It’s taken over, but far from being a buzzword or passing fad, it seems to have staying power and serious credentials. Consumers are increasingly looking to social media for practically everything, and they turn to the people that lead and command on each platform — the influencers — for advice, tips, and recommendations.
For marketers, that means approaching the job in a whole new way. Influencer marketing – utilizing those internet celebrities for promotion, awareness, and endorsements – has skyrocketed in importance and impact in a very short period of time.
A quick look at the term “influencer marketing” on Google Trends shows a steady upward trajectory. Starting with an interest over time score (a number that represents search interest relative to the highest point on the chart) of just seven in January 2004, it hit 57 exactly one year ago this month. October 2016? The terms ranks 98.
Traackr is a platform solely dedicated to identifying, connecting, managing, monitoring, and scaling influencer relationships in any niche or industry. Tools exist for every step of the strategy. And the web is rife with how-to and definitive guides on the subject.
YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat influencers are leading the charge, with those on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and others not far behind. Think that Kylie Jenner really “can’t live without” that coconut water featured prominently on her feed? Think again. She reportedly commands anywhere from $100,000-300,000 for a single sponsored post on her Instagram account. Even minor “celebs” can make thousands for a quick mention.
Influencer marketing is here to stay. The benefits are obvious:
- It’s powerful and popular. With the rise of social media over the past few years, it’s the perfect platform for connecting directly with consumers.
- It’s effective. This digital word-of-mouth marketing generates twice the sales of other paid channels, and boasts a 37% retention rate. 40% of survey respondents said they’ve purchased something after seeing it used by an influencer on Vine, Twitter, YouTube, or Instagram, and just under 50% rely on recommendations from influencers on Twitter.
- It’s social. Modern consumers want a relationship with their brands, and socialmedia provides it.
- It’s affordable. You might not be able to get Kylie, but even at $300,000, you have to consider the reach (she has millions of followers), the extended reach (the followers of her followers), and her massive popularity and appeal. Most influencers are substantially less expensive, though.
- It’s trusted. People believe recommendations and reviews from third parties more than they trust brand advertisements and claims.
- It’s a great ROI. Businesses average $6.50 return for every $1 spent on influencer marketing.
All good. But it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. Influencer marketing can have a dark side, too.
Identifying someone as an influencer should be about more than just reach, but it’s leaning that way for far too many campaigns. Kylie Jenner has nearly 20 million followers on Twitter, but would she be the right face for a new SaaS?
You can identify and reach out to influencers. You can pay them, or you can provide something of value to them in exchange for exposure. Either way, it has to be about more than just the numbers.
So how do you measure success? Any good marketing campaign must have concrete and measurable goals, but influencer campaigns typically equate getting the individual to agree as the end result. The thinking becomes “If we could only get Kylie Jenner to feature us on Snapchat, we’d be made!” instead of carefully considering objectives, tactics, audience, and goals.
And “getting Kylie Jenner to feature us” becomes a matter of paying her asking price (there’s no industry standard or pay scale). There’s no connection there, and she doesn’t necessarily believe in or even use your product. It’s just pitch and pay.
Reach is important. But so is reliability, relevance, and reputation. Hitch your wagon to a celeb influencer, and you’ve pulled along through every racist tweet, stupid comment, the barroom brawl, a misdemeanor, slip-up, faux pas, and mistake they may (and usually do) make.
Modern influencers are in the driver’s seat, and they know it. They demand – and get – ridiculous amounts of money, they have creative control, and they get to keep whatever content they create and share as part of the campaign. The brands – the ones paying the bills — own nothing.
Influencer marketing is here, and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. But there’s definitely danger lurking just beneath the surface. And the honeymoon may be over soon: consumers will quickly become cynical about every product shout-out and endorsement when they believe – even if incorrectly – that it’s only because the influencers are getting paid to do it.
But maybe there’s a better way. Instead of using influencers, why not become one yourself.
Influencers are not just reality television stars and YouTube pranksters. They exist in every profession or industry, and they carry just as much weight and make as big an impression as their “celeb” counterparts.
