What is Influencer Marketing: An in Depth Look at Marketing’s Next Big Thing

what is influencer marketing

People have been talking about Influencer Marketing. It’s not going to replace Social or Content Marketing, because it can’t exist without them. If you’re new to IM and aren’t quite sure what that means, then you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to break it all down for you, starting at the most obvious of starting points:

What is Influencer Marketing?

Influencer Marketing is a hybrid of old and new marketing tools, taking the idea of the celebrity endorsement and placing it into a modern day content-driven marketing campaign. The main differentiator in the case of  influencer marketing is that the results of the campaign are collaborations between brands and influencers.


Influencer Marketing Strategies and Case Studies :

A good example of this would be Youtube celebrity PewDiePie. He teamed up with the makers of a horror film set in the French catacombs under Paris, creating a series of videos in which he underwent challenges in the catacombs. It was pitch-perfect content for PewDiePie’s 27 million subscribers, and received nearly double the views as the movie’s trailer. Everybody won.

That’s the simple example. It’s easy to imagine a celebrity teaming with a company to pitch a product—even if the pitch is a series of 10 minute videos instead of a 30 second television ad. But people wouldn’t be talking about Influencer Marketing—you wouldn’t be reading about it, either—if it didn’t have a much wider set of applications. And the key is in the word, “Influencer.”

Influencers, unlike celebrities, can be anywhere. They can be anyone. What makes them influential is their large followings on the web and social media. An influencer can be a popular fashion photographer on Instagram, or a well-read cybersecurity blogger who tweets, or a respected marketing executive on LinkedIn. Within any industry, there are influential people—you just have to find them. They are easily recognized by their hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of followers, and that’s the target audience you’re after.

What works in Influencer Marketing

Carefully consider your approach in influencer marketing

  • Be organized, put together a strategy, plan and budget, spend time on research
  • Be patient and be human – people talking to people, not companies talking to companies

Develop a schedule

  • Does the influencer prefer monthly/quarterly/biannual calls or newsletters?
  • Integrate with your PR schedule, product release schedule, etc.
  • Send emails on behalf of key executives. Plan travel schedules for exec and arrange face-to-face meetings

What Influencer Marketing is Not

This is a good time to point out that IM isn’t just about finding someone with an audience and offering them money or exposure so they can say good things about you. That’s what viral celebrities are for. Influencers are people who’ve spent time building their own brand and cultivating their audience; they will be naturally protective of their reputation and the people who trust them. They’re people who had the patience and focus to succeed in social media, one organic follower at a time—people like this aren’t interested in a quick payout.

Influencer Marketing is also not about quick payouts. It’s the same kind of slow-and-steady approach as Social Media and Content Marketing, where your campaign isn’t about directly selling your wares. It’s about demonstrating your authority, credibility, and thought-leadership within your industry. It’s about becoming synonymous with whatever it is that you offer, like when people say they’re going to Xerox a document instead of photocopying it.

With Social Media Marketing, it’s a slow game of acquiring the kind of followers who are going to be loyal and engaged. It’s tempting to think that joining forces with an influencer is going to be an easy way into the hearts and minds of her followers—it’s not that simple, though. Because to ally yourself with influencers, you’ve got to earn their trust and respect. But how?

What doesn't work in Influencer Marketing

Generalizing your approach to finding & making use of different influencers. One size doesn’t fit all influencers: tailor your approach to the specific influencer

Simply looking at the popularity of the influencer. Influence does not only mean popularity, remember that your goal is to elicit a specific action from your customers

One Simple Rule: Influencer Marketing is Marketing to Influencers

With traditional Social Media marketing, a brand would set up its identity on whatever platform it chose and, as time passed and user bases grew, they could see who their brand champions were. That is, who were the customers that were liking and sharing content, or mentioning the brand itself in a post. Users like these would often be further nurtured, through personal attention and as part of a highly segmented group of all the brand champions. Efforts to market to this group would include ways to keep them spreading the word.

