Morgan Shepard

Senior Account Executive

"Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some hire public relations officers."
- Daniel J. Boorstin

How to Tell if They’re Fake

I’m talking about influencers, here people. They’re a growing part of today’s ever-evolving media landscape, and yet many people struggle to grasp what an influencer even is and how to measure their influence. The definitions get even more blurry when you introduce the concept of micro-influencers and macro-influencers.

The core concept is simple enough. An influencer is someone who wields influence over a select group or groups of publics, which is fancy PR jargon for different audiences listen to and are actively engaged with what an influencer says and does. For example, Kayla Itsines, is an international, fitness personality with a growing following that’s comprised primarily of millennial women. These women, who run the gamut from young college students to working professionals and mothers in their thirties, follow Itsines on Instagram and use her online and mobile app-based exercise and nutrition programs to reach their health goals. Therefore, if you’re rolling out an influencer campaign for the latest new OREO flavor, Itsines is probably not the right influencer for you.

To develop a successful influencer-based campaign, you have to identify who your brand’s core audiences are and which influencers have a real hold and influence on those target audiences. The second part of the equation is often the hardest question to answer. How do you truly measure influence? Often, you’ll see an influencer point to their website statistics and social media following, but those numbers can be deceiving, particularly because of the phenomenon of “buying followers.”  The idea is what it sounds like, brands and bloggers can now pay to inflate the number of page likes or followers they have on social media. In doing so, they hope to increase their own perceived level of influence which will lead to added visibility and discovery by publicists, brands and regular social media users.

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to make sure that the contacts you’re evaluating for a client are as influential as they say they are and a wealth of free tools you can harness to help you along the way.

Check their site’s UMV’s

Some bloggers will inflate the viewership rates on their sites in their media kits or “About Me” sections. If you don’t already subscribe to Cision’s media database, use tools like SimilarWeb and SEMRush to see how a blogger’s website traffic stacks up. These websites can paint a pretty clear picture of the kind of traffic a blog may receive. SEMRush in particular is one of my favorite tools on the internet, because of the amount of information it provides on every site. If you’re still unsure based on the information you find on these websites, don’t feel afraid to reach out to the blogger. Make sure you explain that you’re looking for influencers to pay to promote your client’s goods/services and then ask if they could screenshot and share their recent viewer statistics and any demographic information they have with you.

Evaluate their engagement rates

Take a look at a blogger or influencers social media channels. In particular, take a look at the total number of followers they have and then see what sort of “likes” and “comments” they get in reply to each post. It’s important to keep two things in mind when calculating and then evaluating the engagement rate for a user. First, the larger social media following a user has, generally the lower the average engagement rate will be. Secondly, each social media platform has a different baseline for an average level of engagement.

Quintly, a social media analytics tool used by major brands like T-Mobile and Warner Brothers, evaluated more than 150,000 Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles back in June 2015. Below is a chart that outlines some of the key findings from their social media benchmarking study. You can use this information to establish a baseline for whether or not an influencer has a standard or high level of engagement with their followers.

Utilize free tools to assess if their followers could be “spam” accounts

There are quite a few free tools you can also utilize to assess an account’s fake follower count, including:

If you go to Social Blade, you can enter in an influencer’s YouTube, Twitter or Instagram handle and then you’ll be given a report with a grade on their engagement as well as a line chart tracking the growth and/or decline of their following.

The general rule is that if the line graph gradually trends upwards, with no large spikes, you’re looking at someone who has organically grown their following. See example below.

However, if you get a line graph that looks more like the one below, you seriously need to consider whether or not it’s worth paying or providing free services/product to the influencer you’ve identified. Just as huge peaks can be a tell-tale sign that a person purchased their followers, a huge downward trend can also signify that the social media platform just did a cleanse of its spam and fake accounts.

Keep in mind that similar to your client’s own website, an influencer’s following may see spikes in traffic when they get a national media hit or become a trending story. If there is a particular uptick that seems out of character or especially severe, do your research and see if maybe this increase occurred following a heightened media buzz about that influencer.

The Love Affair Between Publicists & “Fake” Holidays

Did you know that today is National Cuban Sandwich Day? Maybe that’s because it isn’t an actual holiday, or rather it wasn’t a holiday until this year when it suddenly popped up on national calendar celebration websites like

“National Cuban Sandwich Day” was created primarily out of Tampa Bay Times writer Christopher Spata’s own curiosity. Spata writes online features for the newspaper and admitted in his feature story today to completely making up the holiday from his own bedroom last week. Not only was Spata able to get the holiday listed online, but he was also able to get it some media coverage. To say he was incredulous about the whole experience is an understatement. Everything was just too easy.

However, what surprised Spata even more is that even when he came clean to his fellow online writers and told them they’d been effectively had by one of their own, none of them seemed to care.

The truth is, the practice which Spata engaged in of creating his own holiday is not uncommon.The only difference is that it’s usually brands and publicists creating these holidays, not journalists.

Yes, that’s right. Those obscure holidays, like “National Margarita Day” and “National Walking Day,” that always pop up in your social media news feeds were probably invented by a brand. If you want to learn how one even goes about this process of creating a holiday for the sake of publicity, just Google it. There are plenty of online articles that outline a step-by-step process for masterminding your own fake holiday, including tips for making it stick.  See, for example, this one that was published on back in 2014, which is appropriately titled, “Want to Generate Buzz? Create Your Own Holiday.

