What is Influencer Marketing?
Influencer marketing is one of those terms where the name means what it says. It implies that businesses work with people of influence to help them with their online marketing.
This type of marketing aims to identify the main people who act as influencers in your niche so you can approach them to work with you to promote your brand.
So, what is an influencer?
An influencer is somebody who has the power to affect purchase decisions of others. He can do this because he has authority, knowledge, position and/or a special relationship with his audience. He is usually someone who has a significant following in a particular niche, and he actively engages with them.
The size of an influencer’s following will depend on the size of the niche he or she chooses to operate in.
As the internet has matured, certain individuals have established reputations as digital superstars. These are the people we consider to be influencers.
These influencers have built reputations for being experts in particular niches.
They might have established a successful blog on the subject. Perhaps they’ve made videos and uploaded them to a relevant YouTube channel.
Or more often, they have operated active and popular social media accounts, where they give opinions, ideas, tips, and advice relating to their specialist topic.
Influencers spend considerable time building their brand and cultivating their audience.
If the influencers understand how your product could benefit their followers, then they may be happy to work with you. They will be prepared to lend their name, expertise, and authority towards promoting your product to their followers.
There is one caveat to this, though. Influencer marketing will only work if you sell a quality product.
If your product is shoddy, sub-standard or worse than your competitors, then no amount of bribing influencers will make you repeat sales.
Indeed, no real influencer will want to work with you.
Influencer Marketing vs. Content Marketing vs. Brand Ambassadors
Content Marketing occurs when firms create and distribute relevant, valuable content. The content is produced to attract and engage an audience. Its ultimate aim, of course, is to lead the reader into taking some profitable action, perhaps buying a particular product. This type of marketing covers the entire process of creating, distributing and using content to meet your business goals.
As we have established, influencer marketing involves working with a prominent person in a firm’s market segment to distribute content. Again, this material has the ultimate aim of encouraging an online consumer to take a particular course of action.
Influencer marketing focuses on the distribution of content, rather than the creation of it.
Content marketing uses a variety of methods to share content and raise its visibility. One of the most effective ways is to use influencer marketing as part of the distribution process.
Online consumers often take the following sequence:
1. A consumer sees a recommendation about some product or service in a social media post or status. This is usually made by some influencer who the consumer admires and follows. It piques his attention.
2. He decides to learn more, so he goes to his favorite blog, YouTube channel, social media network, or podcast to search for more information about the product.Then he engages with content.
3. He seeks clarification about features, pricing, availability and shipping details. This stage is often completed at a brand or retailer’s site.
4. If he likes what she sees, he purchases the product or service, either online or by going into a physical store.
This entire process involves the consumer interconnecting with a mix of content and influencer marketing.
A variation on the formal influencer marketing process is where your business cultivates brand ambassadors.
A brand ambassador is someone who represents and talks about your brand with passion.
These could be your brand’s fans and customer advocates.
Brand ambassadors provide a form of crowd-sourced marketing that amplifies your brand awareness. And they do this because they love your products and services.
You want to cultivate and encourage your brand’s ambassadors; to help them have conversations with their contacts, both online and offline.
Often brand ambassadors can perform your influencer marketing for you, with little if any effort on your part.
You have to accept in this social age that you have little control over brand ambassadors.
They are the modern form of word-of-mouth. They use predominantly their own content, often a mix of photos, videos and customized tweets.
Of course, you can assist your brand ambassadors and provide them with content they can use. You can also create branded hashtags they can share and build up further support.
Why do You Need Influencer Marketing?
When did you last look at a banner ad on the internet? Most people don’t notice them now. Many of those who take note of them find them so annoying they install AdBlockers to remove them.
With a worldwide average click-through rate of 0.19%, you can hardly consider display advertising successful.
According to a poll from Infolinks, half of Internet users never click on online ads and 35% click on less than five ads per month.
