People trust recommendations from third-party sources even more than the brand itself. This is, in essence, why influencer marketing exists.
Influencer marketing is, in a nutshell, when marketers look for, identify, and engage with influencers. There’s an increasing trend of brands making use of influencer marketing, and understandably so: when you engage with influencers, not only do they raise awareness, but they also encourage and raise action among their audience and their network. They can increase your online exposure, and in some cases you may find that they can sell your products even better than you do.
While more brands are adopting this type of marketing, don’t do it just because others are doing it, but do it in support of a business objective. This will give you a direction and an indication of which influencer(s) to target.
Influencer marketing consists of 3 main steps:
- Identifying influencers
- Target said influencers
- Market to, with, and through those influencers
Before we move into each point, we need to clarify a few things about influencers:
What is an influencer?
An influencer is anyone who has the power to affect something or someone.
In reality, we all have some influence. Every day we exercise our influence, sometimes unknowingly – whether it’s at work, at home, in our personal lives, and online. However, while we may all be influential, we’re not all influential in the same topic or area. For instance, while I may have some influential in digital marketing, I’m not influential to a fashion company who’s looking for a fashion blogger for London Fashion Week. This is when relevancy comes into place – because of relevancy, not every influencer is your influencer.
Even within your own target market, there are so many types of influencers:
- opinion leaders
- decision makers
- and many, many more.
Ultimately, in terms of marketing, you have 5 main types of influencers, which I’ve illustrated in the diagram below:
These are influencers within your sector. They usually have a large following and are looked up to as experts in your target market.
- Aim: these influencers may or may not be aware of your brand (especially if you’re up and coming or you lack exposure), so it’s your job to market to them.
- Brand influencers: these are people who have an influence around your brand on other people or on the brand itself.
- Aim: these influencers have the power to attract people to your brand or detract people from it.
A few takeaways from this diagram:
- Not all influencers work in your favour. Some have a positive influence towards your brand (positive influencers), while others have the power to take away people from your network (negative influencers). The latter are commonly known as ‘brand detractors‘.
- Within positive brand influencers you have a group of influencers called ‘brand advocates’: these works as an “unofficial extension” of your brand, as they work in your favour without being on your payroll.
- The next level up (and possibly the ultimate level of advocacy) from a brand influencer is ‘brand ambassador’. Brand ambassadors represent your brand, whether they work for it or not.
To get started, we need to identify influencers:
Who are your influencers? These are not only people who talk about you online, but people who influence other people by what they say and what they share about you.
Depending on your sector and your brand, you might have hundreds or maybe thousands of influencers online. So, how do you find them?
The first step is social listening. Use queries to find who’s talking about you. Your queries will depend on who you’re looking for and what type of influencer you’re looking for – a sector influencer, or a brand influencer.
If you’re looking for a sector influencer, look for:
- people talking about your target market
- people talking about your competitors
- people talking (in general) about products and services you offer
If you’re looking for a brand influencer, look for:
- people talking about your brand
- people talking about your products
- people sharing your content
When building your queries, think about the topics your influencers would write about, the type of content they would read and share, what keywords and hashtags they would use when talking about your subject area. For example, if they’re into social media marketing, they’re likely to use hashtags like #smm or #social, and you may often find them active in various Twitter chats or Google Hangouts. Before you can work with an influencer, you need to think like one.
You can find both free and paid tools to search for people talking about you, but bear in mind that the quality of the tool you use has an impact on the quality of results you get. A few great tools I definitely recommend are Brandwatch (paid), Crimson Hexagon (paid), Synthesio (paid), and Hootsuite (free and paid). The choice is ultimately yours. Now, while I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty details of social listening tools and their requirements, here are some of the main features to look for in a social listening tool for influencer marketing:
- Sources: make sure your social listening tool can search in the sources you need. The main ones you’ll need are social networks (not only the usual suspects, e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, but also other networks you wouldn’t normally think of, like Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Tumblr etc.), blogs, forums and discussion boards. It’s also useful to have a tool that can look into ‘mainstream sources’, such as online newspapers, company sites, and online zines.
- URL search: your tool needs to be able to look for various links and domains. For instance, you may want to find people sharing your most recent blog post or a specific page from your website (URL search), but you also need to be aware of people sharing any link from your website.
- Most people use a URL shortener that will shorten your links for them (e.g. bit.ly, po.st); others use apps that do that for them (e.g. Hootsuite, Buffer). Either way, a number of social listening tools don’t support searches for shortened links. If this is a deal-breaker for you, make sure you ask your account manager before you acquire a social listening tool.
- Ranking: most tools offer some sort of influence ranking for every piece of content they find for you.
- Some tools integrate with other influence ranking platforms (e.g. Brandwatch with Kred), while others have their own in-house ranking algorithm (e.g. Synthesio with SynthesioRank).
