Using Stakeholder Opinions to Shape Communications Strategies

An important but underused component of influencer strategy development is the use of in-depth interviews (IDIs). IDIs can take time, but they are incredibly useful before, during, and after a communications outreach campaign.

What are IDIs?

In-depth interviews can take several forms, but primarily, they consist of open-ended questions posed directly to stakeholders that are designed to elicit candid responses from opinion leaders. By incorporating this type of qualitative data, communicators can get a better sense of what guides the thinking of those who are—and those who influence—your target audiences.

While influencer campaigns have recently been subsumed and eclipsed by social media influencer campaigns, these programs have an established track record of success. Influencer campaigns—stripped of all the glitz (and problems) of social media—are at their core a simple equation of finding the right, respected voices that your target audience listens to and follows.

Finding the right voices…

The first step in designing a solid influencer program is the discovery process, which means taking a deep, reflective look at the target audience. Who do they listen to? What issues matter to them? Who are the respected voices on these topics? Once these questions are answered, you’ll have a much better sense of who your opinion leaders are for this audience.

Depending on the issue and audience, leading voices that can shape opinions can range from business leaders, to academicians, financial analysts, policymakers and shapers, journalists, or those involved with think tanks or NGOs. Typically, they are high-profile individuals who are respected in their fields and by their peers.

…and letting them talk

Once you’ve identified the right opinion leaders for a given program, the next step is getting in front of them to find out what they think.  Often, this can be the most challenging part of the process. As high-profile and in-demand individuals, their time comes at a premium. However, the insights gained from learning about what motivates and inspires the target audience can be invaluable.

An IDI needs to be an open and candid discussion. If there are challenges that you need to be aware of, the opinion leader you’re speaking to must have confidence that he or she can share that information with you. Without this level of trust, you won’t necessarily get to the information you need to make good decisions. The biggest value in talking to influencers and leaders isn’t talking—it’s in listening.

Some companies use IDIs as freestanding, independent research gathering. Others wrap these types of interviews into communications programs at the beginning to shape the direction (formative research); the middle to course-correct if necessary; or at the end to determine impact. The decisions on when and how to deploy IDIs will largely be based on the objectives you’re trying to reach.

CARMA’s approach

CARMA recently launched its approach to conducting high-quality IDIs with analysis; the Opinion Leader Audit. To learn more about our process, please contact us.