Influencer marketing is yesterday’s word-of-mouth marketing on steroids. The internet now makes it possible for regular people like you and me to attract thousands of followers. Blogs, social media, and new live-streaming services like Facebook Live and YouNow have opened the door for brands to partner with the micro-famous for (hopefully) macro results.
But most brands have no idea what they’re doing in this space. How could they? This is all new territory. Instagram is six years old. Snapchat is even younger. Blogs have been around a while, but it’s hard to know how to make the most of a platform that’s losing younger audiences. So what are brands and agencies to do? How do you find influencers that are the right fit? And how do you make money while exploring a new frontier?
Here’s a starting point:
- It’s not about you. I repeat: It. Is. Not. About. You.
A common mistake brands make is thinking that they can buy influencers and then magically grow their business. Big mistake. When you select an influencer to work with, start by making an investment in them. Give them something worthy of sharing with their followers beyond samples and a product shot. Products are commodities that lead to transactions; influencers are people that build relationships. Don’t confuse the two.
For example, during its most recent influencer marketing campaign, José Cuervo took a crew of online personalities to Tequilla, Mexico for a five-day tasting extravaganza. They didn’t just send these influencers a bottle of alcohol; they gave them experience. In return, those influencers including René Daniella(@ownbyfemme), created tons of authentic, engaging content to share with their audience.
“When you truly connect with something, the quality of the work you produce from that connection naturally improves,” Daniella says. “The town was rustic and colorful, which made for beautiful photos. We got to participate in a variety of activities from horse back riding to early morning rides on the José Cuervo train equipped with tequila shots, live music, and local breakfast favorites. The content I created made my feed much more entertaining and ultimately more engaging for my audience.”
The lesson is this: if you want someone to talk about your brand, give them something more than cheap samples to talk about.
- Don’t focus too much on outdated platforms or shiny objects.
Certain platforms like MySpace are graveyards, while others (think blogs) are beginning to experience a slow down. Put all of your eggs in one basket, and you will be left behind in a hurry. But at the same time, if you only pursue shiny objects like new personalities on Periscope or Peach, they might leave you with very little ROI. The best influencer marketing is a mixed bag of risky and long-play investments, much like a stock portfolio. That doesn’t mean you have to have a presence on every platform, but if you pick the right influencers based on their audience demographics, you’re more likely to succeed.
Al Roker is a great example of a media tycoon that knows how to invest in influence. In addition to being a live TV personality onThe Today Show, Roker has produced countless traditional TV programs for channels like the Food Network, A&E, Hulu and many others. Last year, after a positive response to his live-streamed SXSW presentation, he decided to build his own Live Streaming Network, Roker Media, with the goal to attract the next great group of live talent.
So far, the company has curated a small but powerful list of influencers including Canadian positivity powerhouse EvieWhy and musician Brent Morgan. But Roker is quick to point out that the rules of entertainment still apply—no matter the platform.
“The biggest problem is that because [live-streaming] is the new hot thing, people think you can ignore the basic tenets of television,” Roker says. “Yes, Buzzed got a lot of excitement when people tuned in to watch them put elastic bands around a watermelon for 45 minutes. But that’s an abnormality. The tenets of good entertainment are interesting people that you love, or love to hate—and interesting content. I doubt you’ll get someone to watch a watermelon explode twice.”
- Look beyond the numbers to make sure your brand is the right fit.
Just because a person has an impressive number of followers, doesn’t mean they actually wield any real persuasive power. Take time to do a deep dive into the analytics to understand the influencer’s audience. Who are they? Are they engaged? How often? How does the influencer interact with her followers? What do they talk about? Is the relationship genuine? Would your brand make sense in their life?
The Home Depot’s social media manager Whitney Curtis leads the brand’s influencer programs—and knows first hand what it feels like to be approached by the wrong brand to peddle the wrong product. Prior to joining The Home Depot, she produced her own lifestyle blog and was constantly approached by brands, even if the products had nothing to do with her interests or niche. Now, when looking for the right influencers of the Home Depot, she looks beyond the audience size, to ensure that the partnership is genuine.
Recently, The Home Depot partnered with influencer Joni Lay to help complete a full kitchen renovation. And while it was one of their more expensive programs, the partnership led to more than half a million views of the renovation video alone, and a huge stock of original content to use across every marketing channel.
“We’ve spent a lot of time at conferences and scouring different corners of the internet, so we know we are partnering with the right people,” Curtis explains. “In my experience on both sides of this coin, from the brand perspective and from the influencer’s perspective — it’s a successful partnership when the influencer is able to speak in their true voice.”
- Define success early. Measure often.
Influencer marketing should be no different than any other campaign, in that it should stand up to real analytical pressure to deliver a return. That means from the beginning, brands must choose indicators for success and commit to measure. Whether it’s time engaged with the content, brand affinity, or sales, your goals for influencer marketing should be concrete.
Comparing year-over-year sales as well as developing affiliate click-through programs are two ways to easily measure the impact of an influencer’s voice on your brand’s bottom line. (Haters will quickly point out that this doesn’t account for walk-in sales, but remember: perfection isn’t the standard.)
RokerMedia’s analytics focus on understanding their influencer’s audiences, so they can pair the right brand with the right live-streaming personality. The Home Depot focuses their measurement on views and also measures the sales impact of blogger-led workshops in stores, as they promote new products. No matter how you choose to measure, the most important thing is that you do. If you can’t measure the impact, it’s not worth the investment.
The biggest mistake you can make with influencer marketing is not doing it at all. In many ways, these are unchartered, unregulated waters that enable powerful people to endorse your brand with few repercussions, even if you make a few missteps. So don’t be afraid. Just because you don’t understand every rule, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t play the game. It just means you need to find the right coach!