Even though Influencer Marketing is still somewhat deemed controversial, there is no point in denying that it has become a great tool to increase web traffic, improve sales and boost social engagement. In this article, we compiled information to help you chart your own brand’s Influencer Marketing strategy and give you heads up on pros and cons of working with Social Media Influencers. And as a small bonus, we are introducing you to some influencers who are doing it right.
- Who are influencers?
- What makes their opinion so influential?
- Types of influencers
- What makes a relevant influencer for your brand?
- Should your brand invest in influencer marketing?
- Where to look for the right influencer?
- How to collaborate with influencers?
To preface this load of information I’m about to drop on you, my dear reader, please allow me to share a story. I’ll start with a confession: I really love Instagram. As the saying goes, a picture is worth 1000 words. Instagram connects people from all over the world. It gives users a platform to share snapshots of their lives, places they are visiting, adventures they take. I have been on Instagram since its early days. It captured my curiosity and, at the times, a lot of my attention. There is something magical about being able to take a peek in other people’s lives. People you would never otherwise get in contact with.
As any social media platform; Instagram went through changes: from a platform exclusive to iPhone users, it opened up to the wider public after Facebook acquired it in 2012. Since then, they have been experimenting, adding and removing features (Instagram Photo Maps, never forget) and changing their algorithms to serve most „relevant“ content first instead of most recent one. Despite all the changes, though, there was one consistent occurrence: users kept networking, connecting with each other. They grew their profiles to significant followings and some happened to stand out from the crowd.
In the past couple of years, I have noticed a rising number of my Instagram friends who have been promoting content and products on their personal profiles. Some of their own creation, some less so. I have never noticed them promoting their business on their personal profiles earlier. It was a bit peculiar. Then I took a closer look. And I realized it has nothing to do with their respective businesses. Skimming through their feeds gave me an insight: their posts have been closely related only to one topic they are passionate about. I have discovered it’s one colorful bunch I have on my feed.
One of my friends is a journalist who recently relocated with her family to Germany. As a writer, she turned a dire situation of reinventing whole new life for her and her family in their new place of residence into a series of blog posts. She shares her everyday challenges of being a parent, a wife, a journalist and an expat with a lot of humor and self-awareness. In her own words, this is how she vents and deals with stress.
Then, there’s a friend who dedicated his feed to healthy food and his original recipes. I’ll be honest, I consider myself a foodie – but his feed makes my cooking skills look like a five-year-old’s playing in the sandbox. And I cook (almost) every day!
Another Instagram acquaintance made a profile for their ridiculously photogenic puppy, with an even more ridiculous following and engagement. It might sound odd, but even studies have shown that looking at pictures of cute animals not only improves one’s mood but also enhances productivity!
What all of them have in common? They have found their niche. It could be cooking, fashion, art, their love for pets, gaming, wanderlust – the possibilities are endless. They have chosen one thing they love – and made a good story about it. Now they share their story with the world in chunks.
Funny thing is, the world responds. People (and pets) from my story got some real recognition. Their content gained attention, Their followers connected with it on a personal level. Those small niche profiles provided communication which goes both ways; about the topic which is relevant to both parties involved. By posting about their passion and involving their community on social media, regular people now gained internet popularity – which allows them to shape and influence audience opinions on matters through their online interactions.
Who are influencers?
Just like my story above portrays, they could be – anyone, really. A mother, a friend, an expert in their field; even a celebrity. Now, when it comes to celebrities – it’s a well tried out marketing technique already: a celebrity teaming with a company to pitch their product within a marketing campaign. Something that’s been done since the very beginning of marketing. However, this endorsement is ever less effective to younger generations (namely, younger millennials and Gen Z). And this is where influencers step in.
Influencers, unlike celebrities, can be anywhere. They have the power to affect purchase decisions of others because of their authority, knowledge, position or relationship with their audience. Just like Instagram friends from my story, influencers can also be individuals who have a following in a particular niche, which they actively engage with. The size of the following depends on the size of the niche.
