for you was was to ask is influencer marketing today, basically, PR, is it new PR?

Alistair Wheate 25:57
Yes, I think it is. You know, it’s … it’s a recognition that the PR person simply against PR, right? It’s a misnomer. PR stands for public relations. The reality is, it’s always really been about media relations, right? So that a PR person’s job really is to relate to a few key people who can influence Bob. Again, it’s all based on an old paradigm, right? If you want to reach the public, you do it through the media. But the world changed. And the PR person can no longer afford just to be the media relations person, the person who knows a few journalists, and knows how to craft a story.

Alistair Wheate 26:34
The stakeholder groups that matter now are beyond just a few journalists. And also we can see online, this is the great thing about the search channels. The journalists are talking to the experts, the third parties, the academics, the people in the industry, the campaigners in the politicians, the whatever’s and so the smart companies, I think will be looking at that and saying, right, well, you know, we need to break down these silos of the people. guys talk to journalists, the analysts relationship people talk to analysts, you know, the Corporate affairs people maybe talk to the politicians or whatever they need to talk to, they all need to work in a more join up fashion, we just look at how those people relate to each other. And we might recognize that this, you know, funny looking independent consultant over here, actually super influential, you know, and they don’t fit into any of our existing boxes, right? So someone’s got to look after that relationship. You know, we’ve got to recognize that the journalists and the analysts all think that this person over here is, you know, the one who knows what’s going on and that we know and and our business is talking to them. And so we need to change and challenge how these existing silos work and bring in I think, I think influencer relations as a term I like, I think often more than inputs of marketing. I think we should, as a business, probably use that more ourselves, but just I don’t know if the marketplace is ready for that, that terminology shift fully.

Jason Falls 27:55
Yeah, people don’t change quickly. It’s been a fascinating conversation. We could probably go on for, you know, hours and hours and hours. But I’m sure people would probably turn us off at that point. I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much for joining me. I look forward to getting the book out there so that people can see the analytic a case studies and learn more about you guys, and we’ll certainly link to you in the show notes and whatnot. But thanks for taking the time out to talk with us.

Alistair Wheate 28:20
Always a pleasure, Jason, thanks.

Transcribed by otter.ai

The Winfluence theme music is “One More Look” featuring Jacquire King and Stephan Sharp by The K Club found on Facebook Sound Collection.



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