You can’t ignore influencers any longer.
Last May Schlesinger Associates released a study reporting that 84% of marketing and communications pros were gearing up to launch at least one influencer-driven campaign within the next twelve months. That means, in the last year, those influencer programs launched and started raking in the returns.
Adweek reports that more than half of marketers have increased their budgets for influencer marketing in the last year.
If you haven’t explored your options for harnessing the power of influencers in your marketing campaigns, consider this your invitation to jump in.
According to one report, brands are making an average of $6.50 for every $1 spent on their influencer marketing campaigns. On the flip side, in some industries traditional digital ads are pulling in just $3 for every $1 spent.
Adblockers and savvy consumers are cutting the effectiveness of your ads. Social media sites continually cut down on the organic reach of your posts. In short, your paid ad placements, traditional and digital, are too easy to ignore.
Influencer marketing is the antidote.
Defining Influencer Marketing
A few definitions to get you started.
Influencers are people who are considered knowledgeable and, dare I say it, influential among your target audience. These are the thought leaders on Medium, the inspirational Instagrammers, the bloggers stirring up drool-worthy dinners and sharing the recipes with the world.
The people who read their blogs, like their tweets, and comment on their Facebook posts are their following. Influencers have a large, engaged following. (Exactly how large will depend on their niche.)
Influencers are different from brand advocates.
Brand advocates are those people who passionately love your brand and talk about it with their friends. Advocates don’t always have the star power one looks for from an influencer, but advocates do actively engage with and produce content around brands. A brand advocate is that person with 79 followers on Twitter who tweets to you every day.
In many ways, the most important difference between an advocate and an influencer is simply the size of their audience.
But remember, and I’ll touch on this point again before this post is done, the best influencers are those who genuinely love and support your brand. Your influencers should also be authentic advocates for your brand. Authenticity, you’ll see, is an important part of creating an influencer program that delivers ROI.
How to Get Started With Influencer Marketing
The first thing to do when planning an influencer marketing program is to define what kind of person you are looking for and how large their social following has to be to count as an influencer.
This is easier said than done, because the answers to these questions will vary widely depending on the brand, product, or service you are seeking to promote and the audience you are targeting with this program. These details are tied tightly to your marketing and sales goals, so it’s important to have them guide your strategy.
If you are an outdoor apparel brand, for example, are you planning on targeting outdoor generalists? Or are you focusing on growing your presence with a particular activity group, say, rock climbers.
Blogging mommies, Instagram yoginis, Twitter travelers, and YouTube fashionistas may all have large followings, but that doesn’t mean they’re right for you.
A good place to start looking for influencers is among your own social audience.
- Who follows me?
- Who do they follow?
- What kind of content is popular with my audience?
I find Followerwonk to be particularly useful, especially when you’re getting a feel for your audience and their interests. It can also help you find influencers in particular locations much more quickly than scrolling through the endless stream of consciousness Twitter feed.
Once you’ve identified the people you want to work with, whether they are already advocates or new to your brand, it’s time to start building the relationship. Start engaging with their social posts, both as yourself and as your brand.
That way, when it’s time to reach out with the official influencer offer, you’ve already shown that you are interested and invested in them.
Influencers: To Pay or Not to Pay?
You don’t need to be a big name brand with a huge budget to tap into an influencer’s star power. Even if your brand is small or targets a very specific niche, you can make influencer marketing tactics work for you.
Just be realistic. Unless you want to shell out more than $100,000 per post, your product is unlikely to show up on Kylie Jenner’s Instagram feed.
The biggest question that will come up at the table while you plan is whether or not you should be paying your influencers.
The right answer will vary depending on your brand, audience, and campaign, but keep in mind:
- 84% of influencers accept monetary compensation for posts
- 70% of influencers prefer monetary compensation over any other form of compensation for posts
It’s common for brands to talk about paying influencers with “exposure.” But exposure doesn’t pay the bills. If you are asking for a lot of high quality content and engagement from your influencer team, they will probably need more than just a pat on the back in way of reward.
For some projects, free product or a test drive of your service will be enough to compensate your influencers for their time and effort. One client I worked with offered their influencers close to $600 worth of high quality outdoor gear for three months of weekly social posts. Both influencers and brands were happy with this arrangement.
For other projects, additional monetary compensation may be the way to go. If your brand sells mostly apparel, or if you’re using influencers to market your service, a few free tees or a subscription may not cut it.
That said, simply throwing money or product at your influencers isn’t the way to build a strong influencer program, either. Paying influencers for brand recommendation works when it is used as a way to nurture a genuine relationship.
To succeed, your influencer program cannot be a “set it and forget it” campaign.
Instead, check in often with your influencers to see what projects they have on the horizon and also to solicit feedback about the products they’re promoting. When your influencers feel like you’re listening and engaging with them, they’re much more likely to be happy with the partnership.
A lot of thought goes into deciding if and how to compensate influencers.
For more input on this important part of designing a successful influencer marketing plan, listen to the recent SurveyGizmo Spotlight Webinar with Kristen Matthews, Marketing Director of GroupHigh, on this very topic.
Authenticity in Influencer Marketing
Once you decide who will be in your influencer team and how you will be compensating them, it’s time to get posting, right?
Authenticity is important to both your and your influencer’s audience. Resist the temptation to ask influencers to not disclose their relationship with your brand. Not only is it dishonest, it’s also illegal according to the FTC’s Endorsement Guidelines.
If a brand is compensating an influencer for their social posts, whether it’s with free product or money, the influencer is legally obligated to disclose that with the brand.
The disclaimer can be as long as a few sentences informing blog readers of the relationship or a quick #sponsorship tag on a social sharing site.
70% of influencers say that putting out content labeled “sponsored” or “paid” does not affect the authenticity of their work, and audiences agree. If the sponsorship really fits in with the influencer’s lifestyle, audiences will see it as a mutually beneficial partnership, not a “sell out” move.
It is your responsibility as the brand to make sure that your influencers fully disclose the relationship.
Specifically, the disclosure rule only applies to posts that you specifically ask for. Your influencers can tag you in their other content without having to call every mention a sponsored post. It’s a bit of a gray area, so err on the side of caution as much as possible.
I recommend keeping track of what posts you’ve requested in a spreadsheet, then updating with links directly to those posts.
Ready to Get Started With Influencers?
Are influencers a part of your marketing plan this year? What is your input on the great influencer debate: to pay or not to pay? Share your thoughts in the comments.
- From SurveyGizmo Using Surveys to Close the Social Media Customer Service Gap