You may have heard the term “influencer marketing” here and there during discussions on the topic of marketing, but did you know that it can play a very crucial role in the success of your overall strategy? As social media continues to grow at a rapid pace, so do the people who utilize these platforms to make content and build their brand - i.e. influencers. Some might even go as far as to say that influencers are the new celebrities - maybe with an even wider reach than your traditional A-lister. This is because many influencers still manage to uphold the relatability factor and build unique relationships with their audience, often making them more trustworthy than elite Hollywood actors and chart-topping musicians.
Influencer Marketing Hub has shared some very telling statistics on influencer marketing in 2020, and these numbers clearly illustrate the rapid growth of this industry:
It is estimated that the industry will be worth around $9.7 billion by the end of the year
The use of influencer marketing by large firms has grown by 300% since 2016
Almost 90% of influencer campaigns use Instagram influencer marketing to some extent
91% of their survey respondents agreed that this is a very effective marketing strategy
Due to this growth, companies have continuously been putting in more time, investment and effort into finding and hiring influencers to market their products and services - from Instagram, to YouTube, to newer platforms such as TikTok. And they have definitely been reaping the benefits, both financial and growth-wise. However, prior to diving into the topic of influencer marketing, it is necessary to understand the concept of “influencer” itself.
What is an Influencer?
Influencers are social media content creators who have built a substantial follower base and reputation due to their niche and personality. They publish regular posts for their audience that convey their interests, lifestyles and aesthetics, and will often engage with their audience on a personal level via comments and shares. They differ from traditional celebrities in the sense that they usually start out as regular people, and build a large audience through effort and consistency. Due to this, influencers are often viewed as more trustworthy and authentic.
Influencers are mostly grouped by follower base or content format and platform. When referring to the follower count, they are usually grouped using this hierarchy:
Micro-influencers: 2.5k - 25k followers
Macro-influencers: 25k - 250k followers
Mega-impact influencers: 250k - 2.5m followers
Internet celebrities: 2.5m + followers
Although there was an initial tendency to work with influencers with over 25k followers (depending on the budget), more and more companies are opting to work with micro-influencers due to their loyal fanbases, higher engagement rate and better reach.
Likewise, influencers can also be grouped by the platform they produce their content on:
Instagram, which predominantly features images/photographs and stories (although IGTV and Reels are also steadily gaining popularity)
YouTube, which is focused around video content - both short and long-form
TikTok, which is based around short-form video content and more geared towards humorous content
Podcast platforms such as Spotify and iTunes, featuring long-form audio content
Twitter, which is based on short-form written content
The platforms mentioned above are the ones worth initially focusing on, and your choice depends on your goals and campaign plan.
The main difference between influencers and celebrities is that influencers achieve their fame through social media, whilst celebrities achieve this through traditional media. Considering that 3.8 billion people are currently using social media across the globe, it’s safe to say that, in some cases, influencer marketing can be more effective than arranging for traditional celebrities to endorse your product/service.
So, aside from relevancy, what can influencers offer that traditional celebrities can’t? First of all, their endorsements are often viewed as more authentic, since they uphold the image of being regular consumers, just like their followers. Likewise, they have spent time building a specific audience centered around their own interests - be it fitness, cooking, beauty or anything else. This means that they have more of a niche audience, allowing brands direct access to their target market (and beyond). And finally, trustworthy and genuine influencers are always trying to maintain a good reputation, and are held to a high standard by their audience; this entails that their endorsements will be viewed in a positive light by their audience instead of just a cash-grab.
Examples of Successful Influencers
Although the majority of brands may not necessarily choose to work with the most popular content creators due to budget constraints, it can be helpful to take a look at who is on top of the game right now to get a better understanding of what it means to be an influencer.
Logan rose to internet stardom in 2013 by posting short skits on a video sharing platform called Vine, which was later discontinued in 2016. Since then, Logan has built a huge following on YouTube - first by uploading vlogs, and then creating a podcast with his team called Impaulsive. Although he’s experienced his fair share of controversy, Logan seems to have acknowledged his mistakes and moved past them to build a whole empire for himself both on the web and in traditional media. His online success has also allowed him to participate in professional boxing matches.
