Dismissed by most marketing grown-ups just a few years ago as a frivolous, risky medium, influencer marketing these days is an all but essential channel for consumer brands. Influencers can be authentic and compelling in an age of wandering attention spans and ad indifference, and the commercial side has professionalised faster than many would have predicted, becoming – if you do it right – increasingly brand-safe, user-friendly and measurable.
Marketers have got this message – last year saw an 83% year-on-year growth in influencer marketing spend in the US and Canada alone. But as with any form of marketing, you can do it badly or you can do it well. Methods evolve, strategies stagnate, and many brands could do with giving their approach to influencers a polish. Here are five strategies to put the shine back into your influencer marketing.
1. Look for long-term relationships – and let your influencers influence
While it is possible to bundle together great clusters of influencers in order to push out a brand message, that doesn’t necessarily play to one of the great strengths of influencer marketing: the persuasive personality and unique style of the influencers themselves. There are strong suggestions that it may work better for brands to choose fewer influencers more carefully and then use them for a period of time, allowing a partnership to develop, with the influencer in the creative lead.
Clearly, that requires brands to make careful choices. Reach, audience profile and obedience are not the only factors here; there must also be a mutual trust, compatible values, genuine buy-in from the influencer and a clear understanding of goals and boundaries, ideally laid out in some form of playbook. But the great advantage to a fruitful long-term influencer relationship is that where the influencer has more freedom, they can embed the brand more meaningfully into their content. And it also means, of course, that you don’t constantly need to find new influencers.
2. Go micro
The influencers who claim much of the mainstream attention are high-profile, often controversial and inevitably far out of the budget of the typical brand. But the real essence of influencer marketing is in the work of numerous smaller, more focused, more authentic names, many of them technically micro-influencers.
The definition of a micro-influencer varies according to who’s talking, but it generally means in the relatively low thousands – 1,000 to 10,000 is a common definition. Not only do such influencers work for lower rates than those with many more followers, but they can often offer sharper targeting, a more genuine whiff of authenticity and higher rates of engagement – 60% higher than macro-influencer accounts, according to one much-quoted study.
3. Consider a platform
When influencers were a rag-tag bunch and brands only used them here and there, plenty of marketing departments kept their influencer marketing entirely in-house. But given the advances in measurement and influencer strategy, not to mention the huge range of options, there are strong incentives to use a platform that can offer influencer discovery, analytics, contracting and payment services. Influencer marketing is a powerful tool but the devil is in the detail, and that is where a platform can help.
4. Let insight be your guide
In certain quarters, influencer marketing has shrugged off its haphazard early days, and the professionalisation of the market means the analytics used to measure other forms of online marketing can now equally be applied to influencers. Using the right platform tool, brands can commission influencers based on their position in the conversion path – or any number of other custom parameters – and learn what contributions different influencers have made to sales overall.
Click-path reporting, using both cookie-based and non-cookie-based methods allows brands to track customer actions and pay influencers on the basis of their contribution to the traffic they create. When influencers are fairly and accurately rewarded, they work all the harder for your cause.
5. Know your channels
While YouTube did much to birth influencer culture and still remains the second most important social media channel in the eyes of US brands, sister network Instagram is the golden influencer channel for most marketers these days, not least because it offers the option of regular posts, Stories and, through IGTV, long-form videos.
Nothing stays still for long in social media, however, and it pays to monitor the buzzy little guys because they really aren’t little at all. The short-form video app TikTok, for instance, has been a household name for little more than a year but has been downloaded more than 1.5 billion times, dramatically cornering the market in teen and twenty-something audiences. Brands have not quite found their feet there yet, but they are dipping in toes, while gamer network Twitch, another youth giant, is beginning to attract non-gaming brands.
Putting these ideas into practice and developing the right partnerships will make a significant difference to your influencer marketing and ensure it shines brightly within your overall marketing strategy.