Businesses are making $6.50 for every $1 spent on influencer marketing. We sourced this statistic from a 2015 Tomoson survey, and the use of influencer marketing has skyrocketed since then. In this age when the reach and impact of traditional advertising are shrinking dramatically, is it any wonder that businesses choose to follow consumers to where they spend their time? Google Trends shows a very clear correlation: the increase in influencer marketing 2014-2016 mirrors the decrease in print advertising. It also matches a decline in fortunes for television advertising. According to eMarketer’s quarterly ad spending forecasts, 2017 will see digital advertising overtake television advertising for the first time.
Firms now realize the importance of content marketing. The majority of their potential customers use the internet. The problem is that with each extra firm that creates high-quality content the internet just grows larger and larger. It is now a constant battle for your content to be seen online. You can’t simply create content, even exceptionally high content, and sit back and wait for people to read it. Nobody is going to come to your site if your content is sitting on page 76 of a Google search (or probably even page two)! You have to promote the content you have created for your niche audience.
Influencer marketing allows you to find the influencers in your niche, show them your content, and encourage them to share your content (or sometimes content they have created promoting your products) with their large, engaged audiences.
Summary: Quick Jump Menu
What is Influencer Marketing?
Influencer marketing involves building up relationships with people who are influential in the same niche as your potential customers online, both through their blogs/video channels and through social media. Once you have built up a relationship with these “influencers,” you leverage this relationship and have them promote your product or service to their followers and supporters.
At times be a fine line between influencer marketing and celebrity endorsement. The key difference is that with celebrity endorsement a brand hopes that it can cajole a celebrity’s fans to purchase their product, simply because their hero told them to do so. There is no particular connection between the celebrity’s fans and the product. Justin Bieber’s army of tween fans would probably buy (or beg their parents to buy) any product that Justin Bieber personally recommended.
Jay Baer: “True influence drives action, not just awareness.”
Influencer marketing, on the other hand, relies on word of mouth advertising by people who are influential in particular niches - most are not celebrities per se. They are often relatively ordinary people who have gained trust and a following on some particular niche topic.
That does not mean that celebrities can’t be influencers - some firms with deep pockets still use celebrities to promote their products in the same way as firms with smaller budgets use less famous people. However, the majority of influencers are not celebrities. They are known as micro influencers - they are specialists in their particular field, and are at the center of a community focused on that niche.
Influencers can help your business with some combination of:
- Writing an article/blog post, or creating a video about your product or service
- Sharing information about you (including sharing your own content) on their social media accounts
- Giving you access to their site to write a guest post
The key thing is that they have a far larger audience than you, many of whom will, in turn, share the influencers’ material. These audiences value what an influencer says, and they take notice of the influencer's recommendations. Respect is very important too. Even if you have the same number of connections as an influencer, they generally will be able to build up much higher engagement than you. Members of your target audience are far more likely to act on what an influencer says than they are on what you say. They recognize your self-interest but respect an influencer’s opinion. For instance, even if you were able to match a particular influencer’s 20,000 Twitter followers, you would receive fewer shares from your posts. If you were to write content softly promoting your product you might receive 20 shares. If the influencer were to share the same content, he could more likely get 100 or more shares and therefore a wider potential reach.
Steps Involved in Influencer Marketing
1. Identify Your Influencer Marketing Campaign Goals
Before you begin any influencer marketing campaign, you need to begin by deciding why you are doing it. What are you specifically trying to achieve? Are you after increased site traffic? Are you after more social media followers? Do you want your influencers to help increase sales of your product? You need to know your specific influencer marketing goals before you begin planning a campaign.
Your goals could greatly affect your choice of influencers. If you want to increase tweets about your products, you obviously will need to target influencers who are strong on Twitter. If you want to increase the visibility of your products, then you probably want to focus on using influencers on the more visual networks such as Instagram, Pinterest or even YouTube. If you operate in the B2B sphere, and you want potential buyers to have greater in-depth product awareness, you may focus on pushing for a guest post on an influential industry blog or reaching out to an influencer with a strong Quora following.
2. Identify Your Audience
To be able to benefit from influencer marketing you need to know just who your influencers are going to influence. Justin Bieber has a huge influence - a Klout score of 92 is highly impressive. However, even if you could afford to pay him to promote your brand, it is unlikely he will be of much benefit to you unless your target audience is teenage girls. It is highly unlikely that Justin Bieber tweets will lead to increased sales of your office stationery products!
You need to narrow your topic down to a specific niche. Who exactly is the audience that you target with your product or service? If you haven’t already done so as part of your traditional marketing, you should develop a persona of your ideal customer. You are going to want to work with influencers who your ideal audience admire, follow and interact with. Your choice of audience will also help determine the social media channels where you put your focus. If your audience tweets, Twitter is an obvious place for you to utilize. If you target teenagers, SnapChat or Instagram may be more relevant.
