What is Influencer Marketing? (And How Can Digital Marketers Impactfully Use It?)
Wikipedia defines Influencer marketing as “a form of marketing in which focus is placed on influential people rather than the target market as a whole on social media. It identifies the individuals who have influence over potential customers, and orients marketing activities around these influencers.”
And while that definition in a general sense is fairly accurate, it only provides a surface level interpretation of the term. Influencer marketing is multi-faceted in every sense of the word. So what exactly is influencer marketing, both in the macro and the micro perspective? And how can digital marketers effectively use it?
Ok, So what exactly is Influencer Marketing?
Essentially, Influencer Marketing is a type of marketing that focuses on using influential public figures – aka “influencers” – to drive your brand’s message to the larger market. But rather than marketing directly to a large group of consumers and casting a wide (and massively expensive) net, you instead inspire/hire/pay influencers to get the word out for your brand.
Influencer marketing typically goes hand-in-hand with two other forms of marketing: social media marketing and content marketing. A large majority of influencer campaigns have some sort of social media component attached to them, in which influencers are expected to spread the word or promotional message through their personal social channels. But many influencer campaigns additionally carry a strong content element in which either you create content for the influencers, or you allow the influencers themselves to create the content. Social media and content marketing often both fit into a majority of influencer campaign. However, they are not synonymous with influencer marketing.
Who and what is an influencer?
An influencer is loosely defined as a social media user that can have anywhere from a few hundred to a few million followers on a particular social platform. These users have the ability to drive conversation and engagement around a specific topic, discussion, or niche. Influencers are people that have their fingers on the digital pulse of a highly-engaged and loyal audience. AdWeek summed it up perfectly when it predicted the future of influencer marketing back in 2015.
“As the world has shifted to social media, consumers look at fellow consumers to inform their purchasing decisions. Instead of looking at companies, as they did in the past, they now look at each other and at their favorite personalities.”
Why Do Influencers Have the Power to Guide an Audience?
The internet has become a highly social environment, and information travels like waves in the ocean. And the ones making the waves are influencers. They developed a strong following, built trust with their audience, and influence to guide these loyal followers toward any sentiment of their choice. Whether that’s loving, or leaving a brand.
Influencer marketing does not revolve around scripted brand dialogue or celebrity endorsements, as it would in the world of, say, public relations. Influencer marketing takes place on a different plane of communication. It’s more about creating unique, honest, and genuine relationships between the customer, brand, and the influencer. This is why influencer marketing is so unique. And arguably also why it’s so effective. It’s based around a legitimate, authentic relationship, so when brands commit to influencers, they are also committing to being long-term advocates for their audience.
As it has been since before the dawn of the internet, customers tend to rely on recommendations from people they trust. And relationships are built on trust. That’s why social media influencer marketing is so effective. 38% of respondents who engage with influencers trust what an influencer says about the brand more than what the brand says itself. There are a plethora of other statistics that can be referenced that effectively communicate the power of influencer marketing. There’s absolutely no question that influencers have great power in guiding their audiences sentiments towards a company or a brand.
Does Influencer Marketing Really Produce Huge ROI?
As we referenced above, it all comes down to trust. And simply put; trust pays. Consumers have never had more access or more desire for reviews, ratings, and word-of-mouth recommendations to steer their buying decisions. Influencers can be the key to unlocking their trust and their pocketbooks.
A study conducted by Burst Media, a digital media company, examined 48 influencer marketing programs that spanned 15 industries and 662 web publishers and bloggers. The data they compiled would make any marketing manager blush. These particular influencer marketing studies demonstrated a 600% return on investment. There isn’t a company around that would turn away from an opportunity to produce those kinds of margins. So, why is it so successful? A majority of the influencer campaigns that were examined in the study included sponsored blog posts, influencer-driven content and social syndication. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
So How is an influencer marketing campaign planned and developed?
First and foremost, the first step in creating a successful influencer marketing plan is to set clear goals for the campaign. In many instances, goals for influencer marketing are often less about increasing sales and more about increasing buzz and brand awareness. So before going and contacting an influencer about a potential partnership, a company needs to define its goals in ROI measurable terms, detailing exactly what it is they hope to accomplish with the campaign.
Once goals have been established, the company should then identify the influencers they want to contact by researching demographics and target markets that align with their brand. Even simple searches from places like Google and Facebook can reveal who has influence over consumers, particularly in specific verticals. For example, a search for automobiles would return results for sites like car blogs, automotive reviews, and enthusiast websites. However, you are not limited to the results of your Google search or the abilities of your organization to locate those with true influence. Market research firms offer services that assist marketers in determining who their customers and target demographic are most influenced by. The company will need to decide details like how many influencers they want to target and then select those individuals that best meet the goals of the campaign.
