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TL;DR

MarTechExec Takeaway

Influencer marketing has only just found its legs on the digital landscape, yet it has revolutionized the way marketers connect with their audiences on social media. As it continues to evolve, marketers will learn the best ways to see, manage and execute these campaigns in order to maximize their returns.” — Lana Moore, Executive Editor at MarTechExec (@martechexec)

Definition

Influencer marketing is the use of public figures, or "influencers," to promote a product, service or brand. Most influencer marketing campaigns take place online, typically through social media, where they can reach a wide audience.

If you ever wondered how the disastrous Fyre Festival event got off the ground, influencer marketing was the key.

Guiding Principles

I’ve noticed that a lot of people seem to think influencer marketing is a coming trend, rather than one of the biggest tactics marketers are currently using, particularly in social media. In fact, according to the 2016 Influencer Marketing Report, 66 percent of marketers have already begun using an influencer marketing strategy.

So, I’ll come out and say it — if you’re not paying attention to influencer marketing, you need to start.

We’ve come far enough along with it now that I can even give some key principles to guide you through the process of creating an influencer marketing strategy.

“As many have said previously, influencer marketing is not a fad. Brands, of all sizes, have to learn to not only respect this method of targeting their key demographic but understand what type of lifestyle they want and become a part of that, by putting influencer marketing at the centre of their strategy.” — Dylan Macdonald, Marketing and Communications Manager at Organised Health Technologies

Do more than just create a buyer persona — create an  influencer persona too

When you plan on targeting an audience, you already know who you’re looking for because you created a buyer persona. This keeps you from just throwing your marketing message to the wind and hoping it will stick somewhere.

Partnering with an influencer requires the same kind of research. You don’t want to partner with just anyone in the hopes that your marketing message aligns with their brand and following. Take the time to create an influencer persona so that you know exactly who you want on your team.

It’s not always go big or go home — micro-influencers can have big impacts

A lot of people automatically associate influencer marketing with big name celebrities. This is true in some cases, but as an industry, we’ve really moved into new territory with influencer marketing.

From the Youtube star to the mommy blogger to the Instagram model, all of them can help you with your influencer marketing. In fact, for some brands, the smaller the better.

Micro-influencers, those with 1,000 to 100,000 followers that are highly engaged, can have a bigger impact for you than the biggest comedian on Youtube.

“If you’re defining influencer marketing as a tactic restricted to macro influencers/celebrities, you’re not paying attention. The reason the strategy works is because it’s validated by great ROI for the brands. That ROI is yielded by those with great sway/engagement. Macro influencers/celebrities might bring visibility, like a billboard on the Sunset strip, but all that does is feed one's ego. It doesn’t convert to sales and if it does, the amount can’t be quantified.” — Isaac Lekach, Co-Founder at REP

Honesty is the best policy — customers don’t want to be lied to, make your partnership clear

Here’s the thing about your influencer marketing partnership — you need to make it clear. The more obvious, the better.

When you’ve got an influencer making a post featuring your product, ensure they’re following the guidelines provided by the FTC and appropriately labeling it as such.  

It keeps you from getting in trouble with the law and with your target audience.

Customers don’t want to be misled or lied to, so keep it honest.

What is influencer marketing?

It’s hard for a marketer to rise above the noise these days. The rise of programmatic has equally led to a hotter competition for ad space and, in some cases, is making ad space more expensive.

There are ways to combat this, however. One of those ways is through influencer marketing. Influencers not only come with a built-in audience, but you no longer have to vie for ad space because the influencer delivers your message directly to that audience.

Terminology

  • Influencer Identification — how you select the influencers you partner with based on research and how they align with your brand’s goals.
  • Influencer Archetype — key characteristics a type of influencer would possess. Brands should establish archetypes in order to categorize types of influencers they work with. Characteristics could include following size, relationship with the brand, type of content they create, etc.
  • Influencer Relationship Management (IRM) — programs that help build, manage and maintain long-term relationships with key influencers.
  • Brand Advocate — someone who genuinely has an affinity for a brand and regularly endorses or promotes the brand to their network both online and offline. While they can be influencers, they aren’t always.
  • Social Return-on-Investment (ROI) — the return on a brand’s social marketing efforts, including influencer marketing. This calculates the time, money and resources put into a social media effort against the monetary outcome.
  • Micro-Influencer — social media users who work/specialize in a particular vertical and frequently share social media content about their interests. Micro-influencers have a smaller number of followers, ranging from 1,000 to 100,000, but have a hyper-engaged audience.