3. Identify Potential Influencers
Having determined the type of people you want to focus your influencer campaign on, your next job is to work out who influences these people. You can either search for influencers yourself or use an influencer marketing platform to find the influencers in your niche for you.
You will most likely know who some of the “celebrities” in your niche are. In most cases, they will not be considered celebrities to the world as a whole, but they have established authority in their specialist area. You could begin with a simple Google search for your niche. Do you see multiple articles by any particular author? Ignoring the big sites like Wikipedia, are there obvious blogs or websites showing in the rankings which could be of use to you? You could also find sites that might allow you to guest post, or perhaps pay to sponsor them to write a post on your behalf. Services like Buzzsumo are great for identifying content authorities and influencers in a specific niche, showcasing popularity by social reach.
Depending on the social media medium you are concentrating on, it may be worth searching for relevant hashtags to your niche. Study who plays an important part in conversations that mention these hashtags.Once you have built up a list of potential influencers from Google, look for these people on social media channels. Unless you have already decided to build your campaign around one particular social media channel, you should research your potential influencers’ presence across a variety of different types of social media.
Don’t restrict your research to people with lots of followers. Just because somebody has one million Twitter followers does not mean that they are influential - he may have paid to buy his followers. You want to see evidence of engagement. If you haven’t done so already, follow them so that you can study them in operation using their social media accounts. A tool that you can use to gauge their social media reach is Klout. Klout gives you a score between 1 and 100 representing your social media influence. Justin Bieber, for instance, has a Klout Score of 92. The average Klout score is 40. You can find out potential influencers’ Klout scores by Installing the Klout extension for Chrome which shows Klout scores directly in your Twitter feed. Another way that Klout can help you is that it provides you with a Recommended Experts to Follow list under the Explore tab. Look at anybody you have not already analyzed to find potential further influencers.
There are many tools that you can use to help you find influencers. In How To Identify Influencers in Social Media we analyze fourteen tools and methods you can use to find relevant influencers for your campaign. Once you have built up a list of potential influencers, sort and rank them according to who you feel works best for your particular target audience, and how well you feel they could help you achieve your campaign goals. Some people may be highly influential, but their following may not perfectly match your ideal customer. You want influencers whose audience matches your audience as closely as possible.
4. Build a Relationship With Influencers
You need to build up a relationship with an influencer before you can expect him to share or promote your content. This relationship building can be a slow, gradual process. You are looking to find common ground between you and the influencer so that you can begin engaged conversations with them.
One method to build up a relationship with potential influencers is to regularly create content that would interest them and share it with them through your social media channels. If the content is good enough, they may eventually start sharing your content with their audiences.
You should start the relationship by interacting with them in a similar way to how you would begin a friendship. Try and provide value to them. If they pose a question online, make an effort to answer it. You don’t begin by promoting yourself - you begin by proving yourself to be of value to an influencer.
You can’t rush or force things. You have to build up a natural relationship.
Share valuable content with your audience - which will hopefully include the influencer. Don’t just restrict your help to one intended influencer. It will look much more natural if you share material with everybody. Don’t limit your sharing to your own material. Make sure you search for and share other people’s quality material too. Experts suggest that on Twitter four out of every five tweets should be retweets of other people’s material. If you have the opportunity to interact with an influencer in an offline situation (without being seen as a stalker), take it. Perhaps a potential influencer is going to be a keynote speaker at a conference near you. Buy tickets, front row if possible. If you get the chance, mingle with him in the bar afterwards.
Eventually, if you have done all of the groundwork carefully, the influencer should begin to show a genuine interest in you. At this point, you could suggest ways that you could collaborate and work together. An alternative method is to reach out to influencers with the aim of getting your work directly published for their audiences. An example of this is where you pitch a guest blog for their website. For this to work, you will probably already need a credible writing history, so that the website knows that you will produce quality material for them to present to their audience. Interacting with influencers can take a considerable amount of time, so you will need to prioritize where to place your focus.
Once you have built up a relationship with an influencer, there is a good likelihood that they will share some of your material with their audience, or promote your material in some way. I say “some” of your material, because they will never share everything you create. Your most shareable content will be:
- Relevant - your content has to be suitable for their audience, no matter how good it is. Of course, if you have done your homework and selected an influencer from the correct niche, this shouldn’t be an issue.
- Unique - if your content is just a rewritten version of something that other writers have already written about 100 times, people are unlikely to share you, unless you are paying for it
- Quality - the influencer has spent time building up his audience. He is not going to risk alienating his fans by sharing poor quality material
Trustworthy - if you haven’t built up a relationship, you are a nobody to the influencer, and they will have no reason to help you. Of course, if the influencer already uses and likes your product himself you have a bonus opportunity.
