March 1, 2021 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
As an almost $15 billion industry, influencer marketing has made a substantial impact on both consumer culture and digital marketing. No matter your industry, this type of marketing can help you improve brand awareness, drive more revenue, and cultivate loyal customers. Find out how influencer marketing works, and learn how it can help your business grow.
Influencer marketing is a type of word-of-mouth marketing that requires public figures to promote a brand to a targeted audience. Most influencer campaigns take place on social media, but the influencer marketing definition can also extend to blogs and other formats. These campaigns can focus on a wide range of goals, from introducing a brand to a new audience to encouraging sales.
It’s easy to confuse influencer marketing with affiliate marketing. However, the two approaches have distinct tactics and goals.
Affiliate marketing focuses on driving brand loyalty. Its strategies encourage existing customers to self-select and share their love of the company to promote its services or products. When affiliate marketers drive sales, they receive financial rewards or other incentives. Because it’s essentially commission-based, affiliate marketing tends to have a strong focus on sales.
In contrast, brands typically seek out influencers as they strive to find the best faces for the brand. Influencers might drive sales directly, but their campaigns can also work toward goals such as brand awareness. In addition, most influencers don’t receive commissions from sales. Instead, they typically receive project-based fees, retainers, or complementary products or services.
Image via Unsplash by matfelipe
Influencer campaigns originally emerged in the form of celebrity endorsements. While the influencers of today aren’t necessarily celebrities, they do have engaged audiences who trust them. Successful influencers gain followers, establish credibility, and use their authority to sway their followers’ opinions — and ultimately their purchasing behaviors.
Anyone can become an influencer. To create a successful campaign, an influencer simply needs a passion for their niche and an engaged following, particularly on a social media channel like Instagram. Influencers typically fit into one of these standard categories:
In recent years, influencer marketing has skyrocketed in popularity. As of 2019, more than 90% of marketers were using influencer marketing, and more than a third included it as part of an ongoing strategy.
Although some marketers hesitate to spend much on influencer marketing, some plan to devote a large portion of their budget to this approach. In fact, nearly 20% plan to spend more than half of their marketing budget on influencer partnerships. Whether you’re considering a big or small budget, your brand can benefit from influencer marketing in several important ways.
Influencers often thrive on authenticity, growing their audiences by sharing snippets from their daily lives or discussing their challenges. As a result, they can build engaged audiences with strong interests in niche topics, such as beauty, fitness, or food.
Brands that opt to partner with influencers can tap into this authenticity. When businesses incorporate their own messaging into the content from an influencer who aligns with their brand, they can deliver it through a trusted channel. As a result, brands that use social influencer marketing can establish credibility and authenticity quickly and effectively.
As consumers rely more on ratings and reviews to inform their buying decisions, they increasingly shy away from advertising. Instead, they look to testimonials from people they can identify with to help them decide what to buy. In fact, 88% of consumers trust testimonials they see online as much as they do recommendations from their family and friends.
Because influencer marketing relies on word-of-mouth marketing, it lets your brand leverage the power of testimonials. When you work with influencers, your brand can share its message through a trusted source rather than depending on digital advertising.
Most influencers thrive on starting conversations and engaging their audiences. Naturally, the more engagement they can generate, the more they can grow their audiences and further their own goals.
When your brand partners with an influencer, you can anticipate working with an experienced conversation starter. You can expect your influencer campaigns to get people talking, which can keep your brand top of mind.
Most social media channels have algorithms that take engagement into account. That means high engagement can increase the number of potential customers your brand reaches, which can help you achieve much bigger goals than your brand could accomplish alone.
Even if your influencer campaigns don’t target direct sales, you want to make sure they’re worth the money you’ve spent. Fortunately, influencer marketing typically has a high ROI.
A 2019 Influencer Marketing Hub study reported that the average return on a successful influencer campaign was $5.20 for every $1 spent. That equals an impressive 520% return.
The study also found that the top 13% of businesses using influencer marketing earned at least $20 per dollar spent. The 2019 Mediakix study reported similarly optimistic findings. In fact, almost 90% of marketers said their influencer campaign ROI was better than other tactics they’d tried.