At this point, companies can then start analyzing data points like where their influencers gather, who their audience is, and what kind of message they are spreading. When you carefully study the influencer’s preference, it makes it easier to reach out to them later. Once the company is ready to contact the influencer, try to establish communication through social media or another informal fashion. Remember, the goal is to form an organic relationship first, that is not based entirely on endorsing and selling. There is a time and a place for the “one-off” style partnerships that occur in influencer campaigns. But influencers who are treated with respect typically become genuine advocates for the companies they work with. And those relationships can lead to a lasting partnership.
In terms of the specific content you develop for the campaign, it’s best practice to keep the influencer top of mind to ensure a collaborative effort. What is the benefit for the influencer? How would their content fit into the overall strategy? What value can they bring to the campaign? These are some of the questions that an influencer is likely going to be interested in the answers to before entering into an agreement. The campaign should ideally be mutually beneficial for everyone involved, and there should be a substantial offering for an influencer from the get-go. Ensure this element is developed in conjunction with the campaign strategy.
What are some best practices in effectively using influencer marketing?
So now that you have begun to lay the groundwork that goes into planning an influencer campaign, what are the most effective ways to activate your influencer campaigns and produce successful results?
Select The Right Influencers
As mentioned above, the best practices around selecting influencers for your campaign is to hone in on influencers that clearly align with your brand and your target audience. And do not overlook micro influencers that have a smaller following, because their engagement and reach is often better and more effective than that of top-tier influencers who may have millions of followers. But it doesn’t end there. In addition to ensuring an influencer aligns with your brand, make sure their audience does too. The more closely aligned these two factors are, the better results your campaign will produce.
Speaking of Micro and Macro…find the right balance
On the surface, Influencer Marketing has often been directly associated with macro-influencers. It’s common for marketers to target the service of big Instagram stars and to create and distribute brand content. But do macro-influencers really help shift the behavior on a day to day basis? Do they reach the long tail of potential customers who may trust the opinions of someone more closely aligned with their own reality and background? It’s a fair question to ask.
According to research, sponsored content made by a micro influencer many times garners a higher engagement rate than content created by a macro influencer. People don’t need to be conventionally famous to be influencers. So depending on the intent and scale of your particular campaign, both macro and micro influencers help achieve different goals. Incorporating a blend of both archetypes can help achieve some balance and achieve the benefits of each.
Negotiate Rates and Payment
This is one of our top pieces of advice when it comes to negotiating rates and payment with an influencer. Always be fair, be transparent, and both understand and appreciate the value they bring to the relationship before you ever even start negotiating. Undermining or underestimating an influencers value, their experience and their unique skill set, and lowballing them with a poor offer can make a poor and lasting impression. The polar opposite from a positive, working relationship.
Pay influencers for their time, effort and creative efforts. It’s still all too common for many brands and marketers to execute influencer marketing with little to no budget, yet somehow defy logic and expect large returns. This is both illogical and counter-productive. If you truly want to do influencer marketing and do it right, it is important to invest in the process both in the short term and the long term. How much you invest is completely up to you and your company, however like any marketing initiative, the more you chips you push into the pot, the more you can get back.
There is no written rule or best practice for when t it comes time to pay the influencer, or when exactly you should actually do it. Should you pay upfront? Or after all of the deliverables have been received? Those with little to no experience with contracting influencers may not know where to start when it comes to the structure of compensation. Some companies work on a 50/50 model, where the influencer receives 50% of the payment up front, acting almost as a deposit to secure the collaboration and their time, and 50% upon receipt of the deliverables, which in many cases is the approved content for the campaign.
Though it is somewhat of a common structure, it is by no means an industry standard that has been universally adopted by brands and influencers alike. For example, some influencers request – and expect – payment up front for their services, and simply will not commence work until payment has been received. On the other hand, some are content to receive full payment after the campaign period (usually within 7 days) has concluded. Since there is no established best practice or industry standard, in most cases our advice would be to let the standard be guided by the influencer. After all, you are trying to employ them, not the other way around.
Give Influencers the Creative Freedom To Produce Content
Brands are very conscious about their positioning and the way their messages are presented to their audiences. Brand voice is essential to the success of any organization. So understandably, they sometimes end up being overly restrictive with their content guidelines for influencers. While oversight is important to ensuring the clarity of your brand’s messaging, providing creative freedom to the influencers you partner with almost always produces a better quality advert. Influencers who are communicating a personal and authentic message garner a stronger engagement and response from their audience. When a brand is overly-scripted or limited in the messaging they want the influencer to communicate, it can come across to promotional, or even worse – come across inauthentic. Let your influencer do what they do best, and that finds ways to creatively engage their audience. Influencer marketing doesn’t have to be fluff but can be a sales channel and an imperative part of every marketing strategy. Our influencer marketing agency caters to all of our clients’ needs, we aren’t simply an influencer marketing company.
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