James began to gain a substantial following on both Instagram and YouTube in 2016 by sharing his makeup skills with the web. At the young age of 16, James was already a talented makeup artist and the New York based influencer grew at a rapid rate. Due to sheer talent, James became an internet sensation in a matter of months, and was chosen to be the first male spokesperson for Covergirl, becoming the face of the brand. He’s also faced some (allegedly undeserved) controversy during 2019, but has bounced back unscathed.
Named as the highest-earning TikTok star in 2020 by Forbes, the 19-year old dancer and social media personality has experienced an influx of success after becoming famous on the video sharing app TikTok. Addison gained her following by posting videos of her dancing, as well as other videos of her hanging out with friends - one of them being Charli D’Amelio, the most followed TikTok influencer in the world.
Although some may call her a traditional celebrity, Kylie Jenner has definitely amplified her fame with the help of Instagram, where she has been posting regularly since teenagehood. Kylie Jenner’s Instagram account includes everything - from new makeup product launches, to brand deals and sponsorships, to family life. In fact, the whole Kardashian-Jenner family now lean more towards being social-media influencers than traditional celebrities, which just goes to show the shift in the entertainment people choose to consume.
What is Influencer Marketing?
Influencer marketing is essentially the process of a social media influencer collaborating with a brand to market a product or service. This can be a one-off deal or a long-term sponsorship, depending on the requirements of both parties. There are various ways in which an influencer can market a product - from sponsored posts on Instagram, to unboxing videos on YouTube, to short skits on TikTok, which means that the format should be agreed upon beforehand. Sometimes, brands prefer to set their own format, whilst other times they may leave it up to the influencer to present the product or service.
The Benefits of Influencer Marketing
By turning to social media influencers for assistance in achieving your marketing goals, you significantly improve your brand’s credibility. Since influencers strive to be more authentic than their more traditional counterparts, people are more likely to view your brand as high-quality if their favorite content creators choose to work with you. Likewise, it can have a considerable positive impact on your brand’s SEO positioning, since influencer marketing campaigns generate more online content by default. In terms of reach, influencers can introduce your company to a whole new audience, and bring in a significant number of potential customers, simply because their follower base trusts them and wants to try out your product or service for themselves. Be it genuine curiosity or imitation, more exposure means more future clients. And finally, these campaigns can be pretty easy to track, depending on the type of campaign you choose.
However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The further you read, the more you will begin to acknowledge the vast array of benefits that influencer marketing can bring.
Main Types of Influencer Marketing Campaigns
If you want to test the waters first, you can start by asking the influencer to make a single post, either showcasing or talking about your product or service, and paying them a specific sum. This is a good way to get settled in to influencer marketing and get acquainted with the process.
Influencers can be provided with a discount code and custom URL that they can feature on their platform in order to encourage their audience to purchase from your brand. This is a win-win situation for everyone:
1) Your brand gains more popularity and customers
2) The influencer is pleased because they are offering a good deal to their audience
3) The audience is pleased because they are receiving a discount by supporting their favorite influencer
This is also a popular method because it is easy to track ROI with the unique URL codes, since analytics will show you exactly how many people came to your website/platform from the influencer marketing campaign. These people are clicking on the affiliate link from the influencer’s profile, which makes campaign monitoring really simple. Affiliate links can also be used in basic sponsored content.
Many brands opt to send influencers free gifts in exchange for content. This type of content is very popular on YouTube, where social media personalities will make unboxing videos dedicated to the gifts they have been sent by a brand. An example of this is the beauty community on YouTube filming unboxing videos for makeup PR packages, or fashion/lifestyle content creators unboxing clothes from an indie clothing brand. But make sure your quality is up to par, since influencers prefer to give honest reviews instead of pandering to the brand. Remember what we mentioned above about trustworthiness? That’s part of it.
Contests and giveaways
Such campaigns are also very popular due to being mutually beneficial, and the essence is in the name. You can choose to partner up with an influencer to host a contest or giveaway campaign - you provide the product, and the influencer raises awareness and provides the instructions to their audience. They can choose to ask their followers for their emails, to leave a like or comment, reshare their content etc., after which a winner (or winners) are usually announced. As with affiliate marketing, this is also a win-win situation: the influencer gets to host a giveaway, their audience has the opportunity to win free gifts and your brand gains more recognition.