It is important to note that these individuals should not be seen as marketing tools. They are social relationship assets with which brands can collaborate with in order to achieve their marketing objectives. One can think of them as a mutual friend connecting the brand with their target consumers. The reason why the brands love social media influencers is that they can create trends and encourage their followers to buy products they promote.
What makes their opinion so influential?
To answer that, we would need to take a crash course in psychology. I’ll try to keep it as short as possible. Consumer behavior is closely related to cognitive biases. Studies have shown that the credibility of a peer endorser depends on the factors of trustworthiness, expertise, attractiveness, and similarity. In other words, the degree of influence of a person depends on the degree of their perceived power. According to French and Raven’s framework of power bases, one of the key elements to perceived power lies in expertise. Influencers who are posting within their particular niche will be perceived as an authority on the matter. Their authority is further strengthened by simple statistics: the higher the following and engagement, the higher is a perception of a social proof in the eyes of the random viewers. The impression that others value influencer’s opinion and suggestions encourage said viewers to do the same.
There is also a matter of attractiveness – a strategy which marketers have been exploiting, well, forever. Humans are prone to attractiveness bias. Subconsciously, humans have a tendency to assume that people who are physically appealing also possess other socially desirable personality traits – even if that, in reality, has no leg to stand on. For marketers, this can potentially lead to positive associations between the person and the brand as well. These opinions influence the subconsciousness of the viewer, which affects their attitude and decisions related to a marketed product.
However, what really sets social media influencers apart from other types of endorsers is their relatability. Even though they have a significant following and internet fame, they are still perceived as regular, everyday people among their peers. Peers, indeed, because, statistically, they often share the same age group, demographics, interests, and behaviors of their target audience. Their posts are mostly about mundane things – things which are relatable to many. In psychology, that relatability is explained by social identity theory. In short, it explains how individuals perceive themselves as belonging to a group of similar individuals. And, in return, they base a part of their personal identity on their membership in a relevant social group. What’s especially interesting for marketers here, is the fact that influencers belong to the younger age group of millennials, a demographic that is notoriously indifferent to traditional marketing methods.
Types of Influencers
The majority of influencers can fit into one of four categories.
Celebrities – while celebrities tend to have enormous social media following there are some downsides to using them as influencers. Most obvious one is that celebrities are difficult to get ahold of. Many brands find very few celebrities are willing to participate in this kind of influencer campaign. Even if they accept, they don’t come cheaply. On top of that, they may lack credibility with a product’s target audience, which leaves up for the debate exactly how much real influence they hold over those who follow them.
Industry experts and thought leaders: journalists, academics, industry experts and professional advisors – their influence is based on their qualifications, position, or experience about their topic of expertise.
Bloggers and content creators –With many highly influential blogs on the Internet, bloggers have built up sizeable followings in their specific niche. A report from Technorati shows that 86% of influencers also manage at least one blog. One of the bonuses of targeting bloggers is that they are active on numerous social media platforms.
Other than the written word, another popular type of content is video. Brands often align with popular YouTube content creators. Bloggers and YouTubers usually promote new posts or videos heavily on social media, which makes them very similar to micro-influencers. The key thing successful blogs and content creators have in common is the respect of their followers. Interestingly, bloggers and content creators often work closely with industry experts, creating content which overlaps; hence, blurring the line between traditional media and social media.
Micro Influencers – those are people just like people from my story; the ones who most have in mind when talking about influencers. They are normal everyday people who have become known for their authority in a specialist niche and gained a sizeable following amongst devotees of that niche. It’s not just the number of followers that indicates a level of influence, though. It is the relationship and interaction that a micro influencer has with his followers. A personal relationship is their biggest asset: trust and close relationship with the audience is critical for purchasing decisions. It is a very reason why micro influencers became an extremely popular choice for e-commerce companies. There are numbers to back them up on that choice, too.
What makes a relevant influencer for your brand?
