Influencer marketing has always been a powerful strategy larger businesses and established brands have stored in their back pockets. But the growth and explosion of the internet, combined with the democratization of the marketplace at the hands of social media, has made this an accessible marketing strategy for small brands and startups, too. And those brands that tap into it are enjoying impressive ROI. Should you be leveraging it as well?
Anytime a term becomes a buzzword, the original meaning becomes clouded by misconceptions and generalities. This is certainly the case with “influencer.” Ask 100 people to give you their thoughts on what an influencer is and they’ll roll their eyes and delve into some rambling monologue on self-conceited millennials and the pitfalls of social media. But that’s just noise.
Influencers have been around since the dawn of civilization – we’ve only just now given them a label. And while social media has certainly been a catalyst, influencers have existed for centuries.
Traditionally, influencers have consisted of well-known individuals, including politicians, athletes, celebrities, musicians, authors, and even journalists. Today, you can throw anyone with a large social media following into the mix as well.
But influencers don’t always have millions of adoring fans. And they don’t always grace the front page of news websites or tabloids. There are influencers in every industry, niche, hobby, small town, big city, sport, and neighborhood.
Influencer Marketing Hub defines an influencer as someone who has:
A) “The power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of his or her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his or her audience.”
B) “A following in a distinct niche, with whom he or she actively engages. The size of the following depends on the size of his/her topic of the niche.”
That’s the basic gist of it. But if you peel back the layers even deeper, you’ll discover that influence is made up of three components:
Influencers have relevance, reach, and resonance. If one of these ingredients is missing, the individual doesn’t actually have influence. There are varying levels of influence, but each of these three R’s must be present in some shape or form.
Having said that, reach is certainly one of the most important ingredients. And in today’s marketplace, brands often categorize influencers by the number of followers they have.
You won’t see these technical terms in someone’s social media profile. They’re unofficial labels that people in the marketing world use to categorize influencers and their reach. However, being aware of these different buckets will help you understand the market better.
Now that we understand what it means to have influence and who counts as an influencer, let’s explore the topic of influencer marketing.
Influencer marketing is basically the collaboration between a company and an influencer to market its products, services, or brand to a specific audience (i.e. the influencer’s social media followers).
Influencer marketing has always been around in the form of celebrity endorsements, but it’s taken on a new life with social media. Smaller brands who never would have been able to partner with Hollywood stars and mega athletes can now align themselves with micro-influencers in a specific niche and enjoy positive feedback.
Why are brands willing to spend so much on influencer marketing? Well, the proof is in the pudding. Research shows:
As the concept of influencer marketing has become more popular over the past several years, many misconceptions have arisen – particularly on the brand side of things.
Influencer marketing is NOT about finding someone with a lot of followers and writing them a check to post a picture of your product. This might work with a celebrity like Kim Kardashian (if you even had the funds to pay her for the post), but it doesn’t work with your average influencer. Remember our discussion on relevance, reach and resonance. You have to find someone with the right audience and engagement.
Influencer marketing is NOT going to give you quick results. Unless the influencer has several million followers, you probably won’t see a major influx of sales in the hours after a post. It’s about developing a relationship with the influencer and partnering with them over several weeks or months to naturally influence their audience towards your brand.
Influencer marketing doesn’t happen by accident. To win with this approach, you need a clear and decisive strategy. Here are some tips to help you develop your own:
The first key is to find the right influencers to work with. Think of this part of the process like finding candidates for a job opening. You want to develop a shortlist of good options, knowing that you will probably only end up working with one or two of them.
A good option is someone who has relevance, reach, and resonance. They should have an audience that directly overlaps with yours in some shape or form. For example, if you’re selling beauty products, fashion bloggers are excellent influencers. If you’re selling workout gear, YouTube yoga instructors are going to be a good match. If you’re selling small business accounting services, you want to partner with motivational speakers and consultants with large followings.
It’s also smart to gather intel on pricing during this phase. There are some resources on the internet that will give you a basic ballpark estimate of what it costs to work with someone based on their followers and niche, but you’ll ultimately have to ask each individual influencer for their rate. This will give you a feel for what the cost is.
Armed with a shortlist of potential influencers and how much they cost, you can set a budget for your influencer marketing strategy.
Many brands include influencer marketing as a line item in their larger marketing budget, while other companies create an entirely separate budget just for this investment. It’s up to you to decide how you want to proceed, but do make sure you’re accounting for the cost in an accurate manner on the front end.
Consistency and cohesion are so important in influencer marketing. It’s not enough to mail a product to an influencer and ask them to make a post about it. You need to collaborate with them to ensure that they’re delivering the message you want.
The tricky part about influencer marketing is that you have two sides to please. You have a specific message that you want to deliver, while the influencer has their own personal brand, personality, and flavor. These two must be melded in a way that doesn’t compromise your brand’s message or the authenticity of the influencer. (And it’s for this reason that it’s so important to partner with the right influencer for your brand – not just the person with the most followers.)
Once you have your message figured out, you can begin contacting influencers and making a pitch. Depending on how big they are, you may have to sell them on why they should work with you. (If they’re small and looking for more opportunities, they might start selling themselves to you.) You’ll have to sort of feel out the interaction to get an idea of who has the leverage in the situation.
For micro-influencers, you can usually reach out via a direct message and get in touch with the individual personally. For more established influencers, they might have a link to an agent or website where they handle requests for brand partnerships.
Whether you’re spending $250 or $100,000, you want to know that your influencer marketing spending isn’t coming back empty. In other words, you want to know that you’re getting a positive return on investment. And you do this by identifying and tracking various key performance indicators (KPIs).
Every brand and campaign is going to find different KPIs valuable, so your team will have to determine which metrics matter most.
For example, are you most concerned about getting impressions and exposure?
Or do you find clicks to a landing page the most telling metric of engagement?
Maybe you want to see direct sales through some sort of affiliate tracking link?
If you’re entering into an agreement with an influencer where payment is results-based, you’ll need to reach a mutual agreement of which numbers will be tracked and how they’ll be tracked. Because sometimes an influencer has different KPIs than the brand (or vice versa).
You might not strike it rich on your first influencer partnership, and you need to be okay with that. Like any other marketing investment, it takes time to see results. Use the first few partnerships as learning opportunities. Identify what works, make notes on what doesn’t, and iterate over time. Eventually, you’ll zero in on a strategy and partnerships that work.
At SEO.co, we believe the best marketing is a cohesive blend of quality content that’s supported by the right message and delivered to the right audience at the appropriate time. In addition to influencer marketing, you should be supporting your brand’s underlying marketing strategy with organic traffic, high quality backlinks, and compelling content marketing.
Want to learn more about how we can help you win big in these areas? Simply contact us today and we’ll help you get started!