Perhaps you have tried social media marketing. This has some potential. People spend a considerable time nowadays browsing through their various social media threads.
But there is a problem. Who is going to see your social media statuses?
Unless you have built massive audiences, you are unlikely to have much reach.
The social media networks have made things more difficult for you. They want your advertising dollars, so they make it hard for you to reach people with organic posts.
Recent changes to Facebook have compounded this further. They have adjusted news feeds to favor status updates from friends and family and reduced the visibility of business pages.
Most people on social media have a network of a few hundred “friends.” These people will have a wide range of interests and tastes. Often, their only common factor is that they are friends with the same person. They may be a family member of that person, a friend, a work colleague. Or they may just be somebody who plays the same game, or who has a single interest in common.
It can be difficult to market on social media to Joe Average.
But influencers are different. They have cultivated audiences of like-minded people. In some cases, these support bases are gigantic – colossal even.
Imagine how many are relevant people you could target with a quality influencer, than if you try a marketing method with more random targeting?
The scattershot approach to marketing yields erratic results.
Some firms succeed in building successful online identities, to the point they become influencers themselves.
Red Bull has managed to scale the pinnacle of social media success. But to most firms that it an elusive dream.
It is usually much easier to find influencers and work with them and their audiences to spread your message than it is to build a substantial engaged audience yourself.
Influencer marketing is different to traditional advertising. One significant difference is the type of relationship you need to establish with your influencers.
Many businesses, notably large corporate organizations, have traditionally kept tight control over their brand and marketing. That approach is not overly useful in influencer marketing.
Influencers established their prestige before you ever came on the scene. Even if you operate a well-known brand, you cannot expect to leverage much control over your influencers.
You may pay them well, but you do not employ them. Their followers want to hear what the influencers wish to say – not your message. They are not searching for your “opportunity.”
This is one of the core differences between traditional outbound marketing and the new breed of inbound marketing. With inbound marketing (and that includes influencer marketing) the customer comes to you. You can’t dictate the terms as you could before.
It is the organizations who try to keep tight control on their influencers who generally face the most disappointing results.
The essence of successful influencer marketing is trust. And you can’t get away from the core fact – consumers trust influencers more than they do brands.
Successful influencer marketing creates a win/win/win situation. You (the brand) wins. The influencer wins. The followers of the influencer win. If you can achieve this triple strike, then your influencer marketing campaign will have been a success.
How Can Influencers Help Your Business
The level of help you can expect from an influencer depends on the type of working relationship you can establish with him or her.
If you use influencer outreach and an organic approach, you will probably receive less help from an influencer than if you pay them for a distinct influencer marketing campaign.
Of course, the cost will be very different too. Influencer outreach may result in an influencer helping you out for free (or at most the price of some free product).
A formal paid influencer marketing campaign could cost you a great deal, depending on the influencer’s star power – but you will receive more in return.
Typical ways that an influencer with whom you have built an organic relationship could help you include:
1. Creating an article/blog post, or video about your product or service.
2. Sharing information promoting you on their social media accounts. For instance, they might share a post publicising an article you have written for your own blog.
3. Giving you access to their site so you can write a guest post.
Paid influencers will be more proactive in promoting your brand. They might write or film promotional items. Perhaps they may post pictures on Instagram or videos on YouTube showing them using your product. In this situation, they are not merely helping you out because they built a relationship. They are earning the money you pay them.
Of course, you can’t expect influencers to provide you with unequivocal praise. They are only influencers because of their authentic relationship with their audience. Any real influencer is unlikely to want to deal with you at all if they don’t like your product.
The future of influencer marketing
In 2018 the future of influencer marketing looks rosy. It solves many of the issues faced by traditional marketing, for instance, audience fragmentation on conventional media, and banner blindness with online marketing.
In many ways, influencer marketing is still rising – it is still new enough to be considered innovative. It is in the rising phase of the product life cycle and is not yet at its peak.
