Influencer relations can improve brand advocacy, expand brand awareness and reach new targeted audiences, says Lee Odden, the CEO of TopRank Marketing. But, only if it’s done properly.
Brands that attempt to use influencer marketing as an advertising channel will often be disappointed. It’s those who foster and develop deep and meaningful relationships with influencers that will reap the rewards. Here Odden talks to Content Magazine about how to find influencers, how to engage them and the benefits of playing the long game.
What is influencer marketing and why is it becoming more popular?
Influencer marketing is the ability to connect with individuals who are experts, or who have authority, and have an active network. Influencers are people who are passionate about a particular topic, they have like-minded followers and have built a community where they are empowered to publish and share content. Influencer marketing is becoming more popular because there are now more obstacles for brands to reach customers including the rise of ad blocking and changing behaviors for content discovery and consumption. The new breed of consumers trust their peers and industry experts over brands. So, if a brand can identify and engage with relevant influencers, who have authority and an engaged network as well as shared values and/or common interests, it works to the advantage of everyone involved.
How should brands go about identifying an influencer to work with?
Many companies fail in their influencer marketing efforts by focusing solely on the popularity of influencers. Large social followings do not always translate to high levels of engagement or advocacy. In fact, uber-popular influencers might be ignored when they make recommendations outside of their norm. Successful influencer marketing programs approach influencers with clarity about how the brand wants to be more influential itself and where working with industry influencers will fit in that effort.
There are several considerations with effective influencer identification, qualification and engagement. The first criteria is to identify prospective influencers that have strong topical relevance—an individual known for a particular subject area that compliments how the brand wants to be known to its customers. A true influencer will have already demonstrated expertise for their topic and have credibility with their community. The second criteria involves brands looking at the community (fans/followers) that the influencer engages with—to find out what they care about as well as how big the influencer’s network is. A third criteria is resonance, i.e. the degree to which the things an influencer shares with their audience are accepted and shared. There is no point engaging an influencer just because they’re famous and have a huge reach unless they are also topically relevant and their audience is responsive. The DNA of successful influencer marketing is about collaborating with people who have shared values or beliefs with the brand and their community or else you’ll just end up confusing the audience and creating a disconnect.
What incentives should brands offer the influencer? What does the influencer seek to gain from the relationship?
There are essentially three ways to incentivize the relationship with an influencer—money, recognition or a combination of both. Some influencers position themselves as a way for brands to advertise to the influencer’s community, so brands will pay them to promote their products and services. Compensating influencers for content and promotion is typical in a B2C environment. In B2B, where the sales cycle is a lot longer, there’s more opportunity for brands to create collaborative content with influencers to meet prospective buyer information needs. These influencers are subject matter experts and when they talk, people really listen. Relationships with these influencers are based on shared values, common interests and not necessarily on financial transactions. Many individuals are flattered to be recognized as a leader in their field and are happy to work alongside a brand as it further raises their profile. Companies also establish paid engagement criteria where some activities with the influencer are for exposure, like tips provided for an ebook, while others are paid, like giving a keynote at a user conference or developing unique content exclusively for the brand. In many ways, the paid model for influencers and content is no different than engaging a consultant.
What do influencers typically do for a brand?
If an influencer promotes themselves as an advertising channel, they’ll create content on behalf of a brand, promote it to their audience and then provide some sort of measurement, traffic or metric relevant to the brand’s objective attached to what they share to illustrate ROI. In situations that are more relationship-based, the influencer will collaborate with a brand in subtler ways – perhaps they’ll co-present with a brand executive on a webinar or attend an event for free and be encouraged to create content on the back of it.
What tools can brands use to find a suitable influencer?
There are many influencer tools that position themselves as a sort of “Google for influencers.” Speciality tools such as Buzzsumo or Little Bird enable you to find out which blog posts are most prominent and who’s popular on Twitter. Brandwatch is also a robust social media monitoring platform, which surfaces influencers but currently doesn’t manage influencer relationships. Then there are tools that help you find influencers who will co-create content with you, such as Group High and Traackr, where you can type in keywords or import a list of known influencers to see look alike audiences. You can sort influencers into projects, email them and measure the performance of their content collaboration with the brand. There are also paid influencer marketplaces like Collective Bias or tapinfluence, where influencers have opted in to be part of a community where they can sell their influence and skills (real or perceived), and brands go there and shop. The only way to play with an influencer marketplace is to pay, so there’s no organic relationship building involved. Then there are companies like mine, TopRank Marketing, which specialize in connecting brands with proven industry experts who can co-create content together with the brand and develop a relationship over time.
Can you give an example of a brand that has successfully tapped into an influencer’s audience?
At our agency, we focus on influencer engagement and audience reach through content. To that end, there are three content engagement scenarios including microcontent, campaigns and community. For microcontent, our client LinkedIn has been very active at including relevant influencers in their content programs using “pull quotes,” tips, interviews and article contributions. Influencer content contributions can be integrated with content marketing campaigns, such as a sequence of ebooks. One popular multi-year ebook campaign leveraging influencer contributions has been The Sophisticated Marketers Guide to LinkedIn championed by Jason Miller, Group Manager, Global Content and Social Media Marketing at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, where industry influencers contributed their expertise in a variety of forms. As gated content, the guides allow LinkedIn to capture contact information for nurturing, and this campaign in particular has been so successful, it has been extended as a model for LinkedIn to leverage with other topics and industries.
For marketers looking to justify the spend on influencer marketing to their C-suite, what’s the typical time frame before marketers see the ROI?
If you initiate an influencer initiative you first need to find out who the top influencers are and who is already advocating for that brand. If a brand is lucky to find an influencer who is already talking about them positively, you can get ROI right away by activating those influencers. You can reach out and thank the influencers for their positive content towards the brand or products and invite them to co-create content or participate in something such as an event. Another early ROI opportunity comes from companies that leverage agencies like ours who already have influencer relationships in place. With pre-qualified influencers available as a starting point, brands can jumpstart influencer driven content more quickly, while also working to identify new influencers and grow direct relationships. But not all brands have that luxury. For those brands, influencer marketing ROI is further out and takes time. Playing the long game is really important to develop meaningful relationships with influencers. Working with influencers needs to be seen as part of an evolutionary process that will gain momentum and that takes a solid strategy. You have to be clear on the intent for working with influencers and have a plan to manage expectations both in the short and long term. To scale a return on influencer investment, it also helps to have a platform to manage that relationship.
In your latest report, Influencer 2.0: The Future of Influencer Marketing, you advocate the effectiveness of influencer relations. How does this differ from other forms of influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing is an evolving, multifaceted discipline. The opportunists who have tried to treat influencer marketing like advertising, creating short term, disconnected campaigns haven’t been that successful or effective. Conversely, influencer relations is about the value of growing a relationship with an influencer based on shared values and creating content that you know both their audience and yours would be interested in seeing. Influencer relations focuses on the on-going relationship and the increased effectiveness which comes from that relationship.
The Content Council will be discussing influencers and more at our 10th annual spring conference. Learn more.