Influencer marketing is all the rage. Because social media influencers are largely regular people, not untouchable celebrities with bottomless pockets, their messages resonate strongly with consumers.
But we’ve already established that influencer marketing is good. How do you actually do it?
Here are five steps, from figuring out who to work with to giving your campaign a purpose beyond reaching their audience.
1. Look beyond reach
When you decide to work with a social media influencer, it’s only natural to look for the one with the largest following.
Instead, you should look for the one who fits in with your brand.
“Consumers don’t trust any messages that they perceive as coming from a marketer,” says Tom Stockham, chief executive (CEO) of eXperticity.
“Consumers look for humans they can ask for advice and someone who feels like an expert: not Kim Kardashian, but someone they know or someone they feel like they know.”
That perceived familiarity and relatable quality is exactly why influencers appeal to people. Working with someone for no other reason than they’re popular defeats the purpose of that.
It’s similar to the celebrity endorsements that rarely ring true; we all know LeBron James doesn’t drive a Kia.
If someone is a natural fit, it comes off as more authentic, precisely because it is. Who better to promote your brand than someone who actually likes it?
In February, L’Oreal Paris worked with TAG Creative and Madilyn Bailey, a Wisconsin musician with a YouTube audience of 2.4m subscribers, to promote its straight shampoo. When people criticized the ad in the comments, Bailey defended it – not because L’Oreal asked her to, but because she felt proud of it.
“Our heritage is finding the intrinsic worth in every woman and making every woman feel like the best version of herself because ‘you’re worth it,'” says Bianca Bolouri, assistant vice president of L’Oreal Paris Hair Care. “These are not things that when you work with an influencer, they can just cram in. If you created the right relationship with them and bring them into the family of the brand, they will naturally become ambassadors.”
2. Respect the influencer’s contribution
Too often, brands approach influencers expecting them to agree to anything and work for samples and exposure, simply grateful for the opportunity.
However, an influencer already has exposure and is also something of a brand in his or her own right.
Ryan Doon, a comedian with 3.3 million Vine followers, points out that content creation is a much more involved process than people realize. He’s had brands ask him to create five Vines in a night. Between costumes, getting the right shot and making sure his freakishly accurate Jay Z impression is freakishly accurate enough, that’s simply not possible.
“People will think, ‘Oh, it takes six seconds,'” he says. “But I’ll spend six hours on a Vine, just to make it perfect because I know what my audience wants and I have high expectations for my content.”
According Crowdtap research presented at ad:tech in New York, 44 percent of influencers decide to work with a brand because the opportunity is relevant to their audience. Though you should aim to work with influencers who are fans of your brand, only 14 percent of them consider that their main motivation.
When asked about working with a brand a second time, 68 percent of the influencers surveyed named competitive compensation as a factor. More than half also cited being shown the same respect as any other publisher.
3. Be flexible
Influencers want to be treated with respect, not only as partners in a campaign, but also in terms of their creative input. Brands sometimes have clear ideas of what they want, but the influencer knows what is likely to stick with his or her audience.
“Treat influencers like subject matters experts and the trusted authority in what resonates with their audience,” says Claudia Page, vice president of product and partner development at Crowdtap. “Give them context and give them guidelines, but get out of the way and allow them to have 100 percent creative autonomy to have a successful post.”
Per her company’s research, 77 percent of influencers said creative freedom is the key to their long-term partnerships with brands.
Doon points out that when he worked with the Travel Channel, he proposed playing his character, Cathy. The skit didn’t look funny on paper, but he knew his audience would love it.
The final product, which promoted the network’s Booze Traveler series, has been looped nearly 2m times. According to Doon, people on other social platforms constantly ask him if he wants a margarita.
4. Remember that the influencer is not your target
One of the most famous YouTubers is Michelle Phan, whose beauty tutorials paved the way for her own L’Oreal cosmetics line. She’s also an avid gamer, so it made sense for Nintendo to work with her on a campaign, right?
Not really. Nintendo’s behind-the-scenes video got 15,000 views; the most recent video Phan uploaded on her own channel got more than 1m in just two weeks. She may be a self-described “Nintendo fangirl,” but the same isn’t necessarily true for her make-up-loving audience.
“I’ve had brands tell me 100 times that they’re trying to reach 18- to 24-year-old Hispanic females who make this much money. They ask us to find an influencer who fits that exact description. It doesn’t work like that,” says Page.
An influencer’s main audience isn’t necessarily the demographic they belong to. If you’re looking to reach a certain target audience, it’s better to work backwards: look at the content those people tend to consume and then figure out who your best influencer might be.
5. What’s next?
When you work with an influencer, you get access to his or her loyal following. What do you do with it, though?
If your goal is simply brand awareness, you will most likely accomplish that. However, since the influencer potentially has the attention of millions of people, a more direct call to action may be a better strategy.
Partnering with Bailey helped L’Oreal get 12m impressions. But because the brand wanted people to use its shampoo, not just know that it exists, there was a pop-up offering viewers free samples.
“If you watched the video and don’t like it and don’t really like the brand, then who cares?” says Bolouri. “We were able to see that when someone watched the video, they liked it and actually clicked the product and tried it.”
Want to jump into influencer marketing? Here are a few steps to take.
- Don’t focus too much on reach. You don’t want to work with the most popular influencer you can get; you want to work with the one who’s a natural fit for your brand.
- Respect the influencer. Think of it as a partnership. Influencers are brands in their own right.
- Give the influencer creative freedom. Creating content for their audience is what they do. Trust that they know what works for reaching people.
- Who are you looking to reach: the influencer, or his or her audience? Just because someone is part of a certain demographic doesn’t necessarily mean that’s who’s watching their content.
- Have a plan. What do you want to accomplish beyond getting a lot of views? Include a call-to-action.
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