Imagine you could hire a Jedi to sell your products and reach out to new people using their famous mindtricks. Seems almost unfair, right? But that's precisely what brands are starting to do with influencer marketing.
The concept of using recognized personalities to promote stuff isn't particularly new. Celebrities, for example, have been endorsing products for as long as there have been celebrities. But influencer marketing is slightly different. It's not paying a star big bucks to advertise something, it's building a relationship with someone who has the trust of people you want to reach.
And, the Internet has spawned an entirely new type of influencer. Movie stars no longer hold our attention as much as they did. Now YouTube channels, Instagram stars, and celebrities of social media capture the lion's share of our attention.
This is great news for startups and small businesses because there is a window of opportunity right now, in 2016, to get ahead of bigger competitors. Influencer marketing has been around a few years but is only now really taking off - you haven't yet missed the boat.
So if you're looking to reach out to exciting new audiences in a way that builds trust and leads to higher conversions with, ultimately, much bigger, sustainable profits, then it's time to look at how to implement a great influencer marketing strategy.
1. Identify influencers
The first step is to find out who's who in your particular zoo. Not every influencer is created equal. Some will have small, but highly engaged followings. Others may have massive reach but less trust.
In general, you want to categorize influencers by how well they match your brand/business and the potential value of their following (which depends on a number of factors).
Let's take a look at how this is done.
Find good matches
Dennis O'Malley of ReadyPulse sums this up nicely:
"Aligning with the right influencers who match a brand’s persona is one of the most important elements of a successful influencer marketing campaign, and the process works even better if a brand’s working with someone who organically believes in what they’re endorsing."
Bigger is not always better
It's also worth noting that the bigger the influencer, the harder it can be to start a relationship with them because they have so many other people reaching out to them on a regular basis. Take into account how much work it will be to get on their radar as it is very easy to waste a lot of time going after the top dogs who may never be interested.
Christian from Auctus Marketing has this to say:
"Keep it local. A lot of marketers really try to focus on the all-star influencers in their industry with the hopes of expanding their branding on a national level. Remember that there are great all-stars that operate in local cities that are often much more effective as well as cheaper to work with. Local influencers can really help a brand build an online presence pretty quickly in a targeted area."
So bigger is not always better. After all, a small following of precisely the right people who really would be interested in your offering is probably much more valuable than a larger one that is not such a close match.
That leads onto my next point.
Actively search for up and coming stars
New influencers are scrapping their way up the ladder all the time. In many cases they are building their own spheres of influence one step at a time, and might be very amenable to a new relationship with a company that can be of benefit to them. Often, these people are a far better long term investment.
Try identify up-and-coming influencers and build relationships with them early on so that you can benefit from their growth.
Brett Farmiloe of Markitors recommends the Moz app followerwonk as a great tool for working out what type of influencers you have access to:
"Followerwonk works wonders for influencer marketing. Type in a keyword, search Twitter profiles, and discover influencers based on their social authority, the age of their account, number of tweets, number of followers, and number of people they're following. It's the quickest way to identify the Paul Reveres for a given topic."
"I've used this tactic to identify the right people and then reach out via Twitter or via email. It's a great way to get something as small as a link to an article, or something big like a well thought out campaign on an influencer's radar."
Stay organized with shareable lists
Finally, you need to keep on top of all the different influencers you're going to engage with. Generate lists. This not only helps you manage things, but those lists have value in and of themselves. They can be used to promote those influencers in the next phase 'Build relationships'.
Daniel from Workable shares his experience of this:
"Define the influencers in your own space by listing them. A well-curated list of the top Twitterati in your professional sphere is a shrewd way to get noticed by them and start a conversation. It's also highly sharable."
"We did this at Workable when we were still a tiny player in the hiring software and HR space. The HR Twitterati top 50 was an instant success and the relationships it built now underpin our marketing efforts on all fronts. It's now a recurring annual event and the most influential list of its kind."
2. Build relationships
Unlike the more traditional celebrity endorsement in which an advertiser pays someone to regurgitate a sales pitch, influencers are acutely aware that their followers trust their judgement. That's something they can't afford to lose, so they stay away from overtly paid, promotional type situations.
Engage; don't promote
You need to gain an influencer's trust before they will even consider talking about you. Shane from Green Vine Marketing has this to say about building relationships:
"Engage in their conversations, rather than trying to force your agenda. Start by following your targeted influencer on social media and signing up for their newsletter. Read what they post religiously, and when they ask questions respond quickly and thoughtfully. Once they see you as an ongoing, active member of their community, they will then be much more open to a one on one dialogue."
Hand in hand with that, it's also important to treat influencers like real people. It may be a business for you, but building a relationship is a fundamentally human endeavour. Jim from ShortStack talks about how to do this right:
"When you’re asking someone else to get on board with you and your product, it’s best to lay everything out for them on a silver platter. The most important thing you can do is recognize that their time is valuable (as is yours) and build a relationship that respects that."
