I was lucky enough to have a great chat with Matthew Grant over at Aberdeen’s CMO Essentials publication. He had some questions for me around Influencer Marketing and what it’s all about. Here’s what came out of it. Thanks to Matt and Aberdeen Essentials for the publication!
What is influencer marketing, actually?
This should really be two questions, in my opinion. The first is, “What are people actually doing when they say they’re doing influencer marketing?”
The second is, “What do you think ‘influencer marketing’ SHOULD BE?”
I’ll answer both, starting with the second.
Influencer marketing should be as follows: Brands partnering with people who have influence over their own networks, both on- and offline, who will spread authentic word-of-mouth for those brands, and who create real impact and business value for the brand when they do so.
The influencers brands partner with should either be influential within the industry or space that the brand is directly a part of, or they should be customers/potential customers of the brand already. In other words, if I see an influencer promoting something, I ask myself, “Do I have reason to believe that this person would authentically use this product or service even if they weren’t in a partnership with the brand?”
To put it another way, Michael Jordan promoting Nike is legitimate. Oprah touting the amazing benefits of Microsoft’s Surface tablet (from her iPad) is not.
While, to be fair, there is some of this authentic activity going on, influencer marketing all too often boils down to: Brands and agencies getting people – celebrities, social celebs, bloggers, etc. – who seem to have a large follower count to share tweets or content in exchange for a fee, free stuff, or entry into a sweepstakes, regardless of whether or not that person has any expertise or is even likely to be a user of the product or service.
What is it NOT?
Influencer marketing is NOT the use of influencers who are not already fans of your brand or have no influence in your category or vertical.
It is NOT engaging with influencers who share or distribute content from your competitors (which is extremely common).
It is NOT working with influencers or other people who do not have expertise in your industry, service, or vertical.
It is NOT asking any consumer who is willing to tweet a hashtag to become an influencer without first vetting them.
Brands need to find people who, when they talk about a brand, service, or product, are viewed as authentic and true customers/advocates of the brand. (See this Gawker article for a nice summary of what’s happening right now and how this is all changing.)
Are there different flavors of influencer marketing?
Yes, there are different flavors.
There is the celebrity or category influencer model, where brands engage with people who are influential in their vertical or industry but may not yet be customer advocates (think: Shure Microphones using J-Lo or Lansinoh baby bottles using influential mom bloggers.)
There is the everyday, brand advocate model. This involves identifying people who are actual customers/users of your brand, product, or service, who are also advocates looking for an opportunity to build a closer relationship with the brand they love.
Large consumer brands have millions of such advocates, many who have enormous influence. Connecting with these people has proven to have more impact, including long-tail impact, than celebrity influencer campaigns, although both flavors often run side-by-side and can complement one another.
Finally, as mentioned above, there are opt-in influencers, who can be “rented” – in exchange for sweepstakes entries, coupons, or other sponsored programs – to post about the brand on social.
This should not be considered a “flavor” of influencer marketing, since even a quick look at the “#sponsored” hashtag on Twitter will reveal that these people do not spur engagement, they do not have real followers, they tweet about competing brands, and they are not remotely authentic.
The profiles that engage with these opt-in, incentivized programs are built solely for the purpose of entering sweepstakes or getting free products. These “influencers” will actually hurt your brand, so when I think “influencer marketing,” I do not include this group. (See this article on the stark reality of this kind of these incentivized influencers.)
What’s the most challenging aspect of influencer marketing? Identifying influencers? Actually engaging them? Tracking the impact?
Brands face issues around all three, really, but each activity has its own obstacles.
On the identification front, many brands don’t have the resources to manually sift through their communities to find good people, and when they do have the resources, often all they have to go on is a single “comment” or some other isolated action.
It’s extremely important to understand who potential influencers are as people. When they talk, do they influence other people? Have they interacted with your brand before? If so, how many times and in what way? How passionate are they? What drives that passion? And so on.
On the engagement front, there is the challenge of simply being a good marketer and knowing your audience well enough to create content and marketing that resonates with them and generates engagement.
Still, from a strategy perspective, there are many things that brands miss out on when it comes to engagement. Engagement must spur advocacy. That is, when an influencer interacts with your brand, it’s important to make these interactions visible to that person’s network.
For example, when you give people the opportunity to connect, interact, or engage, you should also give them an opportunity to share and bring their friends into the conversation. Always provide a catalyst for this kind of advocacy or word-of-mouth marketing. And make it easy to do; don’t force influencers to find their own way of getting the word out.
Brands often miss this last point and influencer conversations happen on the brand’s site, or within the brand’s community, and stay there, never finding their way into the larger network of that influencer’s connections.
The brands that are best at engaging people are the one’s who aren’t afraid to be personable and build relationships with people. Brands need to be able to step out of that “corporate” persona, especially on social, and let people feel like they’re interacting with someONE, not someTHING (see the L.A. Kings and Arby’s as great examples here).
Finally, brands need to think of word-of-mouth as a channel, something that’s always on and that builds exponentially over time. They need to treat word-of-mouth and influencers the same as they would any other channel in their mix (e.g., PR, display, eCommerce, etc.) and not just think in terms of campaigns.
Measuring the Impact of Influencers
On the measurement front, there is a huge shift going on.
Metrics used to fall into the “reach” or “impressions” bucket, because that’s what people were used to and comfortable with, and that’s what they were being offered by vendors. The reality today is that there’s an enormous opportunity for brands to measure much, much more when it comes to word-of-mouth and influencer strategies; they just need the tools to do it.
That being said, “reach,” as a KPI, is on the outs. It’s still worth looking at as a general metric, but it shouldn’t serve as an indicator of performance or be considered a success metric.
Here’s what I’m talking about. As a web marketer, I might measure website visits, but a spike in visits doesn’t automatically signal success for me. Quality visits, however, do. If visits don’t provide a desired result (conversions, purchases, downloads, etc.), then a spike does me no good.
People should think about reach in the same way. If a spike in reach does take place, it’s the responsibility of the brand, the agency, AND the vendor to validate that this reach translated into actual, quality results. Did it result in reviews? Did it result in sales?
In other words, you always have to ask, “What did I want from influencers in the first place and did increased ‘reach’ get me there?”
If it didn’t get you there, start digging into the details. Find the people and profiles that accounted for the reach and make sure they’re legit. If everything they share is sponsored or contains a disclosure, you’re probably dealing with fake profiles that don’t care about your brand. It’s best to end that campaign; it will hurt your brand and waste your money and resources.
Measuring success is a mix of the right tools coupled with the right strategies, and sometimes takes (dare I say it?) a little bit of thinking and planning.
The fact of the matter is, success in influencer marketing CAN be measured, and there really isn’t an excuse anymore for measuring quantity over quality.
Image Source (Creative Commons): Southbank Centre.
Original article posted on CMO Essentials here: http://www.aberdeenessentials.com/cmo-essentials/what-is-influencer-marketing/