Influencer marketing may seem like a strategy reserved for mega-brands who partner with content creators with millions of followers, but it can, in fact, be a surprisingly accessible way to get your audience engaged with your message, product, event or mission. At its crux, influencer marketing is a recommendation or endorsement from a source your audience trusts. For modern marketers, it can be an effective tool that drives results.
“In the past, people would chat around the watercooler, and they’d hear about a great local bakery or which movies were worth the ticket price. Today, the watercooler has changed, but the concept remains the same,” says Lisa Petty, senior marketing manager, Owned Assets at MCI USA. “After all, aren’t we more likely to trust a recommendation from a friend over an advertisement?”
Petty has expertise working with influencers — aka content creators or brand ambassadors — who are individuals who have a loyal (and, usually, sizeable) following and “influence” within their niche. She says that when navigating this fairly new and somewhat abstract area, marketers should evaluate its use as they would any other tactic used as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy. She offered the following insight on getting started with influencer marketing within your organization.
Benefits of Engaging an Influencer
In 2021, the global influencer marketing market was valued at $13.8 billion and its market size has more than doubled since 2019. It’s no surprise that more marketers are considering how they can tap into content creators to achieve their marketing goals. Petty explains there are four main reasons to engage an influencer in your marketing:
“Influencers can be beneficial if you're not only looking to reach a lot of people at once, but a lot of the right people at once,” Petty says.
Getting Started: Influencer Evaluation and Selection
Once you’ve determined that influencer marketing can help you achieve your organization’s goals, consider the platforms you’d like to include. Industry sources consistently rank Instagram and TikTok as the top social media platforms used for influencer marketing, but it’s critical to consider where your specific audience lives and connects with each other online. For example, a successful influencer campaign may focus on LinkedIn, or even include social media in a secondary position behind a personal blog or vlog as the primary “watercooler.”
Next, Petty advises, seek out authentic voices who create quality content on your chosen platform(s). “They must have chemistry with your brand and have a highly engaged audience,” she says. “Engagement rate among your target audience is just as important — if not more so — than total followers.”
Scrolling through your social newsfeeds is a great way to identify those people who have a prominent presence among your audience. “It’s not just about who's popping up in your feed a lot; look for who's getting reshared often,” Petty says. “Go into various accounts and see what they’re sharing, and sometimes it'll lead you back to a common thread of an influencer.” Keep in mind that this person doesn’t have to be a celebrity or someone with millions of followers. Perhaps an industry thought leader with a strong but modest following is the best option for your organization and what you’re trying to achieve.
Authenticity is important as well. Influencers aren't limited solely to social media, but social media is the primary place where these partnerships are executed. “Sometimes we forget that word ‘social,’” Petty says. “You don't show up to your friend’s party and try to sell them something, and the same goes here. We have to make sure the ambassador is authentic and will connect as we filter our message through their voice.”
Marketers can also collect case studies from previous partnerships and conduct live or video interviews as they review options. “Ask a potential influencer for a list of brands they’ve worked with before, along with high-level bullets of deliverables and results,” Petty recommends. “As you narrow the field, set up a quick video chat with them to dive into the details.”
If, at the end of the day, navigating the world of influencer marketing is something your team is challenged with, Petty recommends using an agency if possible.
How to Set Up an Influencer Campaign for Success
Once you have an idea of the content creator(s) you’d like to work with, what’s next?
Common Misconceptions about Influencer Marketing
According to Petty, a common myth about influencer marketing is that it’s informal or “anything goes.”
“To the contrary, we must approach influencer marketing as we would any other important marketing tactic,” she explains. “I wouldn’t place an ad with a publication before reviewing a media kit, setting a budget, evaluating potential ROI, aligning on deliverables and deadlines, and signing a contract. The same goes here.”
That also includes making sure all parties are abiding by appropriate rules and regulations. The Federal Trade Commission offers various resources to ensure your sponsored content is compliant.
It’s also important to understand that above all, influencers are human beings and businesspeople who have expertise in a certain niche, so good relationship management is key to having a successful partnership. Petty says, “You want to make sure you clearly lay out in the agreement what each side expects from the partnership. Be sure to recognize influencers, content creators and brand ambassadors as the skilled and experienced professionals they are.”Frances Moffett is the editorial content director at MCI USA. She has more than 13 years of storytelling and publishing experience, and specializes in developing content strategy for associations and professional societies. She is based out of the Chicago office
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