It’s important to understand that the nature of influence is changing. The Internet has led to the fragmentation of the media into many small niche topics. Therefore, micro influencers are becoming more common, and more influential in their respective niches; which makes them a good choice for brands to team up with. However, before jumping on this bandwagon, there are things to keep in mind.
First and most obvious thing is: people are not naive. In order for a campaign to be successful, the message needs to be sincere and not in the slightest bit deceiving – because it can reflect poorly on the brand. Authenticity is the most important condition that has to be met in an influencer campaign. Taking time to select the right influencer that is the perfect fit for the brand will make the message much more believable.
Another important condition to establish trust with the audience is transparency. In the early days of influencer marketing, it was very common for them to promote products without making it clear that they’re advertising. Once discovered, this created a general feeling of deception. Trying to hide advertising has a tendency to misinform the public and could do some serious harm to the perception of the brand. Adding #ad or #sponsored hashtag to a sponsored post will prevent the audience from feeling deceived and reduce any feelings of animosity towards the brand.
Furthermore, there needs to be a contextual fit. While someone with hundreds of thousands of social media followers certainly could expose the brand to their followers, if they are not a right fit, their post will not achieve the goals. When it comes to social media promotion, there’s always the issue of user passivity. True influence, on the other hand, entails getting the community involved to spread the message and take an action. While most users of social media are perfectly fine with consuming content, engaging users to interact with the content is often a challenge.
“True influence drives action, not just awareness.”
In addition, it’s important to bear in mind that a sheer number of followers won’t cut it. Being popular doesn’t necessarily mean being influential. Why? Research has shown that when it comes to a number of followers, it’s important to note that once an account is over a certain size, fewer people bother to engage because the level of personal interaction begins to fade. The engagement to followers ratio peaks when an account has around 1,000 followers. For accounts over 100,000 followers, engagement starts to decrease. Users just aren’t as keen to interact with a celebrity as with someone they can relate to on a personal level. For an effective influencer campaign, it’s better to choose quality over quantity. One influencer may have a bigger audience than the other, but the question is who is a better fit for the specific target audience the campaign is trying to reach.
Should your brand invest in influencer marketing?
The answer really depends on what your goals are. Know your priorities. If your top priority is customer experience, influencer marketing might not be the right fit – as it doesn’t guarantee direct and consistent engagement with your brand. If the goal is brand awareness or customer acquisition, then influencer marketing can be a highly effective tactic worth the investment.
Where to look for the right Influencer?
Once decided that influencer marketing is the way to go, it’s time for the next step: finding a perfect match. Even though examples from my story mostly „operate“ on Instagram; influencers are not exclusive to that platform. In fact, they are spread across all the mainstream social network platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, and blogs. Which, as you might guess, is a lot of people. So, how to find ones who suit your business best?
With social media networks becoming more and more close-knit, finding the right influencer, relevant to the brand, is a challenge. It can be a very time-consuming process, so here are some tips on simplifying the search:
- Monitoring business‘ social media followers – Choosing influencers who are already familiar with the company and its products is the best tactic. Brand advocates are the loudest influencers a brand can have: they praise the brand and do it genuinely, of their own recourse. Checking social media mentions and blog posts related to the brand has few perks: finding advocates of the brand; finding influencers who advocate for the genre niche(s) and saving some money which would be otherwise spent on search and acquisition of the right influencers. Social media search and analysis platforms, like Social Mention, can speed up the process of discovery of the brand’s mentions on different social media outlets.
- Researching hashtags – People use hashtags to facilitate the search. Marketers can take advantage of this feature and find influential candidates with relevant content. By narrowing the search, they can pinpoint frequent posters, find those with relevant influence and identify topics to write about to appeal to these influencers.
- Utilizing Google Alerts tracking of keywords related to a certain brand; which helps to identify people who write about the topics relevant to the brand.
- Pinpointing local influencers. For local businesses, it’s a logical step to look for a local influencer. What good does it make if the influencer’s following is enormous and engaged – but on the other side of the globe?
