Updated July 27, 2021
Before online influencer market became a big thing (and before it was officially recognized as a structured method or a lucrative career option), it was known simply as word-of mouth marketing.
As a kid, I learned about the concept by way of a popular commercial for Faberge Organics, in which a smiling Heather Locklear shared her secret for bouncy hair with two friends, who in turn told two friends, and so on, and so on …
Though the underlying mechanisms of the “tell-a-friend” technique remain largely unchanged, social media has fueled its evolution into a strategic discipline infinitely more targeted, impactful, and scalable than anything the 1980s Faberge’s marketing team could have predicted.
Successful influencer campaigns are not easy to manage. There are more platforms and more complications due to influencer commoditization. Some businesses are even fighting against what they consider exploitative practices.
The bottom line is if you want today’s social tastemakers to amplify your content’s reach and influence, keep the following considerations and cautions in mind. And since a lot has happened since we originally posted this article, I’ve added some fresh tips and inspirations to guide your efforts.
Speak your influencer truths with stakeholders
Influencer marketing depends on finding independent promoters who are accountable for their interactions, whether they be positive or not. You may have to do a little legwork to convince your content stakeholders to support a promotional technique not fully under your brand’s control.
Here are some facts that will convince you to use influencer marketing.
- It’s a belief that your marketing peers share. In Influencer Marketing Hub’s (IMH) 2021 study of marketing professionals who run influencer campaigns, 90% believe the technique is an effective form of marketing, and 75% intended to dedicate a budget to it this year.
- It builds trust In the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer report, 48% of respondents found influencers to be credible when it comes to both the quality and value of a brand and how well it fits with their lifestyle. Further, in Edelman’s special report on brand trust, 63% of respondents said they trust what influencers have to say about a brand much more than what brands say about themselves, and 58% said they bought a new product because of an influencer’s recommendation.
- It attracts qualified leads, and quality customers. The Influencer Marketing hub study also revealed that 72% of marketing professionals who use this technique believe the quality and number of customers they drive by these campaigns is higher than any other marketing methods.
- It can deliver meaningful marketing value: Experts now believe that ROI from influencer campaigns can be difficult to measure using only quantitative data. It can vary greatly depending on the campaign. However, the tremendous growth – estimated by the IMH study to be $13.8 billion this year – is a clear indicator that businesses stand to benefit greatly from their influencer investments.
Be careful to avoid falling for common traps
Though you want to accentuate the positive benefits influencer marketing can deliver, be prepared to discuss some of the technique’s rules and restrictions, and be realistic in its potential pitfalls, such as:
Privacy of data
Of the myriad influencer marketing solution vendors, tools, and platforms available to connect brands with influencers, many rely on audience data to determine how well an influencer’s following will engage with a brand. Unfortunately, privacy regulations, like the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act – not to mention the end of third-party data collection via cookies – are making those insights harder to come by, and, thus, the vendors’ algorithms harder to rely on.
As this article in CCO magazine mentions, not only can big name influencers command the attention of actively engaged audiences, they can also command a hefty payday with rates of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single product-friendly social media endorsement. With stakes this high, it’s no surprise brands may be reluctant to disclose the back story behind their influencer-posted content.
Be aware that regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Federal Trade Commission will not allow brands to distinguish organic brand advocacy posts from paid influencer spots. To uphold the highest standards of credibility – and place your brand firmly within your audience’s circle of trust – it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the FTC’s guidelines for proper advertising disclosures.
Characterized by the use of fake influencers or artificially inflated follower numbers to increase rates, influencer fraud continues to cast a shadow over marketers’ blue sky views of the technique’s value.
There is a silver lining: While the IMH study indicates that this is a concern for 67% businesses, it also shows that incidents have fallen by 30% in the past year (38% vs. 68%).
Ultimately, though, it’s up to the brands to pursue influencers with integrity and authenticity so you can grow your audience of followers, not your marketing spends and legal fees.
Your influencer infantry
Your brand’s ability to find success with this technique largely depends on the strength of the influencer relationships you develop and how you enlist their assistance in your content initiatives. Here are some pointers:
Find the right people to amplify your best assets
Your team’s ability to identify the right people to work with and set the stage for a successful long-term collaboration is critical. This is the most challenging step of the entire process. It involves many steps.
- Become familiar with the notable voices in your industry.
- Find and vet potential partners who are aligned with your brand’s values and perspectives.
- Engage top candidates to solicit their participation.
- Negotiate terms, fees and deliverables.
- Seed, track, and manage their ongoing efforts.
Although you can definitely take a hands on approach to certain (or all) these tasks, you may want to consider hiring the services of an influencer marketing agency. These experts may have connections with the tastemakers you are looking for, making it easier for you to get in touch with potential influencers. As reputable agencies can also manage other aspects of your brand’s influencer marketing (including the processes listed below), you can stay focused on supporting influencer success with additional content assets and initiatives.
However, if budget constraints, internal expertise, or other company conditions mean you’re going DIY, here are some tips to help:
- Filter your outreach according to mutual interests Your content competition is quickly grabbing lesser-known creators with the rise of influencer breeding grounds like Clubhouse and TikTok, and the emergence creator-driven platforms such as Substack. Facebook plans to invest $1 billion in keeping influencer talent under their control.
To attract the attention of today’s generation of self-monetization masters, be more strategic with your initial outreach: Start a relevant, topical conversation on their favorite platform – one that will interest your target influencer personally, not solely based on their status as a high-profile trendsetter.
