Chances are, unless you’ve been living under a rock in North Korea, you’ve heard of influencer marketing. In fact you probably know an influencer or at least someone who aspires to be one.
And why wouldn’t they? Successful influencers can earn a lot of money just by creating content for their large audiences of engaged followers.
So who are influencers?
They’re usually an individual who has grown their social media followings by sharing content on a certain topic.
Sometimes they’re experts in an area and are particularly adept at makeup tutorials, sometimes they create especially high quality content like photographers or entertainers.
Depending on what criteria you use for who an “influencer” is, there’s potentially millions out there. And there’s an influencer for everything too, with the potential to reach highly targeted audiences with incredibly specific interests.
Anyone from world superstar celebrities with hundreds of millions of fans right down to those with just a couple thousand followers all there to see their favourite niche content can be considered an influencer.
Usually they’ll be labelled depending on the size of their following; celebrities – self-explanatory but usually 1 million followers or more, influencers – we’re looking for an audience of at least 100,000 fans, micro-influencers – a good rule is 10,000 to 100,000 followers.
In recent times, as the market has become more refined, the term nano-influencers has popped up – those with 1,000 to 10,000 followers. All of them will of course range in the prices they command to work with and they all have their own benefits for brands to engage with depending on their goals.
If you’ve got deep pockets and you’re looking to raise brand awareness about your new perfume line, a Kardashian collaboration will get the word out to millions of potential customers. If you’re looking to ship yoga mats in Luxembourg – a bunch of local fitness influencers will be more efficient.
There’s fashion influencers, food influencers, sports influencers, technology influencers, those who dance, those who prank, those who make you laugh, cry or sigh.
There’s even celebrity pet influencers, some of which command millions of followers.
Why is influencer marketing so effective?
Their followers trust their tastes and value their opinions which makes an implied endorsement of a product or service an extremely attractive prospect for a company looking to promote to specific audiences.
Obviously it’s not as easy as it sounds, any veteran influencer will be able to tell you of the blood, sweat and tears it took them to get to that position, a position where they can command sometimes thousands of dollars per post.
So what exactly is going on when a company is using influencer marketing to promote a product, service or brand name? Well essentially they’re leveraging the popularity and influence a content creator has over their audience.
In the simplest terms, a company will pay an influencer to share content that promotes whatever they’re offering.
Sometimes this is a one-off image share of the influencer using the product, it could be them sharing the product in their story, or a review of the product on their YouTube channel.
Sometimes it’s a long term partnership with consistent content created around the product or service.
Usually the brand will be expected to be tagged in posts to help promote their own social channels in the process and in terms of generating sales, a unique link can be used for the influencer to share with their followers or sometimes a unique discount code can be shared for use at the checkout.
In the majority of cases, an influencer will be an individual who has a niche and demographically consistent audience interested in the style of content shared by the poster – a marketeers dream.
When done effectively, influencer marketing will produce the highest return on investment of marketing dollars – up to $6.50 per $1 spend!
With returns like that, it’s no wonder the industry has exploded over the last 10 years. Notably, a period in which social media access via handheld devices has become widely available.
How it works
Well it starts with influencer selection. Whether they want just one big hitter with a massive following or want to spread their budget over some smaller influencers with more targeted audiences, the selection process is key.
Firstly, the best influencer is one you’ve already worked with. You’ve already established a relationship and work-flow and you know what you’re getting – or not getting if the case may be.
But for first timers, or those looking for new avenues to reach for consumers, choosing the right influencers to work with is critical.
It should be noted that smaller influencers, in most cases, have a higher engagement rate than larger accounts. But of course having a celebrity’s name attached to your brand and endorsing your product can provide long lasting benefits by association.
If you have a good idea about who your target consumer is, you’ll need to hone in on their interests and what type of influencer might they be following. Promoting a new herbal tea brand? Food, lifestyle and health influencers might be a good place to start.
Another consideration is the platform
Marketing products to a younger demographic via quick and entertaining content? Snapchat and TikTok influencers are your go-to.
Want a more in-depth feature or review of your product? YouTube is your answer.
Looking to work with fashion influencers to share you new winter range of clothes? Instagram might be your best bet.
Depending on the influencer, they might work directly with the brand themselves or they might be part of a collective or agency who will handle their paid work and campaigns for them.
Of course you can get detailed demographic insights for each influencer to make sure you’re able to reach your intended audience. You can also get post-campaign results insights – magic!
Get money get paid
The compensation situation might vary from influencer to influencer as well as depending on what you’re promoting and what your goals are.
Obviously the simplest setup is a direct pay-per-post relationship. But a commission based arrangement might be more applicable.
Sometimes influencers are offered a commission on each sale (or signup or download or click) to both offer a fair agreement and negate the risk of the brand losing out on an inefficient campaign – a al affiliate marketing.
Occasionally a combination of both of these are implemented where a fee is paid, with commissions owed on each sale also due.
Once the influencers are selected and compensation is negotiated and agreed upon, the creative is next to finalise. Either the brand provides the creative content – or at least provides very specific direction on the content – or creative freedom is left up to the influencer themselves.
Again this will depend on the goals of the campaign and the type of content desired, but it’s important to note that when the brand takes the creative control of the content to be shared on the influencers channel, the campaign is subject to more stringent regulations in certain regions.
Playing by the rules
Due to such staggering growth, the rules and regulations have been playing catch-up. Obviously with traditional adverts, it’s clear to the consumer that they’re being marketed towards ad receiving brand directed messaging.
With influencer marketing, sometimes this can be obscured; are they just sharing a photo of some trainers they like? Or are they being compensated by the brand to share these trainers?
Regulations vary from region to region, but the general rule is that if an influencer is being paid to promote something, they must disclose that.
This is often done by including a hashtag such as #ad or #advert. Social media companies have also provided tools to help with this by allowing tagging of business partners to indicate a “paid promotion”.
One of the problems
As mentioned earlier, lots of people are wannabe influencers but they don’t want to put in the time and effort to build their following before they start engaging with brands. Enter the fake follower phenomenon.
This is a brand’s biggest headache when working with influencers. Countless marketing budgets have been blown promoting to fake accounts, bots, or followers who haven’t actively followed an influencer.
Luckily there’s a few tools out there, aside from manually checking out an influencer’s followers and engagement rates, to help with the necessary due diligence here.
Instagram tracking platforms can show, pretty clearly, when an account has bought fake followers. Have they grown to 35,000 followers consistently over the course of 2 years? Or did they grow in especially jumpy stages.
Another way, as touched on earlier, to remove the risk of wasting a budget on an influencer with fake followers is to go down the commission based route. If they make you sales, great – they get paid. If they make no sales because they just don’t have enough real followers, no problem – you don’t pay up and don’t lose out.
All in all, influencer marketing can be one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to reach and connect with your target audience. Like all campaigns, it takes some thought and time to get it right. It’s always worth consulting with an expert in the field who has a track record of getting results, especially if it’s a new area of marketing for your business.