How influencer marketing began

Way back in the day — we’re talking 1800’s here — brands weren’t thinking about leveraging celebrity impact to promote their brands. Instead, they created their influencers in the form of fictional personalities.

The Quaker Oats man, anyone?

These personalities were created to embody values, key messages, and become a figure that consumers could relate to and trust.

Moving into the 1920’s through the 2000’s, it became all about the celebrity name. The bigger the name, the better. And this worked for the time period.

However, today we live in a different world.

Influencer marketing in the digital landscape

When we started spending more time online, the types of people consumers wanted to connect and relate to changed.

In fact, some influencers, especially micro-influencers, are more relatable for the consumer than a big name celebrity, and they care more about the products those influencers are promoting.

Benefits of influencer marketing

“Won’t anyone please just look at my ad!”

I know, the struggle is real. Consumers are an unforgiving bunch, and they’re tired of the onslaught of digital advertising.

However, influencer marketing has been able to find friendly ways to reach the consumer — ways that are not just tolerated, but enjoyed.

Traditional ads are becoming ineffective thanks to ad-blockers

When a banner ad is sitting at the top of the page, or buried within the contents of an article, most people’s eyes will glaze right over it.

Consumers are increasingly becoming immune to traditional online advertising tactics. Yes, when the internet was new, these ads were decently effective. Now, however, they’re just seen as a nuisance.

In fact, they’re so annoying that consumers use software to prevent ads from being shown to them at all — 26 percent of desktop users and 15 percent of mobile users.

If a user has your ad blocked, they’re not going to get your marketing message to begin with, but influencer marketing breaks through. When an influencer talks about your brand on social media, for example, it's just like any other post in the user’s feed.

Not only does that make it immune to ad-blocking, but it's coming from a source the user already knows, likes and trusts, making it more effective.

“Consumers have become wary of intrusive and persistent advertising, which has led to blocking ads by default; however, consumers do not typically block the individuals they follow on social networks — instead, they rely on personal recommendations, leading to a vacuum of potential reach being served by influencers. Thus, even labeled compliance won't be a drag on reach given the ads as content are sought out content.” — Joe Sinkwitz, Chief Executive Officer at Intellifluence

Broader content and greater reach

Partnering with an influencer gives you access to their audience, an audience that you wouldn’t have been able to reach as quickly otherwise...

The influencer can reach your audience through relevant

  • Blog posts
  • Facebook posts
  • Twitter posts
  • Youtube videos
  • etc.

This kind of fresh approach to content around your brand can gain more attention from audiences as well. It can also help grab the attention of people who have become desensitized to your marketing message.

Challenges of influencer marketing

With the good comes the bad. While influencer marketing addresses a lot of common problems for the modern marketer it also comes with its own set of challenges.

Some of these challenges you might not have even considered until now.

It's becoming harder to get noticed

The internet is saturated with mommy bloggers and video game “let’s players” and beauty gurus. And that makes it hard for those influencers to stand out.

Max Polisar, Chief Revenue Office at AwesomenessTV, says, "In order to get noticed an influencer needs to be consistent on publishing, have a distinct point of view and can't be afraid to be themselves."

So when you consider partnering with an influencer, you need to be aware of how they differentiate themselves and how that differentiation aligns with your brand.

That requires a lot of research, which can feel daunting for the marketer. However, it's crucial to ensuring that your influencer marketing strategy is as effective as possible.

Identifying the right influencers

According to a recent study, marketers still struggle the most with identifying the right influencers. In fact, 73 percent said identifying the right influencers was the biggest challenge in working with influencers.

It’s pretty obvious why this is such a big problem. Without the right influencers, you run the risk of incurring massive losses.

So to avoid this, you need to think about your brand goals. What do you want to achieve from this campaign? When you know what your goal is, you need to make sure that you choose an influencer who is able to help you achieve it.

That means looking at:

  • Who their audience is
  • The quality of the content they have created
  • How they work with other brands
  • The level of engagement their posts generate

Taking note of these factors can help you determine if an influencer is right for your brand or not.