One of the biggest perks of pursuing an influencer program is that your investment can continue to pay off for months or years to come. Although you can work with influencers on a one-time basis, many brands have recurring or ongoing relationships. Depending on the social media figures you work with, you might be able to secure a monthly retainer or rehire your best-performing influencers again and again.
After working with influencers once, you might even be able to establish a mutual relationship at no cost. By supporting the influencers you like and continuing to engage with their content, your brand can nurture their loyalty and increase their genuine interest in your brand.
Whether it’s your first or 50th influencer campaign, your strategy should include these key components:
It’s easy to assume that influencer marketing has no rules or regulations. However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has established guidelines for online marketing and advertising. Select rules apply to influencers, especially when it comes to disclosure. Essentially, the FTC requires influencers to disclose when they receive payment or other incentives for posting about your brand.
To ensure that any influencers you work with abide by the rules, include disclosure guidelines in your written agreements. Here are some key FTC guidelines, which include disclosing any familial or financial relationships with a brand:
Choosing influencers at random or based on personal preference can lead to time-consuming, subjective decisions. To make objective, strategic decisions, marketers need the ability to:
Although you can manage campaigns manually, subscribing to an influencer marketing platform is a necessity for brands planning a long-term strategy. Some of the most recognized options include TapInfluence, GRIN, #paid, Mavrck, and AspireIQ.
Once you’ve set up a system, it’s important to automate the campaign workflow. For an influencer campaign to succeed, it must run smoothly, from communication with your partner to tracking multiple assignments to systematically identifying the best performing content. To execute efficient workflow, you’ll need the following:
With influencer marketing, you must maintain a balance between managing a campaign to fit your brand and allowing an influencer to exercise their creativity with what they post on their own social media channels. Naturally, when you hire an influencer, you expect to work with a social media and content marketing expert. Giving them the space to use their skills and produce content that their followers will engage with is most likely to result in the best outcome.
However, your brand should have a say in the content you’re paying influencers to create. Provide your brand’s partners with general guidelines, such as messages to share and terms to avoid, and let them adapt your brief to fit their own style.
Tracking the outcomes of influencer campaigns typically goes far beyond vanity metrics such as likes and impressions. To evaluate campaign success or vet influencers effectively, you must be able to:
In addition to having influencers share your content on their platforms, you should cross-share their content on your brand’s channels. This approach boosts the credibility of both parties, showing the partnership is genuine and helping benefit both your brand and your influencer.
Most influencers build their presence on social media, but that doesn’t mean you can log in and find the right person to work with immediately. Instagram alone is home to more than 500,000 influencers. Countless influencers specialize in other social media platforms, such as YouTube and TikTok.
So where should you look, and how can you find the right partners for your brand? Here are eight steps to connect with the best influencers for your campaign:
Assessing an influencer’s profile can help you decide if they’re a good fit:
Although these aspects are important, the influencer’s engagement rate is the most telling. Ultimately, engagement is what drives awareness, sales, and value for your brand. To calculate engagement rate, use this formula:
Influencer X has 120,000 followers, 100 posts, 1,000,000 total likes, and 50,000 comments
Influencer X engagement rate = [(1,000,000 + 50,000) / 100] / 120,000
Influencer X engagement rate = 0.0875 = 8.75%
Influencer Y only has 10,000 followers, 80 posts, 200,000 total likes, and 40,000 comments
Influencer Y engagement rate = [(150,000 + 40,000) / 100] / 10,000
Influencer X engagement rate = 0.19 = 19%
An engagement rate of 10 to 20% or more is ideal for brands to work exclusively with an influencer. Keep in mind that not all engagement is created equal, however. Sometimes an influencer appears to have a large, engaged following because of their high number of likes and comments. In reality, the following might consist largely of “ghost followers” called bots.
Bots are paid services that social media users can use to gain more followers or engagement. Because these followers and their engagement are machine-generated rather than from real people, they’re considered low-quality.
