This summary is provided by the IPR Digital Media Research Center


Today’s digital environment has forced public relations professionals to cede at least some control of their messaging to new agents in digital media communities, including social media influencers (SMIs). However, research has found that public relations professionals find it challenging to identify SMIs who align with their organizations. Drawing on network gatekeeper identification theory, this study investigated the extent to which public relations professionals value SMIs, the strategies they use to identify them, and the impact of working in excellent communication functions and having social media skills when working with SMIs. Given that Latin America and Europe report the highest use of social media in the world, the researchers surveyed public relations professionals in these regions.

This research confirmed that SMIs are considered important gatekeepers in both regions, especially Latin America. Though public relations professionals in both regions reported a lower rate of adoption of specific strategies to identify and communicate with SMIs, they do look for specific qualities when selecting SMIs to work with. Moreover, the public relations professionals who work in excellent communication environments reported a higher rate of adoption of specific strategies to identify and communicate with SMIs, and social media skills were found to be an indicator of perception of the importance of SMIs.


Through the European and Latin American Communication Monitors, a total of 3,624 professionals holding various positions (from team member to head of communication) and working in a variety of settings (including joint stock companies, private companies, government-owned organizations, nonprofit organizations, and communication consultancies and agencies) completed a survey about (1) perceived importance of SMIs, (2) use of specific strategies to communicate with SMIs, (3) importance of different indicators used to identify SMIs, and (4) self-accessed social media skills. To identify which professionals worked in excellent communication departments, four dimensions of excellent communication functions were measured. Organizations that outperformed in all four dimensions were considered excellent.


Key Findings

  • The majority of professionals in both regions, especially Latin America, agreed that SMIs are valuable, but all reported a lower rate of adopting specific strategies to identify and communicate with them.
  • Consultancies and agencies in both regions are ahead in dealing with SMIs, while governmental and nonprofit organizations are not taking advantage of SMI engagement.
  • Personal reputation and quality of content shared online were considered highly valued indicators when selecting SMIs, while quantitative outreach (number of followers) and productivity (number of messages/content published) were seen as less important.
  • Professionals who work in excellent communication departments (those who outperformed on the four dimensions of excellence measured) reported a significantly higher use of specific strategies to identify and communicate with SMIs.
  • Self-reported highly developed social media skills had a significantly positive impact on communication professionals’ perceptions of the relevance of identifying SMIs.


Implications for Practice

  • Public relations professionals have an opportunity to engage with SMIs to bypass traditional media gatekeepers.
  • While research has found that marketing and advertising professionals value the number of followers SMIs have when identifying and communicating with them, public relations professionals who are most focused on authenticity, veracity, and brand values may want to prioritize other SMI qualities such as personal reputation and quality of content.
  • Public relations professionals must possess up-to-date social media skills in order to successfully identify and communicate with SMIs.
  • The public relations industry is in need of instruments and technologies that can help identify SMIs. In the meantime, public relations professionals should seek to identify SMIs who are well positioned with their organizations and then cultivate relationships with them as they would other stakeholders.



Navarro, C., Moreno, A., Molleda, J. C., Khalil, N., & Verhoeven, P. (2020). The challenge of new gatekeepers for public relations: A comparative analysis of the role of social influencers for European and Latin American professionals. Public Relations Review.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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