Measuring influencer marketing ROI

It’s been found that 78 percent of marketers feel that measuring influencer marketing return-on-investment (ROI) will be their biggest challenge. An influencer marketing campaign is usually run alongside other marketing programs, so it can be difficult to figure out which conversions were generated by the influencer.

If you’re planning on providing discounts for the campaign, you can use that to easily measure the conversions the influencer drives. You could also use a unique URL. However, this is unique to using discounts.

If you’re not planning on providing a discount, there are ways you can track the conversions. For example, you may be able to measure factors such as traffic, reach, impressions, engagement rate, etc in order to see how the campaign performed.

“Engagement metrics are already critical in 2017 but will become more of an indicator of influence in the next few years than strictly follower count and purchasing followers will no longer win brand partnerships.” — Samantha Wormser, PR Manager at Power Digital Marketing

“Just as everyone now has ‘credit scores’ — in the next 3-5 years, we believe that we will be able to aggregate data from things like search, page impressions, and even metrics based on responsiveness and ease to work with — in conjunction with comments, shares, likes, etc. to produce a True Influence Score that will provide better insight and even a more accurate prediction of ROI.” — Blaire Massaroni, Account Manager at Cooperatize

How do you select the right technology for influencer marketing?

The introduction adblockers has made influencer marketing an important tactic for marketers. However, some marketers shy away from it because it seems complicated.

This is understandable, but while influencer marketing can feel complicated, it doesn’t have to be with the use of appropriate tools. And there are many tools you can use to manage your influencer marketing campaigns.

However, in order to ensure you’re picking the right tools ,you need to understand how they impact influencer marketing in particular.

Automation

We’ve now reached the point where influencers can be bought programmatically. This makes it easy to find an influencer in your price range and pay to reach their audience.

However, there still needs to be some thought put behind how you select your influencer. Just because they’re in your price range doesn’t mean you should immediately place your money there.

Make sure you’re doing due diligence on your part to ensure the influencer is the right match for your brand and that the campaign with them will be effective.

Many platforms will offer your management tools in addition to the ability to automate your influencer buying, so that you can easily coordinate the details and make sure you’re building a useful strategy with the right people.

“Automation in influencer discovery will also be top priority. We’ve moved from an era where there were 5,000 influencers five years ago to millions of micro-influencers with fewer than 100,000 followers, and that figure grows by thousands each week.” — Gil Eyal, Chief Executive Officer at HYPR

Customer Advocacy Platforms

Keeping content and conversations organized from one advocate to the next can be challenging. Luckily, customer advocacy platforms make those much easier. Which a customer advocacy platform you can manage all your interactions, such as:

  • Messages
  • Activities
  • Invitations
  • Share requests
  • Etc.

The applications help you convert leads into customers and manage and measure their customer engagement levels. In addition, they also help you turn key customers into influencers.

“So what sorts of influencers should professional services companies seek out? The reality TV stars that promote consumer goods aren't usually the best fit for companies looking to build credibility. Instead, look for past clients with a large social network and turn them into brand advocates. A happy client will increase the authenticity of an influencer campaign and make a larger impact than an insta-model with a bigger following.” — Michelle Stansbury, Chief Executive Officer at Little Penguin PR

How can we expect influencer marketing to change over the next 3-5 years?

Influencer marketing exploded onto the scene and quickly became a common marketing strategy. As marketers continue to use it, it will evolve and change.

We reached out and asked several influencer marketing experts to share with us how they think influencer marketing will change in the next three to five years.

AI, augmented reality and geolocation will target a client more precisely

Artificial intelligence, augmented reality and geolocation have huge potential for many different marketing tools, tactics and strategies. When it comes to influencer marketing, here’s what our experts had to say.

“If you track the big trends having to do with marketing, machine learning and generation, and targeting, it becomes apparent that AI recreations of influencers are a real possibility in the future.” — Nicole Bermack, SEO Manager at Sturm Media LLC

“Influencer marketing will adapt to new technologies like augmented reality to seamlessly incorporate digital marketing materials, products, or even services into sponsored content.” — James Michalak, Director at IZEA

Micro-influencers will continue to rise

Micro-influencers has become quite a buzzword in influencer marketing. And this isn’t without cause. As our experts point out, their popularity will only continue to grow for marketers.

