It’s no secret among advertisers that online influencers are a powerful way to reach consumers in meaningful and authentic ways via social media.
Over the past few years, this trend has continued to evolve and reach scale globally. Why? Because marketers have always known that consumers want more authentic messaging—and today’s consumers believe advertising less and less, they are blocking online ads, and they are turning to their social networks and friends for guidance on products and services instead of commercials.
This shift in consumer behavior is having a larger impact on advertising, in general; no longer do you have a single partner that ideates, creates, films, and distributes a piece of commercial content. Instead, expert creators are driving these activities. They know their audience (our consumers), they understand what they care about, and their fees are often more affordable than those of traditional production companies.
But as with any new channel, there are just as many risks. Between FTC guidelines, poor quality content, and bad fits between influencers and brands, marketers need to be careful when engaging with influencers, agencies, and networks.
Here are some things we have learned along the way that will help ensure your influencer campaigns are a scalable success.
1. Verification: Nothing is potentially more harmful than picking a bad influencer.
Double-check every aspect of their activities: Have they promoted your competitors’ products? Are their audiences real? Does their site comply with your brand safety standards? How are they acting in other channels? (They could be the perfect influencers on Twitter, but when you look at what they post on Facebook ... wow!)
It’s very important to check them thoroughly. You don’t want to end up on the news because your influencer went crazy.
2. Don’t let creative drive: One of the top reasons we choose influencers is because they know how to reach and communicate with their audiences, and if we believe their audiences are our consumers, we need to let them do the talking.
Too many influencer campaigns fail because the creative agency or brand was micromanaging the content creators. Let the influencers talk to their audience! Otherwise, you’ll end up with another inauthentic 30-second commercial and the influencer ends up getting called out by his or her followers.
3. Mix your personalities Obviously, influencer marketing does not have the scale and reach of TV or other mass reach vehicles.
Far too often, brands invest their entire budget into a single (often off-target) high-reach “celebrity” influencer. But in order to make a real difference and get the right reach authentically, we need to be able to scale up by mixing different levels and personalities with a blend of high-reach creators and rising stars.
4. Create processes, define objectives: In order to scale influencers’ campaigns efficiently and well, put processes and systems in place across the entire engagement, from influencer selection and negotiation to publishing and payment. Also, although it’s important to let your influencers drive their creations, institute clear guidelines regarding messaging to ensure strong alignment with brand standards.
An important piece of this is to define and share the objective. Remember, your influencers are business people; they want more of your business and will only get it if you are successful.
Be clear, concrete, and direct about what you want to achieve together. If you want them to focus on a particular niche or get their audiences to write reviews after trying your product or participating in a contest, tell them. You’ll get better results when influencers understand your goals and convey them to their audiences.
5. Engage with their fans: Whenever and wherever they post, make sure you monitor their followers’ comments and questions. So often, we see great influencer content with awesome consumer questions but no brand in sight to answer them.
Don’t miss out on this priceless opportunity to create countless real connections with the creator’s audience.
6. Partner with the influencers: Today’s digital influencers are not like the hobby bloggers of the 1990s; these are professional creators. This is often their only job and how they support their family; many have staff and payroll to worry about.
While they might not cost as much as a high-end celebrity, you should still treat them with the same level of respect and collaboration as you would any celebrity. That level of partnership will build tremendous trust and great ROI in the long run.
7. Measure everything: Influencer marketing is still evolving and can be hard to measure. I have yet to see the perfect framework to measure its results. For instance, on a blog you can have trackable links and measure audiences, but there are less options on Snapchat and Instagram.
We have found that if you measure everything (sales, social conversations, Amazon page views, retail sales, search volume, etc.) you will find some interesting correlations and results. These will allow you to optimize and prioritize—and prove the campaign’s value to your finance department.
8. Be proud and disclaim: Would you love a cover story in the news and trade publications? Easy, just don’t disclaim your paid influencer. You will get lots of attention—from the FTC. Don’t end up with a horror story!
The FTC is very clear: You must display and disclaim correctly that it is a sponsored post. Don’t be ashamed of it; if you work with a creator on great content, be proud of it!
9. Amplify the right posts: The beauty of influencers is the relationship with their audiences. We have seen engagement on influencer posts be as much as eight times greater than on brand-owned posts, and they have gotten great results by amplifying the influencer content.
So why do we keep amplifying lower-performing brand posts? Generally, because it’s easier and safer. Work with your media department or media agency to put together the plan and process, but the moment you see a post creating great engagement, amplify it!
10. Start small and go big: Unfortunately we continue to see brands jumping blindly into influencer marketing, partnering with random platforms and spending heavily on not-so-well-selected influencers. They burn through the budget quickly and hope to see something go “viral.” This is not how it works. Brands should start small with micro influencers, test and see what works and what doesn’t, record their findings, and refine their processes in order to scale it smartly. Test, learn, and reapply so you can scale with success.
There are plenty more tips to creating a successful influencer campaign, but if you heed just one, I would say to treat your influencers like publishers or celebrities. Give them a lot of insights, feedback, and guidance. The more you can share with them, the better they will work with and for you.