No question that mainstream journalists and social media influencers are intertwined. Rather than operating in separate media ecosystems, reporters often see news they’ve broken go viral with the help of influencers. On the flip side, influencers sometimes see their posts and reaction reported on by journalists.
This isn’t just true of general news, but also to specific beats.
That fact is not lost on corporate pros like Jim Trainor, director of comms at Hyundai Motor America, who notes some automotive reporters are social media influencers in their own right. But when it comes to earning coverage from reporters and influencers at big press events, Trainor follows a different route.
Hyundai mostly separates the two targets, whether it’s for a test drive or as guests to an auto show.
“It would make our lives easier if we position them together. But while we are trying to influence both groups to write and post about our products, people or innovations, in a lot of ways they couldn’t be more apart,” explains Trainor. “And so even though there is a real blending of journalists and influencers in the media ecosystem, we typically don’t put them together.”
A case in point is a series of test-drive events the automaker staged in Idaho for the launch of its 2020 Hyundai Palisade this summer. Journalists were invited to the first three waves of test drives, while a fourth wave was made up entirely of social media influencers.
“The way we programmed the day made it entirely different from the journalist event. The drive route was different. The product presentation was different,” says Trainor. “Even the meals were different because we encouraged the influencers to bring their families. We had a screening set up of a movie that their kids could watch outdoors. If you saw the two events back-to-back, you wouldn’t realize they were promoting the same thing.”
Presentations to the automotive reporters were about the “nuts and bolts” of the Palisade — things like vehicle weight, torque and horsepower. Influencers were provided with more digestible information. On the test drives, journalists could give the SUV a good go, as much as 200 miles. Influencers weren’t looking for as much time behind the wheel, but more about how the vehicle supports family outings.
There is another reason Hyundai creates separate experiences. “Influencers have told us they feel a bit intimated when sitting next to reporters from Road & Track, Bloomberg and The New York Times, for example. And mainstream media people have told us they don’t know how to act around influencers, who tend to know a lot more about social media,” says Trainor.
Having recently adopted new optimization and measurement solutions, Hyundai can see the success of its strategy in the coverage these events yield from traditional journalists and social media influencers.
“We track the amount of the coverage from these programs, but also measure the content more deeply in terms of tonality and topics covered,” he says. “We also do surveys after all of our events with traditional media and influencers to gauge what they liked, what they didn’t like and what they felt we could do better.”
‘Checking in’ with influencers and journalists
Ariana Swerdlin, director of PR at The Plaza in New York City, says the Fairmont-owned luxury hotel also understands the distinct needs of both groups in generating coverage when staging large-scale events. “While we host intimate events tailored to just traditional media and just influencers, we see larger events that incorporate both these audiences perform better for our brand,” she says.
For instance, The Plaza created an event around the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle called Royal Wedding Rehearsal Dinner. It incorporated highly visual experiences like a corgi puppy party, royal portrait station, glam room and tiaras on loan that proved great fodder for social media influencers in attendance.
Another portion of the event was a seated dinner. Here, wedding industry experts gave “toasts” about upcoming trends for the season and what to expect at the royal wedding. The latter “was important to incorporate for journalists who needed information, content and angles for traditional press pieces,” says Swerdlin.
But both components of the Royal Wedding Rehearsal Dinner proved to be of value for both the journalists and influencers. She notes publications now have “a large social media presence and mainstream journalists with substantial personal social channels.” Social media influencers, meanwhile, have “corresponding blog components. The world of traditional media and influencer marketing are continuing to blend together more and more every day.”
“We don’t follow a set rule of splitting up or merging them. We dictate the best approach depending on what the flow of the event is and what news we are sharing,” says Swerdlin.