The Complete Guide to Influencer Marketing on Social Media

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The growing landscape of social media is upending the business of marketing. There’s no hiding the fact that the internet has altered how people perceive and interact with brands. However, now that everybody is connected, there is a greater scrutiny of products and companies.

One of the emerging trends in digital advertising is the popularity of social media influencers. These are the trendsetters of the digital era; those who have the attention and trust of the public.

In recent years, influencers have had the largest impact of any group over the direction of brand marketing. Approximately 66% of marketing professionals surveyed by Chute said that their brands utilized social media influencers in their campaigns. Of those who do not currently use them, nearly 40% have plans to work with social influencers in the coming year.

Some businesses are struggling with this trend. Dealing with influencers can be unknown territory for those who are used to more traditional means of marketing. It’s also not easy to pick the right influencers and work with them to create effective campaigns. However, if done correctly, it can take a brand to new heights of success.

Identifying Social Media Influencers

As the name implies, social media influencers are people who hold sway over certain social platforms. They are often content creators who went viral or worked their way to prominence, and have a loyal legion of followers.

YouTube generates the most recognized social media influencers. In a survey conducted by Variety in 2015, YouTube creators held 8 of the top 10 slots on a list of American teenagers’ favorite influencers. Many internationally famous actors and musicians didn’t come close to touching their level of popularity. For instance, video-gaming channels such as KSI, PewDiePie and VanossGaming outranked traditional celebrities like Taylor Swift, Will Smith and Johnny Depp.

One of the reasons these figures are held in such high regard is because they are viewed as normal, everyday people. They are perceived to be more relatable and honest than most celebrities. Their lack of glamour and artificiality make them seem more authentic. When asked by TapInfluence and Altimeter Group how they keep their followers consistently engaged, 71.2% of influencers stated that they simply had to be themselves.

The Benefits of Marketing with Social Media Influencers

The sudden boom in social media influencers has made them a hot commodity with marketers. There are many benefits to working with these influencers, as their visibility makes them ideal vectors for advertising brands to wider audiences.

Word of Mouth

The saturation of paid advertisements has reached its peak. It’s gotten to the point that most people have become blind to them. In fact, it has been reported that 86% of consumers can’t remember the content of the last banner ad they saw. Furthermore, 41% of consumers have installed adblock technology to erase their intrusive existence entirely.

Advertising materials have become so prevalent that the public is now immune to their tactics. Most people value their fellow customers’ testimony over the company’s own words. As a result, word of mouth has emerged as the dominant form of marketing. It has been estimated to be the primary influence behind 20–50% of all consumers’ buying decisions.

Social media influencers hold a good deal of power in this area. According to Twitter, 40% of users admitted that they bought a product after seeing a favorite influencer tweet about it.

Expanding Your Market

When working with an influencer, you gain access to their viewer base. This means being able to tap into previously unreached demographics. Some brands could use this to diversify and magnify their outreach, while others could use it to narrow their focus.

When the company Honest Tea wanted to attract young mothers to the brand, it formed partnerships with influencers like blogger Jessica Shyba. Best known for journaling her family’s everyday life, Shyba currently has around 525k followers on Instagram and 33k on Twitter. She uses Honest Tea’s hashtag #RefreshinglyHonest to discuss candid moments in parenting with her viewers.

This campaign has been a dramatic success for Honest Tea. Since bringing Shyba on board, the company has enjoyed 20% annual growth and over $200 million in sales.

Gaining Trust

As stated earlier, social media influencers are viewed by their followers as credible and truthful. Nearly as many people trust recommendations from influencers (49%) as they do their own friends (56%). An influencer’s approval of any product, if it seems like their real opinion, is usually taken at face value.

This trustworthiness can also rub off on the brand itself. The willingness to associate with honest, uncompromised voices lends the brand a sense of integrity.

Selecting the Best Influencers for Your Brand

The first instinct is to seek out only the biggest, most popular social media influencers. This is not always the wisest decision. In fact, being selective can have more impact. Choosing the right influencers comes down to a variety of factors.

Considering the Audience

When creating a marketing campaign, the first step should always be to define the intended audience. This is a difficult but crucial decision. The ideal, of course, would be to appeal to the widest consumer base possible. However, this goal makes it hard to create a focused strategy. Targeting smaller demographics will result in a more precise and potent campaign.

After you’ve pinpointed the audience, you should choose an influencer based on their interests. There is an enormous variety of content creators on every social platform. Their audiences range from broad to niche.

If a company wants to attract Millennials and Generation Z consumers, they would likely consider social media influencers from YouTube. For example, a YouTuber like Markiplier would garner attention from gamers and tech fans, while makeup artist Michelle Phan would intrigue the fashionista crowd.

Keeping Consistency

The image of a brand is a vital part of its identity. This needs to be kept in mind while searching for an appropriate influencer for a campaign. If the personality or reputation of an influencer clashes with the brand, it will reduce the impression of consistency.

A brand that wants to appear playful and irreverent would be best matched with an influencer who specializes in humor and comedy. A brand that wants to maintain a serious image could work with an influencer who tackles pressing social issues. What is crucial is that the pairing makes sense.

