When the Berman Group, a NYC-based corporate communications firm, launched 51 Jay Street, a luxury condo building in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn, they had strategic goals beyond coverage in The New York Times.

"We spoke to parenting bloggers, business owners, trade publications, and then The New York Times," says founder Sarah Berman. The goal was community acceptance so the firm eschewed a traditional top-of-the-pyramid approach where a handful of big media gatekeepers control the conversation.

The Influencer Marketing Landscape Today

There's been influencer marketing as long as there has been PR, but traditionally, it has taken a top down approach built around elite opinion leaders. "The model now is completely different. The consumers are influencers based on the reach they have on social channels," says Samantha Stark, Vice President, Group Manager and head of the Travel & Hospitality specialty for Ketchum.

One trend underway is utilizing midrange influencers, many of whom are outperforming the larger online opinion leaders, thanks to the deep engagement of their audiences. "The whole idea is based on audiences trusting their peers more than brands," says Tom Buontempo, President, Attention, KBS Content Labs, who adds, "Audiences are more sophisticated and they can sniff out when a partnership doesn't feel authentic."

Who's got the influence? Social media stars, industry media, policy makers, those with academic credentials like professors, doctors, and well-known economists who are frequently quoted in the press.

When it comes to selecting the right influencers, several factors weigh in the consideration. "We look for a perfect fit in terms of demographic, lifestyle, audience, budget, and more," says Alyssa Galella, Director of Earned Media at Huge.

How to Work with Influencers

Part of the appeal for brands is the opportunity to develop a longer relationship. Rarely will a traditional media outlet publish more than one piece on a particular travel destination. However, a blogger and a brand can work together to create recurring posts throughout a campaign. When it works well, those bloggers become brand ambassadors.

These longer-term partnerships are often driven by financial compensation. Sometimes ads come with editorial placement, other times, it's merely pay for play. In other cases, blogger evangelists are happy to just get good content that works for their audience. To ensure transparency, the FTC requires influencers to disclose their relationship with brands in all posts.

Measuring the Results of Influencer Marketing

While smaller clients may be satisfied with ink in the right places, larger companies are holding influencer marketing programs to the same accountability as a traditional marketing mix. In general, benchmarking and tracking surveys trump shifts in awareness. Regardless of the KPIs, everyone agrees that establishing goals up front is vital to measuring success.

These programs go well beyond brand awareness. For example, a rewards program with an uptick in membership is the kind of business result brands seek. Tom Buontempo adds: "We're seeing programs that are really moving the pistons forward."