Algorithms and automated programs can’t always identify bots, but you can often identify them during a quick scroll through an influencer’s Instagram feed. Instagram bots often leave generic comments like:
If a large portion of an influencer’s comment section includes these kinds of interaction, you can assume that their actual engagement rate is lower than it appears. You might want to prioritize other influencers with genuine followers instead.
An effective influencer marketing strategy requires knowing exactly who you’re trying to reach, which means you need to know your audience. Think about who your target market is, starting with demographics. What age range, gender, and location applies to your target market? What are their interests, needs, goals, and challenges?
Use this information to develop a buyer persona that highlights your brand’s ideal customer. Then use your buyer persona to more easily identify relevant influencers.
For your influencer campaign to make an impact and resonate with your target audience, you need an influencer that your audience can trust and respect. You can assess the level of trust an influencer has garnered from their followers by looking at engagement. A high engagement rate also shows that followers are loyal to the influencer, a quality that they’ll hopefully translate to your brand.
Most influencers post lifestyle content that showcases their daily lives. To ensure that your brand fits into their timeline naturally, seek out an influencer whose content or style already has a similar look and feel to your brand.
Scroll through their timeline to evaluate their tone and make sure it matches the way you want to represent your brand. To avoid a disruptive advertisement feel, sponsored posts should fit in seamlessly with the rest of the influencer’s content.
Some influencers work with brands extensively, while others are extremely selective. Neither is necessarily better than the other, but it’s typically best to avoid working with partners who almost exclusively post sponsored content.
Instead, those who balance sponsored and organic content tend to have more engaged audiences who haven’t yet experienced advertising fatigue. Ideally, any influencer you work with should publish no more than one sponsored post for every five to 10 organic posts.
Successful influencers receive many offers to work with brands, so it’s important to take a genuine approach when you reach out to them. Do your research ahead of time to learn about the influencer and their audience so you can show a sincere interest in who they are and how valuable your business relationship could be.
Rather than pitching an influencer immediately, take your time. Interact with them organically by liking and commenting on their posts before sending a partnership pitch.
After making a few initial connections, send a private direct message or an email to the influencer. To show your seriousness about a potential partnership, tailor your message to the influencer. Naturally, influencers want to know the brands they decide to work with are well-intentioned and will value them as business partners. They can easily spot a generic, mass-sent direct message, so spend the extra effort to be personal.
If you want to work with macro-influencers or celebrities, you might not be able to connect with them directly. Instead, you might have to reach out through an agency that manages their partnerships. Check the influencer’s bio to be sure.
Whether you send a direct message or you email an agency, include as many details as possible. Explain your brand’s mission and values, and provide a general overview of the campaign you intend to run. Ask for a rate card or influencer marketing examples, and detail the goals you want to achieve.
Just as you want to work with credible influencers, they want to partner with brands they can trust. Provide as much information about your brand as possible, and be open and honest about what you intend to accomplish with your marketing campaign. Also, be clear about how the influencer will benefit from the partnership beyond the payment or free product.
Here are eight steps to create your brand’s first influencer marketing campaign:
If you’re just starting to use influencer marketing, decide on one social channel where you’ll focus your efforts. Once you gain experience, you can add more channels to the mix. Which social network should you choose for your first campaign? Consider these factors:
Your first Instagram influencer campaign could cost anywhere from $10 to $1 million, depending on a few key factors:
As a general rule, nano-influencers charge the least, and Twitter is the most affordable social media channel. When it comes to Instagram, influencer marketing can get particularly expensive. However, you probably won’t notice much of a price difference unless you plan to hire a celebrity influencer.
Once you know what type of influencers you want to partner with and you’ve set a budget, it’s time to decide on a management strategy. If your team doesn’t have the capacity to do much of the heavy lifting, consider hiring a social media promotion agency. An agency can help you build relationships with influencers, provide advice about your campaign, and evaluate your results to help you get maximum value.
