In 2015 Adweek’s social media marketing site, SocialTimes, proclaimed influencer marketing “the next big thing.” (We thought that honour went to Alicia Vikander, but we’ll keep an open mind.) Fast forward to today and influencer marketing has rocketed to the forefront of brand building. But what exactly is it? While most marketing folk are familiar with the traditional media channels, influencer marketing still has an air of mystery that people mostly bluff their way through. “Oh yes, influencer marketing,” they’ll say, “it’s helped us increase our ROI and is an essential part of our marketing strategy, blahdy, blahdy, blah.” These same people will then whip out their smartphone and Google “influencer marketing” faster than you can click a Facebook like. But influencer marketing isn’t a secret, so let’s break it down.
Social Media in Our Lives
What do you do in the morning when you get up? When you’re standing in line waiting for your Americano? When you’re riding the bus / subway / train / carpool into work? When you have a few minutes in between meetings? When you’re in a meeting and bored out of your mind? When you finish your day? When you’re making dinner? Just before you go to bed? If you’re like most people, the answer is: flick through social media (thank god it’s not just me!). In fact, this study suggests that people in the U.S. check their social media accounts an average of 17 times a day – that’s more than once every waking hour!
And mixed into the photos of your friends’ new babies or articles about Trumpocalypse, you’ve probably got at least a handful of (or, let’s be hones, several dozen) people you follow that you don’t know, but are just really cool personalities or cool accounts. Maybe they post beautiful home décor (hello @the_boho_bungalow!) or spectacular travel shots from around the world (I’m looking at you @afarmedia). Maybe they make you LOL (@thefatjewish), or their style is super fly (@gabyburger). Whatever the reason you follow them, in the world of social marketing these people are known as influencers.
What is an Influencer?
Influencer [in-floo-uh n-ser]
- a person or thing that influences
- a person who has the power to influence many people, as through social media or traditional media
Influencers are early adopters. Think of them like the cool kids you used to watch in high school – if they had new Jordache jeans, you wanted them too. If they were drinking Mountain Dew (or, let’s be honest, peach schnapps), so were you. That’s what influencers do today. And marketers have noticed.
Today, instead of relying solely on traditional advertising to reach an audience, brands are entering into agreements with influencers to get their product or service in front of the right eyes (TV and print ads are so 2006!). In reality, influencer marketing isn’t exactly new; it’s been happening for decades with athletes, celebrities, actors, and leaders in the public eye. Michael Jackson and Pespi? Michael Jordan and Nike? Jennifer Aniston and Smart Water? Every time you see a shot of a celeb in a gorgeous designer gown, jeans, or bag that you instantly have to have? All examples of influencer marketing.
The only difference is that today, the list of who qualifies as an “influencer” has grown to include bloggers and social media “celebs.” Social media has literally changed the game, levelling the playing field and giving anyone with a smartphone and a little savvy the opportunity to share their opinion and content with the world. And if they do it well enough – if they have a unique voice, an interesting perspective, something witty or novel or useful to say – people notice and follow, and soon the marketing teams come running.
How Does it Work?
Alright, so we’ve covered what makes an influencer, but how do we get them to play?
Step 1: Identify Influencers
The first step is identifying the people and social media personalities who resonate with your target audience. If you’re looking to market a protein bar for serious fitness fanatics, you’re probably not going to do it through a mommy blogger or a travel Twitter account (duh). Instead, you’re going to look for big names in the fitness world, people who look fit and fierce and who the people you want to speak to, trust, follow, and interact with on a regular basis. You’re going to scour Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, Pinterest, and more and find great accounts with large followings that fit with your brand. That last part is key. If your brand personality is friendly and approachable, don’t align yourself with someone whose online persona is too-cool-for-school (we’ve all seen Mean Girls, we know what can happen when you hang out with Regina George). Make sure your brand and their brand are a good match. Do a star sign analysis. Kidding! But do have a look at whether or not it feels like a natural fit.
Step 2: Get Them on Board
Most legit social media influencers (the good ones at least) aren’t keen to partner with a brand just to see the dolla dolla bills. Why? Because in the world of social media, authenticity is key. These folks have worked hard to amass a following (or they’ve just started to post an endless series of bikini shots, but we digress), and they’re able to keep them because they offer honest commentary, reviews, and endorsements of things they actually like. But if you’ve done the first step well (i.e. identified people who are a natural fit for your brand) then engaging them shouldn’t be too hard. If they aren’t familiar with your brand maybe it’s time to offer them a free try (everyone loves free stuff). If they already use your brand, approach them to see what they’d need to start promoting it to the people in their network (more free stuff? money? a contra deal?). Then iron out the details of an agreement – what are you offering as compensation (money? goods? your firstborn?)? What do you expect in return? A post once a minute every minute for 12 weeks straight to break the internet? Does your product need to be featured or referred to in a certain way? Clear expectations from the outset will save a lot of headaches down the line.
Step 3: Develop a Content Strategy
When it’s time to actually put pen to paper (or fingers to a keyboard as the case may be), it’s important that you’ve developed a clear content strategy in partnership with your influencer. You want to create a story, not just promote your product or service (an audience can always sniff out a hard sell and it will smell more like dog poop and less like roses, turning people right off). Content should be crafted using the voice and style of the influencer (after all, that’s why you’re working with them) so collaborate to determine appropriate messages and posts. And make sure it works for both parties – as you might recall from grade 10 biology, symbiosis is a beautiful thing (and in case you skipped that class, sym·bi·o·sis / noun / a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups).
Step 4: Measure the ROI
I hate the term ROI. It’s business jargon right up there with KPIs and “how’s your bandwidth these days?” Measuring a quantifiable shift in your bottom line isn’t the only way to measure success, and influencer marketing (let’s be honest, marketing in general) can be a subjective field, so instead of counting the dollars, look at the effect the campaign has on your overall brand. Are you reaching more people? Are more people talking about your brand? Are you getting more followers on your own social media accounts? More traffic on your website? Decide what dial you’re trying to move, then monitor it to see the results. Just remember that measuring success takes a bit of patience and planning, so if at first it doesn’t feel like you’re succeeding, try, try again!
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