Bulding a relationship can take time. It's not reasonable to expect every influencer to agree to work with you after one or two touches. David from DART Creations has a few nice tips to help here:
"First build a relationship with them through social networks, comments and possibly an email which congratulates them on the value they are providing to you. Then write a great piece of content which provides value to them - not to you. Eventually, reach out to them again suggesting they have a look at the great content you have written which is related to their niche."
Don't ask for a link - ask for their opinion.
I like the final point in particular. Asking for an opinion is a much better way to engage someone. It shows you place value in what they have to say. This is without doubt a far more natural and organic way to interact with someone.
3. Offer something of value
How often have you received a spammy email or unsolicited phone call from people trying to sell you stuff, or get you to invest in something? It's not fun, right? Why is it then, that knowing this, so many companies go right ahead and do exactly that?
Influencer marketing simply does not work like this. You're going to waste a lot of time running around asking people to give you stuff - unless you're prepared to offer something first.
Ely from Your Marketing University sums it up nicely:
"Instead of just working on getting someone to endorse you, figure out how you can help promote them first."
The type of thing you offer can vary depending on what industry you're in and who the person is that you're targeting. Mark from Uncorked Ventures shares this tip:
"Sometimes the offer is financial, other times it's sharing your audience, and sometimes it's a product sample. But having some idea about what you can realistically offer is essential..."
Let's take a look at the type of things you should consider.
Share great achievements
I have first hand experience in how this works because we decided to track how the sales of a handful of marketing gurus' books competed with each other using RankTracer Enterprise.
As it turned out Guy Kawasaki's book was crushing the competition. We put together a blog post, complete with sales data, graphs and analysis and then shared the good news with Guy via Twitter. He was so delighted he retweeted it to his millions of followers. A great result given that it drove thousands of visits.
Offer an experience
People love to have fun, right? There's no reason you can't build a business relationship around having fun. Edward Sturm recommends this as an effective strategy:
"When getting an influencer, sell them most on how much fun they'll have working with you. Why your project is fun, why it will be a great experience, why it will be something they can tell their friends about. We've gotten many influencers to work with us just because we're constantly striving to do fun things. "
Offer free stuff
While I think you should always exercise caution with this tactic, because many influencers will value their independence over any type of gift thrown at them by brands, it can be a fun way to break the ice and get new people talking about your offering.
Kent over at Anvil Media relates a story about how free shoes led to a huge increase in brand engagement:
"Last year, we helped MOZO footwear connect with their target audience (professional chefs/cooks) via an experiential marketing campaign. We sent shoes to the top chefs participating in Feast, a Portland culinary event. We also included temporary tattoos and encouraged them to take pictures with their shoes and tats. "
According to their case study, this campaign lead to an enviable 48% boost in social referral traffic and 25% increase in social following over 3 months.
Promote others effectively
It's the hardest thing to do - giving someone free marketing when you're struggling to get your own message out there. But, that's how this works.
Remember that any work you do in promoting other people affords you the opportunity to reach out to them and put yourself on their radar. Dave from Ninja Outreach has a great suggestion to help with this:
"Link to their content WITH other influencers included for maximum exposure. For example, we have found a lot of success combining content marketing and influencer marketing by producing large, ultimate link round ups."
Rebecca from GrowEpic also used a similar technique:
"We made a 'Most influential people at SXSW' list ahead of the event, then tweeted it out to some of the influencers on the list. It quickly got picked up by 20+ of them, and got top influencers in Marketing and even Design to tweet about us. This quickly raised our visibility and we saw a huge spike in traffic. "
4. Analyze, refine and repeat
I guess this should really go without saying. It's important to monitor how you're doing. Who is working with you successfully, who is nearly ready to work with you, who hates you, and so on.
Remember that the entire Internet is essentially fluid. New influencers are coming online all the time. People are changing their jobs and vocations and popping in and out of your niche. Things change, so you need to be constantly adapting and evolving to stay on top.
I think one of the most important ways to continually improve is to look at what outreach strategies and relationship building techniques have worked well and build on those. Continually cut out spammy behaviour in favour of more organic, natural engagements.
If you can become really efficient at making friends with the right people, you're going to do well. Simple as that.
I think the most salient point about influencer marketing is this:
Influencer marketing is an exercise in building relationships with real people. It is not a business transaction - in the sense that you cannot pay for it as a service.
But, if you can accept that it will take time and effort to identify the right people and build real relationships with them, then you stand to benefit in a way that most other marketing channels can only dream of.
The right influencers have the trust of their following giving you an immediate advantage over almost any other type of marketing, especially paid ads - which everyone in the world actively tries to avoid if at all possible.
It also works extremely effectively with the burgeoning millennial market who listen closely to the personalities they like, and very little to big corporates.
Are you already using influencers to promote your own brand/business? What success or failure have you met with? Share your tips, ideas and experiences in the comments below.