For a while now, you may have heard the mantra that influencer marketing is a staple in any well-rounded social media program. Yet, you’ve seen cases where it’s gone bad. From headlines about fake news to “bots” posing as followers, to celebrity endorsements hurting big brands. Many savvy marketers are left questioning: is influencer marketing a fad or a solid strategy?
Like any successful communications effort, an influencer marketing program requires a focused approach and disciplined execution. When done right, influencer marketing can add third-party credibility to a brand, help companies become more accessible to consumers, and, depending on the type of influencer, amplify your content without heavy paid media dollars. However, there’s risk in putting a brand in the hands of a stranger and, therefore, influencer marketing requires an investment in time and resources to execute properly.
This article is featured in O'Dwyer's May '18 PR Firm Rankings Magazine
Consider the macro and micro view
As most marketers know by now, influencers are commonly categorized by reach, or audience size, and status, and fall into one of three groups: Celebrity, a well-known superstar who has mass reach; Macro-influencer, a person with a large following grown from building their online personal brand; and Micro-influencer, someone with a following of fewer than 10,000.
While celebrities and macro-influencers have gotten much of the fanfare to date, micro-influencers are proving their value. Micro-influencers have a hyper-engaged audience in a targeted topic area that engenders strong communication and engagement and, in many cases, higher conversion rates.
Research supports several advantages to working with micro-influencers. In the case of quality over quantity, a study by Markerly found that as someone’s number of followers increases, the engagement rate decreases. Furthermore, research from Expercity shows micro-influencers’ conversion rates are 22.2 times higher than other influencers, perhaps because they are found to be 74 percent more likely to encourage followers to buy or try a product or service.
Finally, the cherry on top as regards working with these influencers—they are often more affordable. According to Bloglovin’, 97 percent of micro-influencers charge $500 or less for a sponsored post on Instagram, compared to Kylie Jenner, who can reportedly get hundreds of thousands of dollars for a promotional post on the platform.
Picking the right influencer for your brand
Whether you are considering micro-or macro-influencers, there’s a science to selecting the right ones. Doing your homework upfront to identify the appropriate influencers to partner with will pay dividends on the back end.
Start by aligning the evaluation process to your overall social media strategy. Ensure you identify partners who will elevate your brand message, not dilute it. Outline program objectives, target audiences, content themes and guidelines for influencer content, as well as key performance indicators. These elements will directly inform the influencer selection criteria. From there, follow these best practices for developing effective partnerships and content that deliver your brand’s message to the right people.
Think relevance. Relevance measures the contextual fit for your brand and is critical when thinking about the parameters of selecting influencers. Starting with a large list of influencers, assess those who would be most relevant to your audience based on your brand. This can be done by applying brand personas to determine who is appropriate to engage with based on the categories and topics they are discussing. Define your campaign’s purpose and slot influencers into those categories based on their content themes, persona and audience engagement. Find people who naturally connect to your mission, topics, product or service.
Determine resonance. Identify the influencer’s level of engagement to determine resonance. Focus on influencers who have a committed and engaged following as this is a strong indication of authenticity. A strong influencer posts content that is consumable and likeable. As they say, it’s not how many friends you can count, but how many friends you can count on to create engagement and build brand awareness.
Evaluate the message. Be sure to vet the influencer’s content, thoroughly. As engaged as followers may be, sometimes an influencer’s content doesn’t fit your brand. For example, does the influencer have a strong following and post beautiful photos that would speak to your audience, but also employs controversial commentary? Might not be a good fit. Be vigilant when vetting content for highly political posts, obscenity, and competitor mentions, otherwise your campaign could quickly backfire.
Personalize your outreach approach. Once you find the right partner(s), tailor your communication and invitation to work together based on what you’ve learned about them. Show this person you’ve done your homework and how your brand is a good fit for their community. This is the first step to developing a strong relationship.
Build in backups. Cast a wide net for your search initially to account for influencers who decline to participate, which could be as high as 80 percent. There are many factors that play into influencer participation, including level of effort of the request (are you asking for a video or just a text-based tweet), turnaround time (influencers have busy personal and work lives, too; make sure the production schedule allows for at least a week or ideally two) and content topic (is it sensitive in nature). Just like your brand on social media, many influencers follow their own content strategy and scheduling to build an engaged follower base.
Establish your goals and how to track them. Essential to tracking results is setting clear goals and metrics upfront. Define your metrics, including the targeted quality and quantity of interactions. Then closely monitor community engagement. Ask yourself: Does the influencer engagement feel authentic? What are the comments and questions from the community? Did the overall effort drive the desired levels of reach, click throughs or other impact? Based on your learnings, make changes and optimize your program in real time.
Employ technology. Once you define your influencer parameters, consider using tools such as GroupHigh, TapInfluence and IZEA to tap into influencer databases to build a long list of influencers. These tools can help you parse the digital landscape to get access to influencer names, social footprint, personal performance metrics and contact information. Some of these tools also facilitate outreach and can help manage the full transaction.
Influencer marketing programs remain a highly viable yet evolving opportunity. Know the risks and rewards before diving in too deep. Invest the hard work to choose social media mavens wisely so that these influencers actually influence to your advantage.
Ashley Butler is a senior social media strategist with Crosby Marketing Communications.