- Sentiment: while you want to find influencers, you also need to segment the chatter around your brand (or your target market) by sentiment. Not all chatter is good for you, but even negative mentions of your brand can be helpful, as you can often turn the situation around in your favour. Social sentiment is a touchy subject for everyone in digital marketing, and I’ve already discussed why that is such an intricate subject.
Now that you’ve had your search results, you have two groups: content from people talking about you, and content from influencers. While you should target both groups in your marketing strategy, you shouldn’t target both in the same manner. So how do you spot a brand influencer? Look out for these three main points:
- Relevancy: is this person relevant to your brand? If they were to tweet about your brand, would their network find it believable, or would it be out of context?
- Reach: how big is this person’s audience? Influencers often have large social audiences and are part of social communities, whether they’re an influential voice within the community or they’re at the forefront. On the other hand, you also have ‘micro-influencers’, people who may not have a large audience but they’re people who your audience go to when making decisions about your brand (whether to buy your products etc.).
- Impact: how is this person perceived? Is (s)he perceived as an authoritative and/or knowledgeable person? How persuasive is he in his network?
Now that you’ve filtered your influencers, you need to sort them by your own influence ranking. This may differ from brand to brand. Ultimately, make sure you’re looking at the following qualities:
- Sentiment: what is this person’s sentiment towards your brand or your target market?
- Reach: how big is their audience? How far does their influence go?
- Affiliation: are they affiliated with some other company (e.g. your competitor), or are they creating content independently?
- Impact: how persuasive and influential are they in their network? How often is their content shared, and what is people’s perception of it?
- Experience: how experienced are they in your target market or brand?
Remember: not all influencers are the same. While the common perception of an online influencer is that they’re chatty and they constantly talk about their expertise, that is not always the case. You’ll often find people who are expert in a subject area but they remain silent about it until asked by people who view them as a great resource of information.
Working with influencers:
You’ve found the real influencers – now what?
The first step is – thank them. This is the starting point in a potential relationship between you and them, and it shows them that you acknowledge their contribution, as well as their passion, expertise, and the time they’ve spent talking about your or sharing your content to their network. Treat them as your partners.
Now, while you can’t force your influencers to talk about you, you can always encourage the idea. Don’t be pushy, as it’s quite easy to turn a brand advocate into a detractor. You can do so in many ways:
- Engage them and ask their opinion on a new feature, service or product you’re launching, or an existing one;
- Give them an incentive for producing content, whether it’s a gift, a giveaway, a discount, or some sort of “loyal member” status that they can wear proudly.
- Encourage any type of content creation – it doesn’t necessarily have to be a blog post. Anything from an Instagram photo to a YouTube video and a Vine can help.
- See where they’re engaged and, if you see fit, engage there too – perhaps they have regular Twitter chats they attend, or Google Hangouts they follow – be present.
- Take it offline – have conversations with these influencers by email, but go one step further – meet them offline if possible, or arrange for that to be possible.
- Be their partner – make them feel special, and dare I say – give them a special treatment, because brand advocates are those who will talk about your brand when unsolicited. I’ve been given trials before without any sort of financial or contractual commitment, and in return I’ve written reviews about the products out of my own will – this only because these brands see me as influential in their subject area, and they see me as a strong advocate for their brand.
How to repay influencers:
Unless this brand advocate is being paid to share your content, they’re not doing what they do to help you as a brand, but to help their network. Influencers thrive in helping their large pool of connections with genuine content and helpful information. What you offer them depends largely on the task and on how they work – accepting or rejecting your offer is entirely their prerogative.
There are ultimately three ways you could compensate your influencers:
- Financially: this will be at your and the influencer’s discretion, and it’s often the case for freelancers.
- Discount/Giveaway: as a substitute for money, you could always give away something from your brand to your influencer. A brand advocate will appreciate this and it may keep them talking about you during (and often after) the lifetime of what you’re giving away.
- Moral Incentive: this could be a promise of sharing their content to your network (especially if you have a very large following).
Speaking of moral incentive: increasing your influencer’s exposure is not always a valid form of payment, and some people may find that offensive (especially if they see that you do have enough money but are choosing not to pay them). There are plenty of stories online of great freelancers who have gone through this (this for example). As your brand influencer is working for you as an unofficial extension of your brand, it is only fair that you keep their best interest in mind before your own profit.
Influencer marketing is a work in progress – there will always be new people talking about you, whether positively or negatively. If you start with this exercise, make it a continuous one. You can easily do this with the help of Hootsuite or Tweetdeck, so you can see what people are saying about you in real time.
Make sure that finding influencers isn’t just for an internal report but it’s to reach out to them, acknowledge them and engage with them.
You too can contribute to this – whenever you create genuine moments, they can trigger brand advocacy, sometimes when you least expect it.
Lastly, here’s a personal tip: connecting with influencers does take time. Don’t expect a relationship to come up from nothing, and don’t give up too easily – one key element of Influence Marketing is earning the attention and respect of influencers, and that takes work.