A decade ago influencer marketing didn’t exist. You had a few celebrities promoting products, mainly offline, and that was the nearest we had to what we think of as influencer marketing today.
People with popular websites had no idea of the real worth of their sites. Active Facebookers (the other social networks were not really widespread then) did not realize the power they had over an audience. Brands certainly didn’t know about these people.
People we now consider as influencers had no idea of the value of their online asset, and their audience.
In those days you still had people worrying that having your phone near your ear for too long would give you radiation poison. Parents discouraged their offspring from going near social media and didn’t consider using it themselves.
But all that has changed over the last few years. We have social media influencers with millions of followers. There are websites related to every niche imaginable, including parenting, and even some that focus on creating an online social environment for the elderly.
Even farmers spend time online now, comparing agricultural data, weather and researching the best products they could use.
The top social media influencers are looked upon in awe by their followers – in much the same way as elite musicians, actors, and sportspeople.
This is not going to change anytime soon. Look at how your kids spend their time. Take note of who their heroes are.
Generation Z is more interested in YouTubers than they are in Hollywood superstars. Television viewing is now the lowest it has been for years. Nielson reports that Americans aged 18-24 watch less than 2 hours per day of traditional TV. 12-17 year-olds watch even less (and their viewing dropped 45.5% between 2012 and 2017). Think back to how much TV you watched in your youth.
This change is unlikely to be fleeting. It is not just the latest fad. Thanks to the nature of social networking and the spread of the digital age, ordinary people have the opportunity to have one-on-one interactions with online influencers. That is not possible with old media.
Although influencer marketing is still in its early days, it has reached critical mass.
As more firms engage in influencer marketing, there is sufficient incentive for businesses to create influencer marketing infrastructure. For instance, the growth in platforms has been phenomenal in the past few years.
There are also more educational sites now, like the Influencer Marketing Hub, which provide the knowledge for firms to feel encouraged to give influencer marketing a chance.
How to get started
There is no point engaging in influencer marketing just because you read somewhere that it was trendy. You have to have a purpose for your campaign.
This is probably no different from any other facet of business. Ask any successful business person for the secret to their success, and most will admit that it was down to goal-setting.
For influencer marketing to be successful, you must have quality content.
A 500-word blog post, written to meet SEO criteria will struggle to attract an influencer’s attention.
For people to notice your content, it needs to be
You need to provide real value to the reader.
David Schneider discusses some of the ideal content you could create in How to Create Content that is Worth Promoting to Influencers.
His suggestions include:
Ask your favorite influencers for a quote and use those in an infographic or create a SlideShare.
Ask for experts’ tip and put them all in one blog post.
You need to determine where potential influencers relevant to your clientele have built their audience.
The most common places for influencers to make their name are:
1. Blogs – blogging influencers have spent time (often years) building a successful, popular blog covering a niche that interests your target audience. While many of the best-known fashion influencers have gained influence over a wide range of platforms in recent year, many of them won their initial fame due to the quality of their blogs. You could choose to work with quality bloggers in a range of ways:
1. Guest posting on their blog
2. Trying to get them to mention your brand in a post
3. Aiming for a product review
4. Sponsoring a paid blog post
2. Social media – quite a few influencers (even those who run quality blogs) have huge followings and engagement on their social media accounts. Your aims here could include:
1. Receiving positive mentions in social posts
2. Retweets or shares of your social media posts
3. Posts showing the influencer using your product (for instance an “unboxing video” on an influencer’s YouTube channel
4. Creative social posts promoting your products
A major decision you need to make before you start is which path you should follow to find your influencers. There are three options:
1. Organic – you search for and build relationships with influencers in-house. This is the cheapest, but most time-consuming method.
2. Platforms – you pay to use one of the specialist online platforms to find your influencers. Many of the platforms provide systems, which make it simpler to manage your influencer campaigns.
3. Agencies – you pay a specialist influencer marketing agency to help you with influencer selection and management.