If you’ve been a PR practitioner for the past 10 years, you’ve had to come to grips with social media as an ever-growing source of news and information. And with it, the independent content creators, aka influencers, who draw audiences of all sizes to their regular postings. The term “influencer” related to social media seems to have been termed in 2009-10, a few years after certain bloggers with sizable readerships began accepting payment for creating sponsor-generated posts.

Influencers in marketing have been around since individuals became associated with brands (or become their own brand). From Nancy Green as the face of Aunt Jemima in 1890 – recently retired in our age of “enlightenment” – to Michael Jordan in the 80s. In fact, sports marketing is almost 100% reliant on influencer marketing – the folks at Wheatie’s are experts.

Yet social media influencers have proven a tricky bunch for PR pros, especially those of us who learned the art and science of media relations in a pre-internet world. We learned to work with traditional media – journalists who actually attended J-school and other professionals in the media world, paid by their media employers. This was a fairly streamlined group: radio, TV (one or two cable networks), newspaper and magazine. We didn’t pay for placement unless it was with the occasional trade publication, or we helped the client produce and place advertorial copy.

Social media has joined the media relations landscape as a VIP player due to its much more intimate, word-of-mouth power. In most cases, these influencers must be paid to create content for your client. Therefore, pay-to-play coverage is an increasingly regular part of our PR plans. Of note, many influencers also monetize via affiliate marketing and take sales commissions via business partnerships.

Social media influencer fees vary widely based on the influencer’s reach/following and level of engagement. Influencers are categorized as macro, micro and what I call “super-micro”. I won’t get into the definitions of each category or pricing scenarios here, but it’s something all PR pros should know, especially if working in the worlds of fashion, beauty, travel, food, health/wellness, family/parenting, home design and more.

In essence, today’s PR practitioners must incorporate some media planning/buying skill sets, along with diligently keeping abreast of constant changes in the influencer and social media landscapes. The “good ole days” of building media lists among traditional, off and online media outlets are long gone. Our scope has widened, and with it, the ability to spread our clients’ messaging to more consumers, more targeted audiences and with more immediate feedback than what traditional media provides.

No doubt, many of my PR peers (including myself) have a love/dislike relationship with social media influencers. It can feel like a Wild West scenario with their fees, demands, deliverables and more. Most of the influencers Breakaway works with are in the super-micro category, therefore, don’t have managers to monitor their fees and organize every step of the influencer contract. This can be good and bad.

When fees are involved, contracts are a must just like any standard advertising agreement. Plus, influencers are supposed to be transparent stating that their content is sponsored by X, Y and Z. This step is their responsibility, not yours, so keep an eye on how the influencers you are courting fulfill this obligation.

Public relations hasn’t existed in a well-defined box for a long time. From building expert platforms to planning and promoting special events, community relations, crisis communications and newsletter marketing, our scope continues to expand with the role of managing influencer marketing. Learn it firsthand or ensure someone on your team is on it.