Publicists are tasked with getting around-the-clock coverage for their clients, and that sometimes means relying on an obscure holiday or inventing one of your own to keep the publicity coming. The power of public relations, is when you’re able to create a holiday that resonates so deeply with the public that it takes on a life of its own.

Take, for instance, Take Your Dog to Work Day (TYDTWD). This holiday was created back in 1996 by Pet Sitters International in the United Kingdom as a way “to celebrate the great companions dogs make and promote their adoptions.” At least, so the website says…but this holiday was clearly created to also generate awareness about Pet Sitters International itself. TWDTWD’s popularity took and the holiday spread to the United States by 1999. In its inaugural year in the US, the holiday was celebrated by an estimated 300 businesses, and that number has continued to grow year-over-year.

TYDTWD has been covered by national media outlets like Good Morning America, The Huffington Post and People and is now regularly capitalized on by other brands and publicists looking for a media hit, including Purina–one of the largest pet food brands in the world. Just this year, Purina broke the world record for “Most Pets in the Workplace in One Day,” and the day that Purina chose to break the record?

Purina Unites with Other Top Pet-Friendly Companies to Celebrate Their Shared Passion on "National Take Your Dog to Work Day"
Purina Unites with Other Top Pet-Friendly Companies to Celebrate Their Shared Passion on “National Take Your Dog to Work Day”

Not bad for a “fake” holiday…

A Lesson from Apple’s Former PR Manager

We reserved press releases and events for only the most important products or company milestones. Many significant products, software updates, and personnel changes went by with barely a PR push. Sometimes this would frustrate our internal clients who wanted more market noise about their pet projects or people. But by adopting this approach, reporters knew that when we contacted them we had something important to say.

-Cameron Craig, former PR Manager at Apple. Excerpted from his story, “What I Learned From 10 Years of Doing PR at Apple,” that published on Harvard Business Review.

Why the BLEEP do I care?

Do you ever read a think piece about your industry that is so spot-on that you catch yourself saying “amen” while you’re reading it? Recently, I came upon a wonderful blog post that was aptly named, “Why Most Startups Suck at PR and How to Fix it to Get More Press Right Now,” and knew I had to share it with my colleagues.

Having worked almost primarily with startups during my career, I’ve found they all have two things in common: they want national exposure at the biggest outlets you can imagine, and they believe their product or business is truly ground-breaking. However, the truth is, very few of these startups have news or a product that will appeal to a national audience. More than that, many of them are entering spaces that are already crowded.

If you’re an international or national brand like Apple, Target, The Walt Disney Company or Anheuser-Busch then there’s a great chance that almost any “news” you send out will be picked up by the press. Why? Because simply put, millions of people are interested in their stories, whether it’s investors or just the general public. When I worked in television and attended our daily planning meetings, there was one question that my executive producers would always ask. It was simple: “Why the BLEEP do I care?” The root of the question was always centered around why a story mattered to our viewers. How would the story affect them, if at all, whether it was emotionally, personally or financially?

When I was writing scripts for the shows, these were the questions I was forced to ask myself. I had 25 seconds to tell a story, and even less time to get and keep our viewers’ attention. This is the crux of working in news–whether it’s for a local television station, trade publication or national newspaper. Writers are constantly asked to determine whether or not a pitch they’ve been sent by a publicist will matter to their audience.

Instead of thinking about what news a startup or business has to share, a good publicist needs to think about the following:

  1. Why does this news matter?
  2. Who does this news matter to?

Sometimes, the answers to these questions are not ones that will please a client. However, managing client expectations is one of the most important parts of working in our industry. One of my favorite quotes about the PR industry is from Kelly Cutrone, founder of People’s Revolution, and one of the most prestigious fashion publicists in the world. Cutrone has worked with brands such as Valentino, Vivienne Westwood, Christie’s and Bulgari.

I think my biggest thing with my brands is giving them realistic expectations. Because the whole system has changed, you know? If a client’s gonna say, “Well, why don’t I have more reviews?” I would say, “Well, how many reviewers are left?” I think the New York Times has three or four people and there’s 400 shows.—that’s not guaranteed. Women’s Wear Daily used to be guaranteed, now it’s not. Half of the regional fashion departments have been knocked out due to budgets. I think that’s the most important thing that I do with my clients. I like to be real. If they want to be in Vogue, I say, “Show me your Vogue product. Vogue is a very specific brand. Oh, you don’t have Vogue product? Okay, so why should you be in Vogue?”

More often than not, the “news” that a client wants to share–whether it’s about a new product, partnership, employee hire or round of funding–will not be “newsworthy” to all of the outlets on said client’s PR wish-list, if you will. The key to good public relations is figuring out what is “newsworthy” about the announcements, and then sharing the news with a carefully curated list of media contacts who will care.

About Morgan

Morgan is a former journalist who channeled her passion for news into public relations. She's led campaigns for clients in a variety of industries--from a B2B shell construction contractor to a website that matches people with rescue pets based on compatibility. She has a knack for finding the newsworthy hook for a brand and for tying her clients into national trends. Morgan was one of the first graduates from Florida State University's innovative Editing, Writing & Media program and also minored in communications.