If your team prefers to handle influencer marketing in-house, choose a tool to help with campaign management. Some of the most popular influencer marketing platforms include:
The goals of influencer marketing typically involve increasing brand awareness and generating sales. However, it’s up to your team to determine what these look like for you. Use the SMART framework to map out your goals:
For example, you might want to increase brand awareness in your target market. A related SMART goal might be increasing brand awareness of your new product line by getting 5,000 members of your target audience to click through to your website by the end of next quarter.
When you work with influencers, you leave a lot of the creative work and copywriting to your partners. However, your brand still needs to provide a creative brief with messaging guidelines. Naturally, you want influencers to understand the concept behind the campaign and create something successful for both parties.
Before contacting influencers, write down some talking points for your campaign. Then brainstorm how you’d like the visuals to look so you can provide guidance to your partners.
One of the most important aspects of any influencer campaign is measuring its success. Here are a few of standard metrics to track:
If you want to grow your audience, keep an eye on these metrics:
If you want to generate more engagement, watch for these metrics:
If you want to drive traffic to your website, look for these metrics:
If you want to drive sales, watch these metrics:
With a plan in place for your marketing campaign, it’s time to contact the influencers you want to work with through your management agency or influencer platform. Use your resources to identify influencers who would be a good fit. Then send your pitch, provide your creative brief, and complete any necessary agreements to confirm your partnership.
Start tracking metrics immediately. For a short campaign, you might need to collect and review metrics only once, after the campaign ends. For a longer campaign, you might need to gather data daily or weekly. Either way, your analysis can help optimize your influencer marketing strategy going forward:
As influencer marketing continues to grow, so do misconceptions. Some of these stories can cause marketers to avoid influencer partnerships altogether, even if the rumors aren’t true. Here are some of the most common misunderstandings about influencer marketing:
When brands first began using influencer marketing, they had to manage campaigns manually, which was cumbersome and time-consuming. Today, the process is infinitely easier with the use of influencer marketing platforms. Now, brands can vet, hire, and pay influencers from a single software platform that automates much of the process.
Brands of any size can leverage influencer marketing on virtually any budget. It’s true that larger brands have a better chance of hiring celebrity influencers who can achieve massive reach. But because influencer marketing has such a high ROI, small brands can run campaigns that make an impact, even on a small budget.
In the early days of influencer marketing, value and ROI might have been difficult to measure. However, studies from TapInfluence and Influencer Marketing Hub show how easy it is to track and evaluate the results from influencer marketing programs. In fact, the TapInfluence study reveals that working with influencers drives more incremental sales than other types of digital advertising.
Although celebrities served as the original influencers, they currently form a small subset that continues to decrease in size. Instead, nano-, micro-, and macro-influencers make up the majority of the industry. Naturally, consumers are more likely to trust the opinions of these smaller influencers, as they appear more authentic and relatable.
Influencers have complete control over which brands they work with. They can also negotiate their rates and create content that expresses their own voice with openness and authenticity. By choosing brand partners wisely and maintaining a commitment to genuine content, influencers never have to “sell out.”
Although many brands strive to partner with influencers who have audiences within certain size ranges, reach tends to be one of the least important metrics of any campaign. Instead, engagement rate and cost per engagement stand out as two of the most important metrics, as they directly affect ROI. In fact, an influencer with a small but loyal following can hugely impact the growth and ROI of a brand.
Brands can run a wide range of marketing campaigns to meet their business goals. Although many pursue social media, content marketing, and other campaign types, these options tend to deliver lower ROI. Instead, influencer marketing gives brands a unique opportunity to leverage word-of-mouth marketing and drive impressive ROI.
It’s true that sponsored social media content is essentially a type of digital advertisement. However, the context and the outcome are completely different than what digital ad campaigns deliver. Because sponsored content comes from trusted sources (i.e., influencers), consumers process and react to it differently, often considering it less like an ad and more like organic content.
Keep this guide to influencer marketing handy as you begin the process of building your first influencer campaign. Take the time to research the details of developing an influencer marketing program, including your target audience, your brand’s messaging, and your team’s budget. Influencer marketing campaigns can run simultaneously with social media and digital ad campaigns, so it might benefit your team to run a small test campaign to see how an influencer partnership can benefit your brand.
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