The marketing world is in a constant state of flux. Once-reliable methods for customer outreach and conversion are evaporating faster than we could’ve ever imagined. As if on cue, a new paradigm has emerged to save the day in the social marketing space: influencer marketing. But what exactly is influencer marketing, and how can you make it work for your brand?
A Fancy Name for an Old Concept
Boiled down to its most basic tenets, influencer marketing is little more than a high-tech word-of-mouth campaign. After all, people have taken recommendation-based actions since the dawn of time, and influencer marketing is no different.
Word-of-mouth is incredibly powerful: a recent McKinsey & Company study concluded that influencers account for twice the number of sales as traditional paid marketing.
The only thing that’s really changed is the form these conversations take. What used to be a friendly chat over coffee now generally takes place online, with a much larger potential audience. Smart marketers have learned to scale ambition to audience, crafting the right message and targeting the influencers that will have the greatest impact.
Finding Your Cheerleaders
While old-world word-of-mouth marketing relied on conversations that marketers were almost never in the room for, the very nature of social networking allows us to tease out these brand discussions almost in real-time. That’s a definite advantage, but it’s only part of the equation.
As always, the first thing you need to consider is your audience. The more specific the target, the easier it will be to identify the key influencers you’re looking for.
If your brand is a millennial-focused beauty product, a sports blogger – no matter how much reach they may have – is probably not going to help drive conversions. Creating a laser-focused influencer campaign around popular, respected lifestyle bloggers (as Birchbox did earlier this year with Emily Schuman) is a far more effective use of your time and money.
A positive one-on-one interaction can turn a casual fan into a lifelong cheerleader. Look for opportunities to involve influencers, but put as much thought into it as you would for any other campaign.
A well-timed YouTube unboxing of your latest product can start a chain reaction, but a bit.ly link to a sales page isn’t going to make much of an impact. Influencer marketing, like all good social, should be a conversation, and authenticity is paramount.
“The reality is that no amount of creativity can replace sincerity,” says Jack Holt, co-founder and CEO of Mattr in a recent blog post. “We can create new ad platforms and novel content strategies, but consumers have become incredibly savvy about sales schemes.”
Measurement Is Key
Defining success is always tricky, and it’s no different with influencer marketing. Make sure your ultimate goal is both clearly defined and realistically attainable. Even small campaigns, as part of an overall strategy, can have a huge impact.
Naturebox, a delivery service specializing in healthy snacks, knows this all too well. Partnering with Joanna Goddard, the woman behind A Cup of Jo, they posted three photos to Instagram of her children enjoying the company’s snacks. This small opportunity resulted in over 1,200 likes and countless eyes on the product, all from a trusted source in the mommy-blogging community.
Quite a few metrics are available to judge an influencer campaign, both during and after. Be on the lookout for discussions of your brand and gauge the sentiment. Positive mentions are great, but also pay attention to any negative mentions. An influencer campaign can backfire quickly if it’s seen as too sales-y or exploitive.
If a campaign is doing well, consider adding direct measurement capabilities. Give your influencers unique, trackable URLs to really measure their impact. Whether the ultimate goal is website hits/brand awareness or a sale, concrete numbers are a great way to augment and amplify more ethereal successes like shares and retweets.
When all is said and done, the value of influencer marketing is entirely dependent on what you put into it. If you get it right, using influencers to target the customers who haven’t found you yet could be the smartest move your brand can make.