- Visible - you have to do the initial promotion before an influencer sees your content. If you tweet your content once, it is likely that the influencer will miss it and it will remain unread (unless you manage to set up a more formal arrangement with the influencer where you can provide him with content to share)
Be aware that not all of your attempts to work with influencers will be successful. You’re not be the only person trying this technique. There could well be others who provide more compelling content than you, or cases where the influencer may simply like some other product better. Some influencers may simply not wish to engage in content sharing or promotion. It may take an extraordinarily long time to succeed in some cases - it has been known to take years. For this reason, don’t rely totally on attracting one particular influencer to work with. Always work on building up multiple relationships.
Of course, there are some shortcuts to this process if you have a high enough budget. There are platforms you can use who have influencers on their books who are willing to use their influence if your product is the right fit for their audience, and you are willing to pay for their promotion.
5. Engage Influencers
In many cases, your work with influencers will be truly organic. They like what you have shared with them, so they choose to share that material with their followers. In that case, there is no real sense of “engaging” influencers; it is simply a case of an influencer choosing to work with you and amplifying your material.
In other cases, you may set up a more formal arrangement with an influencer. It may be as simple as them agreeing to let you write a guest post for them for free. At the other extreme, you may well sign them up for full-blown product endorsement (paying them an agreed level of remuneration in return). According to Forbes, your influencer marketing budget should be about half of what you would otherwise spend on social media advertising. Some brands even hire influencers to take over their social media accounts for a set time. For instance, Gucci hired graffiti artist Trouble Andrew to operate their Instagram and Snapchat accounts during Milan fashion week, which was highly successful.
You do need to be careful using influencers who require payment, though. The whole point of using influencers to promote your product is that it needs to come across as sincere and authentic to the audience. If it is obvious that an influencer is making a paid recommendation (and under FTC rules, they are required to admit this), then you could lose the feeling of authenticity. This becomes less of an issue if the audience already has a genuine passion and interest in your brand.
If you have chosen your influencer carefully, he will probably be genuinely interested in your product. In this case, product discounts and giveaways often work well as a reward. You could even consider paying the influencer a commission or set up some form of affiliate marketing program.
6. Work With Influencers to Publish and Amplify
There are multiple ways you could work with your influencers to promote your brand. These include:
- Creating a direct outreach campaign
- Creating high-level content yourself, and then target this at your influencers in the hope that they can generate engagement
- Getting your influencers to create content for your brand
- Approaching influencers for quotes, interviews or other items for your content, e.g. items you could include in a round-up blog post
- Encouraging influencers to review your product
- Creating content promoting your influencers as well as yourself, in the hope that your influencers will share it
It is a good idea to study your influencers’ content, and see how they have worked in the past. If it is obvious that a particular technique has worked before, emulate it. For instance, if you can see that an influential Twitter user often shares tweets that mention him, make sure that you create tweets referring to the influencer by name, e.g. @twitterhandle.
You can help your influencers by amplifying their content. You may not have as big of a relevant audience as they do, but you still should push their content to your audience too. You could choose to publish additional material directing people to the influencer's photos, videos or blog post.
7. Measure Your Results
You began this process by determining your goals for the campaign. Eventually, you will need to determine how successful you have been at meeting these goals. How effective has the campaign been at increasing your reach, impressions, views, engagement, sales, or whatever else you were targeting? Be aware that there may be quite a time lag between when your campaign starts and when the results show.
We have a free eBook at the Influencer Marketing Hub which you can download, that shows you in more detail How to Measure Influencer Marketing ROI.
Influencer Marketing Platforms and Agencies
It is possible to speed up your progress through these steps if you choose to work with an influencer marketing platform. They take over quite a few of the administrative tasks for you. One major advantage of using a platform is that they have already identified influencers who are happy to work with brands.
We have an analysis of some of the main influencer marketing platforms here
You can split the various platforms into three types:
- Full Service
Activation platforms partner brands with influencers in niche topic areas. The platforms create databases of people who meet the criteria of being an influencer and who are willing to work with brands - for a mutually agreed form of payment. The social activation platforms act as a meeting place for brands and influencers.
From a brand’s point of view, the success of an influencer marketing campaign working through a social activation platform very much depends on just how many suitable influencers the platform has signed up for the relevant niche topic.
Discovery platforms have huge databases of influencers covering every niche imaginable. One example is HYPR which has 9 million profiles in its database. The focus here is for brands discovering influencers who are the perfect fit for their goals. The discovery platforms provide contact details for the brands to communicate directly with the influencers.
Some marketing agencies include services similar to what the platforms offer, amongst their offerings. These target larger brands with a sizeable influencer marketing budget.
Many traditional agencies have added influencer marketing to their client services lists. They are often full service, in the sense that they cover virtually all of the stages of influencer marketing - including finding influencers, working with influencers, and creating content that influencers can use. The agencies are particularly useful when a brand wants to work with bigger-name well-known influencers, for instance in the fashion niche. There are a few agencies, such as IMA, who now specialize in assisting firms to create influencer marketing campaigns.