“These micro-influencers may not have millions of followers, but their audiences are passionate and listen closely to what they say. Profiles like these will become the go-to for companies wishing to reach their target buyers.” — Patrick Whatman, Head of Content at Mention

“As the popularity and rates of macro influencers continue to rise,  I see brands shifting toward working primarily with micro-influencers (those with followings in the thousands/hundreds) who are hyper targeted toward their audiences.” — Margaret Nam, Social Media Manager at Planit

More emphasis on relationships

As we become more familiar with how influencer marketing works for us, it’s becoming clear that the relationship between the influencer and the marketer is key.

This will be a stronger focus in the next few years, say experts.

“Brands are going to look for Influencers to create content that brings consumers through a journey of product discovery, education and decision. Therefore brands will need influencers to work with them on a much more intimate level versus the current short term campaign based relationship.” — Daisi Jo Pollard Sepulveda, Founder at Brazen Influencers

“Some marketers understand that influencers are experts in their vertical, and part of why so many consumers flock to them is due to their credibility and authenticity for all products they try, whether there is a brand affiliation or not. Other marketers, very much want exclusivity and to form true relationships with the influencers to ensure that there is a believable partnership forming. Regardless of the starting point, finding influencers – the right ones that meet standards and personify a brand – is time consuming and a lot of work. It is in everyone’s best interest to establish longer term relationships to yield best results.” — Jessica Thorpe, President at gen.video

“As consumer distrust deepens, the importance of influencers will only rise, so brands need to lean into the powerful co-branded equity that these partnerships provide.” — Ashley Banks, Director of Digital Strategy & Media at Iced Media

Creation of influencer marketing programs

Marketers are still learning how to best manage influencer marketing campaigns. In the near future, experts believe that influencer marketing programs will be developed and refined in order to make this management easier.

“Right now, we don’t have a formula for the best way to connect and work with influencers, but as this type of marketing grows in popularity, we believe a structure will evolve.” — Kristin Dyak, Digital Marketing Director at The Cyphers Agency

“While for many brands, influencer marketing is still maturing as a component of broader marketing strategies, we will likely see this evolution - both of its wider adoption and heightened regulation by the FTC - drive it to become a standard strategy at the forefront of marketing.” — Maura Smith, Senior Vice President of Affiliate at Pepperjam

“Unified influencer marketing platforms will come as a natural progression away from using multiple point solutions that require marketers to invest time creating and integrating solutions into the marketing stack which becomes cumbersome and complicated.” — Tim Sovay, Chief Operating Officer at CreatorIQ

The push to stay authentic

Influencer marketing has become so common now that audiences are starting to become wary of it. (That was fast, wasn’t it?)

The best way to combat this is to build authentic experiences and relationships with your influencers.

“Influencer marketing is already starting to change as we look at audience reception. The explosion of the coaching industry is leading to a cacophony of unvetted information for prospective clients. Who can you trust who has the right answers to inform and influence your next decision? As the coaching market becomes oversaturated, more people are already focusing on results and integrity. Can you produce the results I'm looking for in my life or business? And, do you pass the 'sniff test' for authenticity?” — Jon Cook, Founder and Principal Content Lead at Keynote Content

“There will be a consequent demand for far more professionalism, balance, transparency and ethical practices within the influencer marketing sector, with much clearer declarations of bias and sponsorship. Perhaps influencers will find they are under the same pressures that professional journalists are currently under, and they will have to take far more responsibility as publishers of content.” — Brian Ahearne, Crowd Leader at CrowdedPR

“Unfortunately, most customers don't feel like they know, trust and like a company based on advertising alone. However, many feel like they can trust the opinion of the influencers they follow. Therefore, the influencer has the ability to bridge the trust gap between the buyer and the seller, and the company will profit faster.” — Juanika Dildy, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Ladypreneur Academy, LLC

“Influencers will need to adapt to the needs of their “customers” - the brands - and their pricing will become more competitive - we will no longer see these crazy numbers for single influencer posts. Additionally, actual influencers who continue to connect with and grow their audiences will also become more savvy in advertising their authentic follower engagement and reach.” — Robert Levenhagen, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer at InfluencerDB

Conclusion

As we’ve said previously, influencer marketing isn’t just an emerging fad. It’s become a key way for marketers to reach their audience  — especially on social media.

For marketers to see the best return on their influencer marketing efforts, they need to do thorough research on their influencer and leverage the right tools to manage their campaign.