Influencer marketing is one of the biggest content-marketing trends of 2016. Brands are turning to influencers to help combat ad avoidance, bring fresh creativity to their marketing (especially video marketing) and gain cachet with young people, who place more trust in celebrities and social media "stars" than others do.
"We really increased our influencer program in 2015, and going into 2016, we are likely to increase it even more," Nick Bianchi, AT&T's director of social media, said in a recent eMarketer report.
What is influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing is marketing that identifies and activates individuals who can sway the brand preferences, buying decisions and loyalty of the broader population. On social platforms, the term typically describes the process in which companies compensate celebrities, social media "stars" or industry experts to create content on behalf of brands or provide endorsements for brands.
The good news is that it's much easier to work with influencers than it used to be. Back in the days when blogging was the primary way of spreading influence, brands often had to strike one-off deals with individual creators. Tracking results was a nightmare.
Now, vendors offer to connect brands with influencers and do much of the backend work to streamline the process. While that makes some things easier, other aspects of influencer marketing are still a challenge. Here are five things marketers should keep in mind:
1. Prepare to pay. Influencers have become less willing to take compensation in the form of products or trips.
"When it started out, it was all unpaid, because people viewed it as more PR-focused than media-focused," said Rustin Banks, co-founder and chief product officer at influencer marketing firm TapInfluence. Now, "each of these influencers is a media channel, and media channels need to be compensated."
U.S. influencers surveyed in September by GroupHigh, a blogger and influencer marketing firm, overwhelmingly preferred monetary compensation over free products, ads on their blog or affiliate deals.
2. Look beyond celebrity. A famous actress or a YouTube star with millions of followers may not be the right partner for influencer marketing. Marketers should focus more on aligning with people who have a passion for a brand or whose audience is genuinely interested in the message a brand wants to promote.
And while it's true that celebrities can sway younger people, that's not necessarily the case for others. When seeking ideas about products to buy, 95% of U.S. millennial mother internet users surveyed by Roth Capital Partners in September said they would look to family, while only 9% chose celebrities.
In addition, top influencers can charge a lot of money for branded posts. Finding and working with emerging talent is one way marketers can save money.
3. Vet influencers closely. For every brand that has had a successful influencer campaign, there are others that failed because they didn't properly evaluate their partners. Brands should research things like:
- The influencer's work ethic and creative process (will they get the work done in the time allotted?)
- Is the influencer's voice and visual aesthetic in line with that of your brand?
- What they have said about your brand or your competitors (have they badmouthed you in the past?)
- Whether they have a non-compete policy about the brands they feature (will they tout one of your competitors next week?)
- Are they aware of and willing to follow the Federal Trade Commission's disclosure rules?
4. Strive for a symbiotic relationship. Successful brands recognize that they can help an influencer at the same time an influencer is helping them. For the influencers surveyed by Augure in May 2015, the chance to grow their audience was a top reason for working with brands -- ahead of getting perks, making money or getting new experiences.
5. Give influencers creative freedom. Creative is tough for brands to let go of, but trusting an influencer's knowledge of what works for their audience is an important step.
In Crowdtap's October influencer poll, 77% of respondents said one of the primary factors that would make them likely to work with a brand more than once was being granted creative freedom.
Brands should not ask influencers to do something that would not resonate with their audience. Fans will see right through it, and no one will have a good experience.