Influencer Marketing: What is it and Why is it Important?
Influencer marketing is nothing new. Celebrities and other well-known individuals have been used to promote products and services since the early 20th century.
However, social media has given rise to a completely new form of influencer, from Selena Gomez to smaller “micro-influencers”—with more and more brands tapping into these people as part of marketing campaigns.
What is Influencer Marketing?
In its simplest form, influencer marketing consists of two parts—the identification of, and the outreach to, an individual with influence in a market sector or audience segment.
When you connect with an influencer, the goal is that they will share your brand’s content, create their own content about your brand or educate their audience about your brand.
This is exactly what public relations pros have been doing for years.
Each day, PR specialists identify publications and writers who audiences trust. Then, they pitch stories with the intention of securing media coverage for their brand or client.
Engaging in influencer marketing still requires a pitch, but there is a definite difference when it comes to pitching an influencer versus pitching media. This difference is usually found in the resulting content, as well as the financial incentives some influencers require to share your content with their audiences.
Influencers offer brands new lines of communication to reach smaller, highly targeted audiences with content designed to achieve a specific goal—from brand awareness to product sales.
Why Would a Company Create an Influencer Marketing Program?
Over the last four years, Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising Study has established a trend which shows that consumers place relatively high trust (66 percent) in online editorial content—which is why companies do PR.
But when content is shared by a friend or colleague (the people we have personal relationships with) on social media, the trust level for that message increases to a whopping 83 percent. At such a high rate of trust, you can see why companies are shifting resources toward marketing programs that focus on influential people with social media followings—instead of simply just traditional media.
Most influencers work hard to build their audiences and to strive create positive relationships with their followers. Their goal is to create authentic content which their audiences will engage with.
If you’re looking to reach a particular group, it makes sense to work with someone who is already a trusted source on social media.
Are There Rules Surrounding Influencer Programs?
The most important rule in influencer marketing? Transparency.
Various trade bodies (like the Federal Trade Commission) and marketing associations around the world set guidelines stating that companies who pay influencers as part of their marketing programs must have the influencers disclose that they’re working with the brand as a paid or compensated spokesperson.
This rule, while not the law, is key to maintaining truthful and transparent influencer engagement so that audiences are aware of any material connection.
Brands and influencers who do not abide by this practice may face public warnings or law enforcement action.
How to Use an Influencer
There are many situations where a brand can benefit from influencer marketing:
- To support a new product launch or to extend awareness of an existing product
- Leveraging influencers to share your already-created content or having them create their own content for your marketing campaigns
- Influencers also do a great job of reporting and extending the life and impact of brand events
- In a crisis, they can also be invaluable by providing another channel for you to reach audiences when misconceptions dominate news headlines
What Makes a “Good” Influencer?
A good influencer is one that has strong audience engagement within the market segment you’re trying to reach.
Influencers are not meant to be used extensively but are intended to engage with small segments of your overall audience.
A good influencer will be someone who actively participates in your target audience sphere, both online and off.
Another mark of a good influencer is someone who creates content that encourages others to follow your brand. You want to find influencers who encourage action.
When engaging with an influencer, always consider their voice. You may want to find influencers who align with your existing brand and values or you may choose influencers with a completely different tone of voice, particularly if you’re looking to reach new audiences.
Influencers do not have to be well known or celebrities if their brand value and audience demographic matches your communications goals. But if a company has a large budget, they may want to consider partnering with a celebrity or “macro-influencer” (defined as an individual with more than one million followers on social media).
Many companies have found great success engaging influencers with smaller audiences. This may be because their followers are more passionate, more involved in the specific industry or because they’re reaching a niche demographic.
Other “earned influencers” (not paid) can also be journalists and writers, as they are often involved with industry associations and membership boards.
Employees are also a great resource and can be engaged with little overhead expense—but through a strong employee engagement program.
Company partners and customers can also help share important content pieces and news.
When launching an influencer program, it is key to identify internal and external industry experts.
According to Tim Williams, CEO of Onalytica, most marketers would agree that identifying the right influencer is the hardest part of influencer marketing.
To help, Tim laid out several steps:
- To get started, identify who is currently sharing your company news across their social media channels or blogs. Are they employees, analysts, customers or journalists? Who is currently advocating for your company?
- Who’s advocating for your competitors? Who has the largest voice? Identify those influencers that most align with your company’s tone of voice and goal.
- Once you’ve developed a picture regarding the type of influencer you want to target, your marketing team can use tools, such as an influencer marketing platform, to identify these people. Such platforms enable marketers to quickly discover key individuals and understand how their social networks mirror your brand’s communication objectives.
Influencer marketing is not a guaranteed success. Successful influencer marketing requires time, dedication and research.
A well-thought-out influencer program should be incorporated as part of a much broader marketing strategy.