How to Find the Right Social Media Influencer
Research, research, research! When it comes to finding the right influencer, look for content creators in the niches that you plan on targeting. For your initial research, consider using platforms like Heepsy, which will help you find influencers. After you have a few options, scroll through each profile to gain a better understanding of what the influencers might have to offer. Here are some things to consider:
1) The influencer’s niche, theme and audience, and whether that audience coincides with your target market for the campaign.
2) Their engagement rate. Although this is not the be-all, end-all, engagement is still important, so examine the likes, comments and shares on the influencer’s posts. Check how they interact with their audience. Are the comments predominantly positive, negative or neutral?
3) The level of legitimacy. Watch out for a low engagement-to-follower ratio, and scroll through the comments to see if they are genuine or look like they have been posted by bots. If the influencer’s profile is filled with comments that strongly resemble spam, they might be using bots to gain their popularity.
4) Also consider integrity. Is the influencer’s account filled with mostly ads, or is there a good balance between personal and sponsored content? Likewise, how consistent are they with their theme? In order to have a successful campaign, it’s best to choose an influencer with a consistent, authentic presence.
5) Does the influencer’s public presence and values align with the ones of your brand? For example, if you are a family-friendly brand, you might want to avoid working with influencers who are more on the 18+ side, simply because the campaign will look inauthentic. However, don’t be too judgemental either - see if you can find the golden middle of shared values and a strong presence.
How to Create an Influencer Marketing Strategy
Determine your goals and budget
What is it that you want to achieve by entering the world of influencer marketing? More brand recognition? Better sales? Audience expansion? New market reach? Maybe all of these? The best way to start your campaign is by determining your goals. This will help you to structure your campaign clearly, remind you of what to focus on and make it easier to craft the main message. Also, make sure to determine a budget - how much are you willing to spend?
Define your audience
Remember, most influencers tend to have quite niche audiences. However, some may not, which is good if you are aiming for general brand expansion. Determine the audience you want to market your campaign to according to your goals, and start looking for influencers that produce content for that demographic. This will also help you to choose the appropriate platform - be it Instagram, YouTube or something else.
Plan your campaign
Although your campaign might need some alterations once you have discussed it with the influencer (more on that below), it is recommended to have a basic idea of the tasks you want the influencer to carry out. Here are some things to consider:
Create a hashtag for the campaign, which can be later used to measure results
Decide on the main form of content you want to use - images, videos, stories, tweets, something else?
Pick the platform, if you haven’t done so already; the influencer may be available on many platforms, so choose which one works best for your brand - Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, another platform?
Define the general message and have a plan of what you want the influencer to present
Choose and contact your influencer
Referring to what we mentioned above, choose your influencer according to your marketing goals. Make sure that they are willing to work with brands, are reliable and have a good balance of authentic and sponsored posts. You can check for legitimacy by looking at their followers and observing the types of comments they get - avoid influencers who use bots, it will be pretty evident from their profile.
With micro-influencers, you can choose to drop them a DM explaining the overview of your offer and see if they are interested. On the other hand, larger influencers are likely to have a business contact on their profile, so it’s best to drop them an email on their business account or contact their manager.
However, if you feel like this may be overwhelming, you can choose to work with an Influencer Marketing Agency in order to save time and be certain that the research has been carried out according to your needs.
Discuss your campaign (and make changes if necessary)
Once you are in contact with the influencer, discuss your strategy and vision with them, and establish the collaboration guidelines. You should present the campaign draft, and - if necessary - discuss each aspect to come to a general consensus that takes into account both your goals and their audience.
Give the influencer a certain degree of freedom - it will be more authentic. If they have a specific communication style, don’t ask them to change it. Likewise, don’t try to convince them to read from a script if it doesn’t suit their image. Take into account the influencer’s ideas, and come to a general consensus. Sometimes it’s best to provide the most important points related to your campaign, and allow the influencer to present your product/service/offer in their own way. Make sure your brand is tagged in the post, or a link is provided.
Also, don’t forget to discuss the financial aspects. In fact, it’s better to start off by finding out how much the influencer charges per post, and determine whether the rates are budget-friendly for you. You can get an approximation of how much the influencer is likely to charge by checking out this article, which breaks down the average rates influencers tend to charge by platform. However, these general rates are not a blueprint for every influencer, so make sure to ask them personally.
Finalize the plan and schedule
This is the stage at which you come to an agreement with the influencer regarding the campaign and set the schedule. If your campaign requires several posts, discuss the dates with the influencer and create a calendar that is both comfortable for you and them. Likewise, make sure that the payment terms are also finalized at this stage - how much you are paying them, when, and the payment method.
