Social media influencers: not just for the brand big guns

Social media influencers

Social media influencers are now a part of daily marketing life. But it’s ok to be skeptical. The proposition that fabulous people and lifestyle porn are viable marketing tools for ordinary brands can be a tough one for some. But here’s why influencer marketing works, with tips for how any company can do it.

The post-organic era

Organic reach may not be “dead” as it is often claimed, but it has been greatly limited. Facebook’s algorithm, for example, has been particularly brutal: one Ogilvy report put the network’s organic reach as low as 2% for companies with 500k + fans (6% for companies with less than 500k).

Why influencer marketing works

Stripped of its hashtags and celebrity mystique, social influencer marketing is simply word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing in its latest guise.

WOM has always been the most potent kind of marketing and this remains true in the digital age. One study found that 92% of people trust recommendations from individuals (even if they don’t know them) more than branded information.

In a recent survey by Twitter, 49% of respondents said they relied on influencers for product recommendations. That’s only slightly less than the 56% who rely on friends. Crucially, 20% of respondents said an influencer tweet inspired them to share a product – and nearly 40% said they made a purchase based on a Tweet from an influencer.

In addition, while brand tweets alone were found to boost purchase intent by 2.7x, campaigns mixing brand and influencer tweets doubled that to 5.2x.

But even more impressive are some of the return on investment figures out there. On average, marketers earn $6.85 in media value for every dollar invested in an influencer marketing program. Retail and apparel brands see even greater returns of $10.48, while the CPG food sector tops the list at $11.33 ROI per dollar invested.

But how can I do it?

So, chances are your brand isn’t Nike with a billion dollars to spend on a deal with Ronaldo, but that doesn't mean social influencer marketing can’t be a part of your marketing strategy. There are several ways that brands can work with influencers.

For starters, you don’t need a celebrity, like Ronaldo, to get your brand noticed. An exhaustive study by Markerly found that on Instagram, micro-influencers – which Makerly identifies as profiles with 10,000-100,000 followers – have the greatest impact. On unpaid posts, micro-influencers see a higher like rate than influencers with over a million followers, 2.4% and 1.7% respectively.

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One brand that succeeded in leveraging the power of micro-influencers early on was clothing retailer ASOS. The brand relies heavily on micro-influencers (500-10,000 followers) for their highly successful ASOS Insiders program, which recruits stylish millennials eager to share their latest fashion finds on platforms like Instagram.

Such ‘ordinary’ people can lend a far greater feel of authenticity than aloof celebrities to your marketing message – making micro-influencers just as valuable as big names like Ronaldo, and far more accessible by ordinary brands. But what does it take to convince an influencer that they should spend time promoting your brand?

Breaking the ice

The first step is to identify the influencers suited to your brand, otherwise no amount of outreach will work. In both the Nike and ASOS examples, the brand and influencers are a perfect fit.

Naturally, the channel(s) you use should also factor in here. The influencer, your brand and audience should all be active on the same channel. And remember that your industry’s top influencers may be more at home on blogs and forums than trendier platforms.

In order to track down potential influencers, you can employ freemium search tools such as Buzzsumo. But if you want to identify the influencers that would really serve your brand well, a better idea is to use social listening to monitor who your audience trusts and shares. This requires the use of a social media software platform.

Once you’ve figured out who to reach, how can you get their attention?

One way ASOS is able to engage with its influencer pool is by sending them vouchers and inviting them to post a review of their purchase. But there are less industry-specific and budget-taxing tactics available to everyone.

Email is an obvious choice – indeed, direct email continues to thrive despite the inroads of social media. But the bigger the name you’re pursuing, the more likely your email will be lost in an already buffeted inbox – once you have broken the ice, this channel can be relied on more.

The most natural and least labour-intensive channel to connect on is social itself. This approach also provides the opportunity to butter the influencer up with likes and reposts before making a play.

Remember, the clincher when wooing a social media influencer is to show them the value you can offer to them. If your brand or content lacks a discernable spark, your outreach will likely go unanswered. So if you are after more than just the low-hanging fruit of a share or two, you had better have a convincing action plan in place – think strategy, not just tactic.

Influencer-level reach is not built in a day

It can take *gasp* months to cultivate an influencer relationship, which can frustrate marketers conditioned to a generally faster-moving medium. The key is not to give up when that first email or share goes seemingly unnoticed. Follow-through and, just as importantly, follow-up. Remember to track performance to see if your double-team effort has indeed hit the mark.

In the subtle art of social celebrity vicariousness, good things will take time in most cases.

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Chris Sugrue

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