IM tells us that our time is better spent in marketing directly to influential people whose likes and dislikes we already know — are well aligned with our own

One problem with this approach: some users just didn’t have enough followers to make much impact. In fact, most users don’t. Most users have a small network of maybe a few hundred friends and associates representing all kinds of tastes and preferences. Meanwhile, brands would struggle curate and create content that they hoped would resonate with their followers in some meaningful way, all while staying engaged with the day-to-day interactions. This scattershot approach to social marketing yields predictably erratic results. Instead of blindly trying to grab Likes and followers, or throwing various bits of content out to see what sticks, IM tells us that our time is better spent in marketing directly to influential people whose likes and dislikes we already know — are well aligned with our own. This means engaging with these people across social accounts—not just following and liking, but commenting and demonstrating knowledge and a personality. It can also mean curating or creating content that’s hand-picked to get the attention of influencers. While it’s the influencer’s audience that’s the ultimate prize, the target market for brands comprises the influencers themselves.

By laying this groundwork, two things are achieved.

  1. The first is that simply by interacting in positive and constructive ways on your influencers’ social pages, you’re getting early access to their followers. You’re not promoting anything to them, but you are showing your face as a member of the community, so to speak, which adds to your credibility down the line.
  2. The second achievement is that, eventually, when you do propose some kind of IM collaboration, they’ll know who you are. Influencers aren’t celebrities, per se, but their online life can look a lot like a famous person’s real world one: lots of interruptions from people they don’t know, wanting a piece of their time, either to praise them or pitch them. You need to be able to stand out from the noise of attention they get in the form of emails and tweets. So that when you finally reach out to them they’ll know what you’re about, and they’ll know whether you’re a good fit for their audience. If you’ve done your homework well, you’ll rest easy knowing that you are.

An Influencer Marketing Campaign: Case Study

The PewDiePie example from earlier might have given you an idea of what an IM campaign can look like, but it’s probably tough to see how that kind of strategy can work its way into some of the less sexy areas of the business world. With that criterion in mind, let’s look at this example—the campaign to drive the attendance of and awareness around the Content Marketing World conference. A more traditional approach might have focused solely on SEO and Google Ads, as well as some promoted content on Twitter and LinkedIn. Perhaps a blog piece would have been written, something shareable that’s insightful and gets the word out.

Instead, the Content Marketing Institute worked with Top Rank Marketing to develop an IM campaign to get the word out. To be fair, the Content Marketing Institute already has quite a large network of influencers they work with; identifying potential collaborators was as easy as looking at who’d be speaking at the conference they were promoting. Which is exactly what they did, asking speakers to contribute some thoughts or advice around Content Marketing. The feedback was compiled, along with other educational materials, into four separate eBooks, each with its own unique topic relevant to the programming at CMI’s conference. Each ebook was made available to view at Slideshare, or as a downloadable PDF, with links pushed out across social media by CMI, Top Rank, and the influencers themselves. The whole initiative was underwritten by Curata, a software developer specializing in Content Curation and Management Platforms. That’s a lot of players around one campaign, but look how everyone gets something out of it:

  • The target audience, those being recruited for attendance at the conference, got free, entertaining, and valuable information that is of personal relevance to them. Over 230,000 people viewed the eBooks on Slideshare while another 4,000 downloaded the PDFs.
  • The influencers who participated used the platform to drive attendance to their sessions at the conference. Sharing out the eBooks in which they took a part gave them more opportunities to make people aware they were speaking, all of which adds to their personae as credible and respected people in their field.
  • CMI got the attendance they were looking for, and another notch in their belt by putting on (and pulling off) another large conference with them at the center of it all.
  • Curata, who paid for this all to happen, got over 1,000 new leads to market to.
This win/win/win/win situation is part of what makes IM such a compelling strategy

There are no advertising tricks used in these campaigns, no disingenuous celebrities smiling over a product you know they’ve never used. Think about this way: the CMI conference campaign was a straight up content marketing play, commissioned by the people who wrote the book on content marketing, and aimed at other campaign marketers. These are all people who know the “tricks of the trade,” but the campaign worked. And that’s because in this case the trick is that there is no trick.

  • The best Social Marketing works because it’s nothing more than a natural social interaction.
  • The best Content Marketing works because the information is genuinely helpful.
  • And the best IM works because it relies on both Social and Content marketing tools, where credibility and genuine authority are already established in the minds of the audience.


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