Execute the campaign
If you have done all of the necessary planning and maintained good communication with the influencer, this should run smoothly. You can choose to reply in the comments and show that you appreciate their collaboration, something along the lines of: “It has been a pleasure working with you” or even post an emoji if you want to keep it short. This can drive even more people to your own page since they will see your brand name pop up in the comments.
Pay the influencer
Make sure to provide compensation based on the initial agreement. Stick to your word and provide the necessary sum by the agreed date. This step speaks for itself, especially if you plan on working with influencers in the future. It is important to build a reputation as a reliable company who pays influencers fairly and on time, since more content creators will want to work with you. Not only is this ethical practice, but it also sets you up for a bright future in the world of influencer marketing.
How to Track Your Influencer Marketing Campaign
As we mentioned above, one of the best ways to track your influencer marketing campaign is to provide affiliate codes and custom URLs, which directly show you how many visitors came to your platform via the influencer. The same goes for discount codes, since you can observe how many sales were made using the influencer’s custom discount code. Another way is to create a custom hashtag (e.g. #UcraftPartner) and search that hashtag on the chosen platform to see how much engagement and reposts your campaign is receiving - this is very relevant for platforms such as Instagram and Twitter.
Likewise, you can track brand awareness by looking at your own followers and likes. Although this is not 100% precise, if you end up getting an influx of followers and likes shortly after your influencer marketing campaign is released, chances are that it’s due to that. You can compare these numbers to previous marketing campaigns in order to see whether influencer marketing is a good investment for your company.
Influencer Marketing Tips
Although this is an introductory guide, we decided to include this final segment of tips in relation to how to work with influencers, and what works in influencer marketing (and what doesn’t). Keep these tips in mind throughout your campaign, and you will have very high chances of success.
1) Be organized and make sure you have clear goals, a good strategy and have done your research beforehand. Just like with any marketing campaign, being prepared will get you ahead of your competition.
2) When communicating with influencers, remember that this is not your average B2B conversation. Factor in the human aspect and be friendly and approachable. You want to build a relationship with these people, since it will add to the authenticity of the campaign. If this means studying each influencer’s profile and writing out a personal message - go for it! People can usually tell when something has been copy-pasted, and are likely to discuss it with other influencers in the same field/platform. Influencer marketing is more personal, from start to finish.
3) Don’t wait for instant results. Such campaigns can take time. If your first campaign doesn’t bring in as many leads/sales/traffic as you expected, this doesn’t mean that you should never try influencer marketing again. Go through your strategy and see what you can alter to have a more successful campaign. Patience is key.
4) If you choose to interact with the influencer’s audience on the chosen platform, present yourself as a member of the community rather than a distant corporation. In other words, interact organically with both the influencer and their audience. It’s the personal touch that gives you credibility amongst the audience. As we mentioned above, you can leave a friendly comment on the post and complement the influencer for being part of your team.
5) Give the influencer the creative freedom to make tweaks to your initial plan and offer their own ideas. At the end of the day, they are more familiar with their audience than you are, and often know what’s best. Likewise, influencers are reluctant to create content that looks like a standard advertisement - you have traditional media for that. The beauty of influencer marketing is that it’s more personal and authentic, so make sure to listen to the person’s ideas and take them into account.
6) Get acquainted with the local rules for online advertising so you know what you can ask from the influencer in the first place. In many countries, undisclosed advertisement is illegal, whilst in some countries competitive advertisement is also a no-go zone. For example, in the US, the rules come from the FTC (the Federal Trade Commission), and they take sponsorship disclosure very seriously.
Influencer marketing is definitely a different world compared to more traditional forms of selling, yet it would be a shame to miss out on all of the opportunities it can bring. Any feelings of uncertainty you may have when you start out will dissipate once you start to see the benefits. Not only that, but you can make some pretty meaningful connections with influencers and even recruit them to be brand ambassadors after some time.
The bottom-line is that people are becoming increasingly tired of in-your-face marketing techniques, and we don’t blame them. Everyone is searching for more authenticity nowadays - from daily life to the purchasing decisions they decide to make. So give influencer marketing a try, and who knows? Maybe it will be the catalyst for the expansion of your brand. Good luck!