- You can empower your community and inner influencers. Working with influencers doesn’t have to mean paying celeb spokespeople to promote your products. There are likely multiple pools of established micro-influencers you can tap, including your organization’s own employees who come with a built-in understanding of your audience and a relationship with your business. Their endorsement of your brand’s value can be more authentic and impactful than a room full of contracted creatives.
- Organically build your influencer communities Another way to get into micro-influencers is to create a community of brand supporters. It’s an organic technique from which CMI’s Community Manager Monina Wagner has gotten impressive results. She even activated some participants into brand evangelists, empowering them to lead community discussions on our behalf.
Since 2018, when we started Slack, our community and activities have grown. Jeremy Bednarski was our first ever Community Host. We held real-time discussions about our August ContentTECH event. We held a Super Bowl ad watching party and then ran a series head-to-head voting challenges in order to determine the ultimate winner.
Buffer, for example, grew a Slack community of over 4,000 members and moved it to a dedicated space in 2019. Buffer users can participate in weekly Community Mastermind discussions. Members trade strategies, advice, and monthly “CommuniTea/Coffee” Zoom meetings featuring discussions facilitated by a community member. Twice a year, members can apply for a six-month stint as community hosts who welcome new members, work on special projects, foster discussions, and more.
Activate and equip your content crusaders
Include your influencer programme in your social media strategy
Whatever your choice, you need to ensure that your efforts align with the overall social media content strategy and that they have the tools to succeed. Here are some strategic items you should check off before you start the collaboration.
- Make sure your influencers’ top channels are ones that your business has built a compelling use case for.
- Provide your company’s social media guidelines and style guides, so they are aware of which conversations are appropriate and which topics and issues to avoid.
- The impact evaluation process should be described, including the performance benchmarks, tracking tactics, and compensation if it is tied to traffic/engagement milestones. (You’ll find more details on metrics in the ROI section below.)
Tactical assistance can help you fuel influencer success
Sometimes, time is precious and influencer projects can become more burdensome than either party might have anticipated.
Fortunately, both Amisha Gandhi, founder of SAP’s global influencer marketing program, and CMI’s marketing team have shared a few tricks that can help external influencers meet their commitments and equip your internal content team to achieve the maximum benefit:
- Detail the program’s goals and the role of the influencer. This makes them feel more involved in your collaboration efforts.
- Pre-event briefing This document outlines key terms of engagement, such as target timelines and keywords, project deliverables and specifications, and even starter ideas to add their spin.
- Write social media messages that influencers will be able to insert into a post and then publish.
- Make eye-catching graphics Charts, screenshots and other sharing-friendly images that influencers might not be able create.
- Develop trackable URLs/short codes For easier performance measurement (more later).
Beyond the social content sphere
While most marketers might consider influencer marketing to be synonymous with the untamed nature of social media content, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, in this article on influencer marketing planning, Relevance co-founder Chad Pollitt shared two blog-based content co-creation models that can give your brand more agency over influencer initiatives, as well as provide helpful, step-by-step templates to make the editorial processes easier to manage:
- Influencer roundup posts: Your content team collects and features the thoughts of industry influencers who have spoken on your topic.
- A blog contributor programRecruit industry experts to create original content for your blog. Each influencer who contributes likely has an audience of their own – and a vested interest in helping the content to succeed.
Spin unsolicited evangelism into influencer gold
Keep in mind that influencer marketing doesn’t have to involve prearranged or contracted engagements. You can amplify naturally occurring acts of brand promotion by creating content that promotes you promoters (and, in turn, your company).
For example, as you monitor your social media channels for relevant conversations, chances are you see a few influential voices that regularly reference or write about your brand. Madison Tierney, Top Tier Communications founder, suggests that you include their comments, reviews and feedback in your own content pages and posts as social proof (with permission of course). To get more traffic and attract their attention, tag the influencer. She reminds marketers that third-party media coverage should be included in these efforts.
Optimize influencer performance by evaluating and optimizing
No matter how fast your influencer marketing campaign takes off, or how long it takes to build momentum. You must monitor and track its performance regularly with the same diligence as you would for any other stage of the process. The right analytics plan will help you identify potential issues and make adjustments before your efforts fall behind.
Start with relevant ROI calculations
As Jim Tobin points out, tracking influencer content performance based on direct attribution can be notoriously difficult because a linear customer journey doesn’t necessarily exist. He suggests some other metrics that can be used to measure effectiveness in sales.
- Promo code redemption
- Direct web traffic
- Online mentions boosted
- Volume of keyword searches branded by brands lifts
- Sales of correlated products rise
- Conversion tracking
- Rate of Ad recall Lift
As I said, it is difficult to accurately calculate ROI using just quantitative methods. But the details outlined in Shane Barker’s five-step process for calculating influencer marketing ROI should apply even if you plan to add qualitative data into your measurement mix:
- Set your campaign goals– the more granular, the better.
- Define your performance objectives. For example, if your goal is to increase revenue, specify a dollar amount or growth percentage driven by the influencers’ involvement.
- Describe the goals and metrics of each influencer. You might get different results depending on the terms of engagement.
- To manage your efforts, choose a tracking platform. Long-term, automation-enhanced solutions will likely be more accurate than manual tracking of performance.
- You can measure and compare the influencer performance. Document the results of each influencer’s efforts and compare them to the collective group of influencers. This information will allow you to identify your most valuable influencers and help you filter out the rest.
Mass influence comes with massive responsibilities
Remember, putting your content’s fate into the hands of a high-profile promotional partner requires a leap of faith – and plenty of legwork on your part to discover the right formula for success. Have a tip to get more value out of your influencer initiatives We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.
All tools mentioned in the article have been identified by the author. If you have any suggestions for tools, please let us know in the comments.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute