The impact of influencers on today’s digital marketing plans is undeniable. Every brand is clamoring to secure partnerships with high-quality content creators. And audiences cannot open their Instagram applications without seeing sponsored posts from their favorite bloggers and social media personalities.
What a few short years ago seemed like a novelty practice scattered among a few forward-thinking brands and agencies has given rise to a dedicated marketing vertical.
Yet although this rise has been in the works a few years, a few setbacks have occurred along the way. After all, influencer marketing is still a comparatively young digital practice, meaning ad brands and influencers alike have had to work through some growing pains.
One of those is the overestimation of the value of reach. While brands and influencers have experienced frustration equally, both have learned valuable lessons that have matured this practice. Here are three steps to incorporate into your own influencer strategy, to generate a higher ROI.
Focus on micro-influencers.
It sounds illogical to say that an influencer with a smaller following will have a greater impact than one with a massive, global following; but, more often than not, it's true.
In influencer marketing's infancy, brands were hypnotized by follower numbers. However, as the practice matured, brands began to notice a distinct disconnect between their following and their engagement numbers. In 2016, Digiday cited a Markerly study which proved that the higher the follower base, the lower the engagement.
More specifically, Markerly’s survey of two million Instagram influencers found that influencers with fewer than 1,000 followers garnered a typical engagement rate of 8 percent, whereas influencers with follower counts between 1,000 and 10,000 had engagement rates around 4 percent. Many brands have found that, compared to celebrity counterparts, mid-range or micro-influencers often put more time and originality into their sponsored posts.
Micro-influencers, in fact, tend to be expert at creating content that relays a brand’s message without compromising its voice or aesthetics.
Give your unfluencers breathing room.
Yes, guidelines are important, but supplying influencers with a set of rigid expectations tends to stifle creativity. We all remember what happened with reality star Scott Disick’s sponsored post in 2016: The protein shaje brand Bootea had provided step-by-step instructions as to what and how to post, and Disick did just that; he copied and pasted the instructions without doing much more. Because the instructions were so stringent, there wasn’t room for original thought.
Putting aside such celebrities, influencers typically gain the statuses and sought-after content creators they have because they've proven themselves adept at creating original content, with a distinguished voice and aesthetic.
When brands develop partnerships with influencers, they have the opportunity to tap into highly creative minds who can put their own spins on a branded message, to connect with a new audience. Although it can be difficult to place trust in the hands of an individual content creator, more often than not, it’s worth it.
Not having enough creative input is a common grievance among influencers, and according to eConsultancy, 93 percent of influencers believe they should have full narrative control.
While garnering full control is probably a longshot, especially given how much money brands are pouring into influencer marketing, both brands and influencers must work together to strike a balance. Audiences are immediately turned off by content that appears inauthentic to the influencer.
Take a multi-channel influencer approach.
It’s tempting to offer influencers a blanket set of campaign guidelines to cover every social channel, but taking a one-size-fits-all approach does not play to the unique strengths and attributes of each channel. Just as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Snapchat are all distinct, content expectations and guidelines created for these specific channels should vary.
For example, tracking options across each platform are wildly different; while you may be able to track and retarget the clicks from a YouTube video, Instagram’s lack of link real-estate makes tracking a bit murkier.
One recommended Instagram tracking technique is "comment to buy," where audiences are sent individual links after commenting on an influencer’s post. If you don’t take the time to consider each channel’s attributes, the content and performance of your overall campaign could easily suffer.
Prioritize your community.
Influencer marketing alone can drive incredible awareness and engagement for brands, but it really becomes powerful when it is supported by community management. Your influencers are creating content for their followers to consume and likely engage with. It doesn’t do your brand any favors to not take advantage of the new customer touch points your influencers generate.
Attract.ly co-founder Tom Allen, for example, has said he believes that personal interactions are the only way to truly create a thriving social brand.
“I tell our clients time and time again, the only way to win on social media is to take micro, personal interactions and do a ton of them, thus scaling them to a macro level," Allen says. "You have to get personal with your following to turn them into fiercely loyal customers.”
In short, your influencers are creating new customer introductions for you, but it’s up to you to turn those introductions into real relationships.
When facilitated correctly, influencer endorsements can be more powerful than a brand’s proprietary promotions. Why? Because influencers have built a degree of credibility among their followers; people turn to their blogs and social media accounts for inspiration and advice on the influencers' area of expertise.
The level of trust and connection influencers then forge with their followers transcends any connection between brand and customer because influencers are real people sharing real thoughts and insights. Yes, audiences understand that some influencers receive payment for product promotion, but on the whole, they are individual entities whose primary goals are connections, not sales.
So, when an influencer agrees to a brand partnership -- because he or she has taken the time to build credibility and trust -- audiences perk up and listen. Word of mouth to your following has always been a powerful, if not the most powerful, marketing tool;and harnessing influencers’ voices gives brands the chance to amplify word-of-mouth recommendations on a global level