Jay Baer is an influencer. So is Seth Godin. And Neil Patel. Arianna Huffington, Sarah Palin, Warren Buffett, and Michael Moore…influencers all.
In fact, many object to calling someone like Kylie Jenner an influencer at all. They argue she’s a celebrity…nothing more.
“It’s a question of mass reach versus mass impact. Influencers carry weight in subjects. Celebs bring exposure,” says Ron Schott, the Senior Communications Manager at Microsoft.
The whole influencer versus celebrity debate will rage on. In this game, though, you want to be an influencer.
The Self-Made Influencer
An influencer, regardless of the industry or niche, has to be an expert on the subject. They have to be credible, popular, and widely-known. In other words, yes, they have to be famous at least within their field, but they have to have the chops to back it up, too.
Famous for being famous does not an influencer make (sorry Kardashian and Jenner clan). Being an “expert” on using Snapchat does not make you an influencer. It makes you a Snapchat celeb. And the difference is huge.
Becoming an Influencer
Becoming an influencer rather than riding the coattails of one should be a no-brainer. Easy? Definitely not. Worth the effort? Absolutely. And you don’t need an audience of millions, either. There’s more than one type of influencer out there. Which type will you be? Which one applies best to your brand?
(Image Source: Smart Insights)
Reach is nice (that’s what the Taylor Swifts, Justin Bieber’s, and Katy Perrys of the world have). The impact is better. It takes time, but becoming even a minor influencer in your specific industry or location can have major benefits.
Step One: Narrow Your Focus
The best influencers have at least one thing in common: they’re laser-focused on their niche. Resist the urge to spread yourself too thin. One focus.
Step Two: Share Your Expertise
Find at least two or three platforms where your target audience is likely to spend their time online (Professionals? LinkedIn. Millennials? Snapchat. Women? Pinterest) and share your niche expertise in a variety of high-quality content. Blog posts, podcasts, videos, infographics, white papers, case studies, slideshows, and more. Make it incredibly useful, engaging, and free. Give away your best stuff.
Another great option is guest blogging on sites that are already trendsetters. Look for websites in your industry with a high Domain Authority and a built-in audience. Reach out. Connect. Engage.
The secret according to many is to be everywhere. The familiarity effect (aka mere exposure effect) is very powerful. We show undue preference and liking for something that we’re familiar with over something unfamiliar.
Step Three: Take a Side
To be considered an influencer, you must have an opinion. You can’t play it safe, sit on the fence, or hedge your bets. 79% believe an influencer must express an opinion. Share yours.
Step Four: Engage With Influencers and Your Audience
Every niche has people, sites, and brands that are influencers in it already. Find them with tools like BuzzSumo and make a connection. Influencers network with other influencers.
Likewise your fans, followers, and audience. Respond to them. Never miss an opportunity to engage with them by using services like Social Mention or Mention.
Read up on your industry. Follow the current leaders and influencers. Always be learning and improving.
The Influencer Advantage
It won’t happen quickly. It’s hard work. But becoming an influencer yourself is infinitely superior to using an existing one in the long run. Once you hit that designation, you’re poised for success:
- You may have a smaller reach than Jenner, but you’re more finely tuned to your audience and target.
- No one is more genuinely passionate about your product or service than you, and people respond to that kind of sincerity and enthusiasm.
- You’re already a contextual fit for your brand.
- You only have to worry about your mistakes and slip-ups.
- You’re there to light the way and guide them while promoting your products and services (only about 10% of the time) as the ideal solution to their problems.
- They already know, depend on, and like you when the time comes to buy.
Ultimately, you become the trusted and real human being behind your brand, and 21st-century consumers want that. The don’t want faceless corporations. They want people who are passionate, empathic, and approachable. They buy Branson, not Virgin.
Influencers are trendsetters and trailblazers. They’re thought, leaders. Others look to them for guidance and inspiration. These are all things you want for your brand without having to rely on someone else to provide it.
So go get it. Earn it. Become the influencer.