- Automating the search by utilizing search tools such as BuzzSumo, Klear and Ninja Outreach – which speed up this stage of searching and leave marketers with a ready-made list of possible influencers.
How to collaborate with influencers?
Encourage Content Creation – the first goal is to get as much content as possible from the happy customers of the brand. True influencers are passionate about the products they’re promoting and that passion tends to spread to their audience too; which can result in many leads for the brand. To achieve this level of hype is not simple, but it all boils down to engaging with the satisfied customers and offering them incentives to broadcast their satisfaction as loud as possible on social media.
Compensate Influencers – Nothing comes for free, the old saying goes. The same is with people who promote the brands. Some form of compensation needs to exist for both parties to feel like they’re gaining something from this arrangement. Other than financial compensation – which shouldn’t be a norm (mostly); there are several other ways to compensate influencers. Brands can offer them discounts or giveaways for certain products. Sharing their content on brand’s websites and social media (shout-outs) could also be seen as a form of compensation. And in case it turns out to be a very valuable relationship, the brand could offer some sort of commission for the clients the influencer brings their way.
Stay Informed – Just like any other marketing trend, influencer targeting will continue to transform and evolve. Keep an eye on the trends and make note of the new faces.
While the social platforms continue to experiment with their algorithms in order to serve the most relevant content to their users, it’s getting increasingly harder for brands to get discovered and stay visible. A decent influencer marketing strategy could help this case. Algorithms have an affinity for high engagement, quality content and strong relationships. And influencers have the ability to impact all of the above.
Remember my journalist friend from earlier in my story? Her name is Maja Maric. She signed a long-term collaboration with a national news outlet in Germany because they have recognized her as an important voice of a certain demographic. She hosts a radio show now, but continues to write, at the mutual pleasure of her readers and her agency.
There’s more, though! The pup! Her name is Nala, she’s only one year old and she’s a real rockstar! She’s been campaigning for dog food brands; dog cosmetics brands; vacation homes and more. Scrolling her pictures will surely put a smile on human’s face. However, judging by engagement, even the brands‘ representatives are quite happy.
The cook, though… I haven’t seen him around for a while. He did get married only recently, so it shouldn’t come as such big surprise. But with his dedication and passion, I’m fairly certain he’ll find his perfect match even in the brands‘ realm.
Bottom line is, regular people, even pets – these are new credible sources, whom people want to hear recommendations from. They specialize in growing engaged audiences and know what type of content to produce to elicit a response from their followers. There’s a lot of benefit in building long-term, genuine relationships with these ‘advocates’ who are relevant to the brands. It’s only a matter of doing it wisely.
- Under The Influence: The Power Of Social Media Influencers
- The Remarkable Rise Of Influencer Marketing [Infographic]
- The Importance Of Influencer Marketing – Statistics And Trends
- Want To Try Influencer Marketing? Be Careful
- Why Micro-Influencer Marketing Is ‘The Game’ In 2018.
- How Influencer Marketing Is Fueled By An Age-Old Social Theory
- What Is An Influencer?
- Social Media Influencers
- Micro-Influencers Are More Effective With Marketing Campaigns Than Highly Popular Accounts
- Looking At Cute Animal Pictures At Work Can Make You More Productive, Study Claims
Ozana Buljan is a web designer and an occasional writer. She also reads a lot. Books, blogs, news articles, forum threads (with a huge variety of topics from politics, tech articles, pieces of advice to sob – stories). She enjoys the role of an impartial observer, keeping her mind open to new ideas but reserving a healthy dose of distance. And yet, often she finds herself, with tears in her eyes, getting completely sucked into the story. However, that is only the power of writing! More than anything, Ozana appreciates a good story.
Writing is a skill she brushed up on forums – where the wit is almost as appreciated as a decent meme. Curiosity, love for well-written word and diligent research is what drives her to dive into any topic given and finds her way through the labyrinth of facts, „alternative facts“ and opinions.
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