Paying someone popular to promote a product is one of the oldest forms of marketing. Yet today’s iteration of this – influencer marketing – remains something of a dark art for many brands.
For the purposes of this post I’m defining influencer marketing as: a brand providing an individual with some form of incentive (money, gift, early access) to post on their personal social media account(s) about a product or service. Predominantly via visually-led platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat.
With that context, here are nine aspects of influencer marketing to consider:
1. So who’s in charge here?
Let’s start with arguably the most contentious point. Where should influencer marketing sit in the business?
Remember the early days of social media, when marketing teams often dealt with customer queries on social? In most cases that’s now shifted to a customer service operation.
Historically blogger outreach has been managed by PR teams, but is today’s “influencer marketing landscape” more of a marketing function? Will it go the other way and come back into the social team? No right or wrong answer on this one – probably a case of going where the right skills lie in the business.
2. Big fish in small ponds.
One of the most interesting aspects for people building a brand is the shift of power from just a small number of superstar celebrities who can attract attention. There’s now a growing group of people who can be genuinely called influencers. Yes, they might only occupy a niche, but in that small pond they’re THE fish you want to know. And in fact that’s often a benefit because it means some of your segmentation work has already been done for you. 🙌
3. Control versus credibility.
We can look at this on a spectrum…
- Traditional celebrity endorsement is clearly a very staged-managed activity; everything’s dressed up to look just right.
- Further down the spectrum falls affiliate-style blogger outreach; there’s usually a little more flex for the blogger, but ultimately much of the control is with the brand.
- Then comes more open blogger outreach with individuals writing about products and services they’ve received from a brand. Of course the blogger’s credibility is important in getting readers, but a well-written, balanced review will still gain traction.
- Then comes influencer marketing which feels quite different in its ephemeral nature. Often visually-led (Instagram, Snapchat etc) there’s little time or space for a “review” as such. The product/service is featured with essentially a “thumbs up” from the influencer. Because of this it’s the pure association with the influencer that’s the critical point.
To help ensure the influencer’s content feels as authentic as possible, brands need to hold back on the level of control they exert. Indeed, influencers must stick to their usual style or face losing interest from a savvy audience which is fully aware of product placement (whether the influencer flags it or not).
Some brands might get concerned if they see an influencer promoting both theirs and a rival brand’s products. On the contrary, I’d see that making the influencer’s content even more credible – they’re just posting about stuff they think is cool. Of course this relies on two not insubstantial things: i) you have a good product /service ii) the influencer isn’t a complete sell out!
Done right, the influencer should be adding some value to their audience by featuring something they’ll love, not just pumping out a brand message. Which is why, of course, getting a great fit between the brand and influencer is so important.
4. A pyramid scheme?
One of the big shifts in mindset that influencer marketing challenges is moving from a small number of brand ambassadors with huge reach to a larger group of influencers who’ll deliver a wider base of smaller interactions – which collectively permeate the market.
In a perfect world there would be a balance; a classic pyramid structure. As the “smaller” influencers grow, so they will demand increased remuneration – which will mean increased competition at the top of the pyramid.
5. What I want, when I want.
A key strategic debate that brands have about using social media (in general) is the balance between an always-on approach and campaign spikes. Influencer marketing is no different.
Clearly campaigns have a role, but often remain a brand-led construct rather than addressing a customer need. A really exciting opportunity with influencer marketing is the idea of influencers discussing products and services in a more organic manner, without it having to be neatly aligned to a through-the-line campaign. Sure, that’s not without its challenges, but noteworthy none the less.
6. To post or not to post?
Similar to paid advertising on social networks, many brands could benefit from re-booting their media budget planning for influencer marketing.
How many brands have taken a step back and asked the question – how much value is our brand-content generating?
Does anyone actually care what we have to say? Should we stop trying to broadcast our own message and just put all our eggs in influencers’ baskets? Ok, perhaps not all your eggs, but what about half of your dozen? It would be a bold statement of intent.
7. Keeping the plates spinning.
A significant challenge with influencer marketing is managing the growing number of relationships you’re attempting to foster. Keeping tabs of who’s doing what, when and for what remuneration is essential to managing the operation and demonstrating a net benefit. There are plenty of tools out there to help teams manage these tasks, with the likes of Brandnew (right) and Tapinfluence doing much of the heavy lifting in smart ways.
8. Money, money, money.
A statistic that wowed me recently was someone who’s sitting right at the pinnacle of all influencer pyramids – Selena Gomez. With 55m Instagram followers she reportedly matches the equivalent of $550,000 per social media post. Clearly she isn’t your typical influencer, and not the type of emerging influencer most brands want (can afford to) to work with.
Last year CAP issued some updated guidelines around commercial vlogging relationships, but in a rapidly evolving industry there’s the potential for these to get left behind as new platforms emerge. My guess (anecdotally) is that many product placements on the likes of Instagram and Snapchat are not as clearly marked as they could or should be.
Regardless of who or what, acknowledging there’s been some form of value exchange between the brand and the influencer is a must (be that money, a present or early access). My recommendation is always for brands to take the lead and make sure there’s an agreed way to indicate this.
9. Is it 2011 all over again?
In many ways the situation with influencer marketing is similar to that of social media customer care, circa 2011…
- Brands have been doing (in other teams and in other ways) for years.
- There’s a lot of chatter about it in social media circles.
- There’s no standard way to do it.
- Brands are keen, but sometimes unsure how best to deliver it.
- There isn’t even a common name; influencer marketing, blogger outreach (old skool), creator marketing (on trend) ✌️
Are you using influencer marketing as part of your content distribution strategy? Does it follow a more traditional “blogger outreach” approach, or have you dipped a toe in the Instagram/Snapchat water?