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For brands and businesses across numerous industries, gaining a foothold in social media increasingly means building campaigns around influencers. These are people who have engaged followings and know how to use that engagement to encourage followers to try certain brands. As Adweek puts it, “influencer marketing has become an essential aspect of most companies’ marketing programs.”
In fact, 86% of people surveyed for a 2019 benchmark report (including brand managers and people at marketing agencies) said they planned to spend marketing dollars on influencers this year. Also, 63% of businesses that have dedicated budgets specifically for influencer marketing plan to increase their budget over the next year. Some experts predict the influencer marketing industry will reach $10 billion by 2020 — and $2.38 billion will be spent on Instagram alone this year.
It’s clear why. Statistics compiled by the Digital Marketing Institute show that the majority of teenagers trust influencers more than traditional celebrities, and 40% of consumers have purchased a product directly after seeing it in an influencer marketing campaign on Instagram, YouTube, or Twitter. Taken together with the fact that estimates show on average businesses generate $6.50 in revenue for each $1 investment in influencer marketing, it’s easy to see how it is quickly becoming one of the most widely adopted customer acquisition methods for marketers.
As CEO of Julius, I regularly speak with brands about how to do influencer marketing most effectively. The answer boils down largely to management — and it’s where much of the industry is unprepared and has gone wrong for years.
Social media wasn’t developed for marketing, but it has become such an important way of reaching customers and audience that marketers have faced something of a Wild West scenario when trying to leverage social media in new ways. Often, influencer programs started with marketers simply asking people with large followings to push their products in tweets and Facebook posts, and hoping for the best. And because young people have often been savvier with social media, many marketing leaders put younger, less experienced workers in charge of coordinating with influencers.
This means that, all too often, the people dealing with influencers have much less experience managing people, and as a result, the brand fails to build strong relationships with the influencers.
In order to better manage influencer relationships, here are practical steps your organization can take.
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Do Your Homework
Successful influencer marketing is not about finding just anyone who is “Twitter famous.” It begins with finding the right person — someone whose audience, capacity for storytelling, and personal brand align with the marketing campaign and messaging.
While conventional wisdom might hold that “bigger is better” when it comes to a social media following, in practice, “microinfluencers” — those with a follower range from 10,000 to 50,000 — can often have a greater impact when they’re selected for the right campaigns. They’re more likely to engage with followers and to have an audience specifically interested in topics and products they choose to highlight.
When you reach out to the right influencers, explain why you wanted them specifically. Show that you’ve taken the time to understand and consider what they’re all about. This starts off the relationship on the right foot.
Allow Creative Freedom
Social media influencers are not like actors hired to be spokespeople in ads. Influencers have impact because they produce authentic, engaging content. If they post parroted talking points about a product, they lose the authenticity that their followers count on. So it’s important to let them develop content that tells a story for their audience in their voice while highlighting your brand.
Putting too many restrictions in the content development process can hurt the influencer and brand relationship. Nearly 40% of influencers cite “overly restrictive content guidelines” as “one of the biggest mistakes brands and agencies make” in working with them, according to GDS Insights.
If your brand requires strict adherence to very specific messaging, it may be better to look for other internal or external campaign solutions, rather than influencers.
Keep Things Simple
Despite appearances that social media influencers may spend all their time having fun with friends, exercising, and enjoying nice things, the position requires hard work to be successful. To put together a living, most influencers have multiple clients — in fact, our 2019 State of Influencers survey showed that 46% had seven or more clients in the last 12 months. To maintain their audiences, most are constantly working to churn out engaging, meaningful content in varying formats and styles.
Like any freelance or contracted worker, the last thing they need is added friction and bureaucratic hassle when partnering with a new company. Making partnerships with them as smooth as possible — and ensuring they get paid promptly within deadlines — can make a huge difference.
Above all, keep in mind that influencers are human beings. When you delve into influencer marketing, you aren’t just buying your company space on a popular social feed. You’re creating an interpersonal connection with someone who has worked hard to build a community. When you honor that in the way you manage these relationships, you’re more likely to see big success.