Don’t Force It

If an influencer doesn’t seem to have actual interest in the brand, then just let it go. Fake praise will be instantly evident to any viewer. After all, the main reason that many follow influencers is because of their sincerity. It’s best to base a campaign in genuine enthusiasm.

Ami Mathur, general manager at Honest Tea, puts it this way: “I personally want to work with people who naturally like our brand—I don’t want to pay for forced relationships.”

Engaging with Influencers

After selecting a potential social media influencer to work with, it’s best to reach out to them gradually, taking small steps. Don’t rush into making sponsorship deals. If you do, some might react with distrust or skepticism toward your brand’s intentions. As far as they know, it might just be an attempt to piggyback on their success.

Establishing a Relationship

You should do your research and follow the influencer for a while. Get to know them as well as you can. After that, you can begin responding and reacting to their preexisting content. Try to refer back to their other content, including any in jokes they might share with their followers. This will show them that you are actually paying attention to their work. If they are receptive, further conversation can take place.

On some occasions, influencers will be the first ones to reach out. These are fun opportunities to create rapport and participate in public dialogue. Particularly amusing Twitter chains have a tendency to go viral.

Finding Shared Ground

Once you feel comfortable in your budding relationship with an influencer, you can start being more forward about forming a partnership. Start a discussion about mutually beneficial ways in which you could cooperate.

Additionally, some influencers have certain causes that they are passionate about. For example, they might have charities that they have promoted or worked with previously. You could offer to make donations to these organizations in exchange for their partnership.

Once you’ve established a connection, you could suggest joint projects, such as video collaborations, product reviews, giveaways, fundraisers and meet-up events.

Treating Influencers as Partners

Never forget that social media influencers are not employees, and should not be treated as such. You are not in a position of authority or superiority in this relationship. Most influencers are doing very well on their own. Sponsorships aren’t necessary if they’re already buoyed by their fan bases. So if they decide to engage with a brand, it’s of their own volition.

Influencers should be considered an equal party here. Listen to their input and take their opinions seriously. Giving them their due respect will be far more conducive to a fruitful, long-term partnership.

Maintaining a Successful Campaign

The success of a campaign is determined by the commitment exerted by all of the participants involved. It can’t be assumed that an influencer’s internet popularity will be enough. There are many elements to consider while keeping it all on track.

Set Guidelines

Before launching the campaign, make sure that clear and understandable guidelines have been written out. Together with your influencer, draft a document that establishes the expectations and responsibilities of both parties.

Refer back to this if any disagreements arise. Organization will be essential to the campaign’s success. It will help prevent misunderstandings and errors in communication between parties.

Preserving Honesty

There will be some temptation to exert complete control over an influencer’s sponsored content. However, it would be a mistake to do so.

For one, it would hurt the relationship with the influencer by stifling their personal expression. In a 2015 study by Crowdtap, 76% of surveyed influencers stated that they were more inclined to work with brands that respected their creative freedom.

Another reason is that the audience might take issue with it. An influencer’s followers expect to hear their unfiltered thoughts and impressions. As they have spent countless hours reading and listening to these influencers, the audience will have a good sense of when an influencer is being totally honest. Anything that rings false will trigger alarms.

This is why the truth must be preserved no matter what. Sometimes this means dealing with criticisms and negative evaluations. There is absolutely no guarantee that an influencer will like everything about a brand or a product. In fact, it is far more likely that they will bring up problems they find.

Embrace their honesty with a sense of humility. Maybe even crack jokes about it. Your audience will appreciate your modesty and openness.

Ongoing Ambassadorship

Try to stick with the same social media influencers if possible. About 71% of surveyed marketers have identified ongoing ambassadorships as the “most effective” tactic.

If a trusted influencer continues to use or promote the same brand, it will be presumed that the products are worthwhile. Aside from whatever financial compensation you’ve already agreed to, consider sending them freebies as a reward for their eagerness. This demonstrates your commitment, and could incentivize their continued affiliation with the brand. 

Responsiveness to the Community

Don’t limit the brand’s interactions to social media influencers. Get involved in their communities as well. Listen to their comments and adjust the campaign based on their suggestions.

Making the audience feel involved will alleviate the suspicion that they are viewing blatant advertising material. The marketing should always enhance their media experience, rather than cheapen it.

Disclose Your Relationship

Lately, the Federal Trade Commission has been cracking down on influencers who don’t divulge their partnership with a brand. Over 90 influencers on Instagram were sent warnings about clearly disclosing this information when advertising products.

In the past, brands and influencers have tried sneaky ways to get around the direct disclosure of sponsored posts. This includes ambiguous wording, burying disclosures in captions that can only be seen with the post fully expanded, or using obscure abbreviations like #sp.

Being caught for dishonest practices would be irreparably damaging for both parties. It could easily erode the audience’s trust and perceptions of authenticity.

The best option is to just comply with FTC guidelines and regulations as they are written. It’s not worth risking all that you’ve worked for up to that point.

About the author

Neal Hallenbeck

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