Jonathan Futa, Co-Founder, Group RFZ
Influencer marketing – once a strategy relegated to “cool” brands and agencies – is seeing massive mainstream growth as social channels such as Instagram continue to surge in popularity, and new social platforms pop up almost monthly. What was a $3 billion industry in 2017 is expected to continue its upward trajectory to potentially become a $6.5 billion industry in 2019.
However, like any digital marketing endeavor, influencer marketing is not without its challenges. Many brands are still selecting influencers the wrong way, sacrificing authenticity as they force-feed their highly-messaged content and measuring effectiveness based on questionable criteria.
Looking to take your influencer marketing to the next level this year? Here are five action-oriented tips to get you moving in an upward direction.
1) Invite Influencers to the Table – Literally
Everyone knows that developing relationships is the single most important part of any IM program. Strong, long-term relationships between influencers and brands leads to more cohesive messaging and authentic content. But how do you go about developing these deeper relationships? One option is to take the relationship with influencer partners out of the digital realm and into the real world.
Hosting local events is an easy and effective way to connect face-to-face with both influencers and customers and build goodwill and enduring relationships. Hand select a diverse group of influencers and invite them to participate in an event where the main goal is building relationships, not sell them further on your products. Yelp does an exceptionally good job of this by inviting their Elite Squad of influencers to private events at restaurants, bars and other venues, giving them a chance to sample new destinations and build a stronger relationship with Yelp in the process.
2) Don’t Put (All of the) Words in Their Mouth
One of the most common mistakes that brands make is unnecessarily controlling their influencers with overly restrictive briefs and instructions. By their very nature, influencers are creative beings and that’s how they’ve built a name for themselves and a large following. Restricting creative freedom undermines their potential and makes the influencer appear as if they were bought. If their messages sound packaged, their followers will immediately know something is askew and start scanning for the telltale #ad hashtag, rather than focusing on the content.
Even if it goes against your marketing instincts, give influencers the freedom in their design and copy choices – and don’t nitpick their grammar or their photo lighting. Instead, collaborate on the messaging that’s most effective at reaching their audience, which is something they’re bound to know better than you. And, most importantly, never ask them to lie about their experiences with your brand.
3) Don’t Ignore Micros – Do Push Video
When selecting campaign partners, don’t overlook the “little guys.” Micro-influencers may have smaller followings, but they tend to have deeper connections with their audience and be a better choice to reach niche groups. What’s more, these influencers tend to over deliver and be more invested in your campaigns. It also helps that they’re usually easier on the budget.
Now that smartphones with high-end cameras are so ubiquitous and photo software can be had for a decent price, micro-influencers can create beautiful content from their home that’s on par with their macro counterparts. Video is one area where there is arguably some disparity between the two types of influencers – and it happens to be one area where brands can have the most impactful social reach. One way to work around this shortcoming is to provide financial help to micro-influencers so they can invest in the tools necessary to produce higher-end video content. Consider it a worthwhile investment that will pay off for both your brand and influencer.
4) Put It All on the Table
When working with influencers, the fastest way to come off as inauthentic is a lack of transparency. In fact, a lack of transparency – and the resulting confusion it cause among consumers who couldn’t distinguish between original posts and paid ads – spurred the Federal Trade Commission to issue guidelines that requiring influencers to disclose paid content. While this disclosure can be a simple as an #ad at the bottom of the post, consumers are savvy and a two-character hashtag buried under a dozen can appear disingenuous and not credible.
It’s best to let the influencer tell the story of your relationship outright. A caption the reveals the financial relationship to the brand, while praising the products and emphasizing the brand message, is more effective and genuine.
Serena William’s partnership with Pampers is an example worth emulating.In her caption, Williams describes why she is partnering with Pampers and how it fits her lifestyle, and makes no attempt to hide the paid partnership. Pampers doesn’t just use this tack with Serena either. It also has micro-influencers (see its #WildChild and #PampersPartner campaign) who are equally forthright with their disclosures.
5) Amp up Your Measurement Approach
All the work put into creating an authentic influencer marketing partnership is for naught if the impact of the campaign is never measured. Like all good marketing campaigns, influencer content needs to be iterated and tested. If the goal of a campaign is to generate awareness, improve trust in a brand, highlight a product’s quality or to improve affinity among a specific audience, relying on impression counts and engagement metrics won’t show the true impact of the campaign. The only way to tell if an influencer campaign is authentic and achieving these goals is to measure these exact goals on the back-end.
To develop an effective measurement program, first identify your primary campaign goals and do not settle for using behavioral proxies. Engagement and reach are not substitutes for improving awareness of a product launch, the same way that social “likes” are not a true indicator that your influencers are improving brand equity. One option is to engage a research company that can measure a campaign’s impact on attitudes and awareness by getting feedback from those who were exposed to your campaign.
About the Author: Jonathan Futa is a co-founder of Group RFZ, a digital measurement firm. His in-depth knowledge of digital technology and market research has allowed him to develop new solutions that are game-changers for his clients. His primary focus is developing products and methodologies that enable marketers to get past vanity metrics and help them achieve goal-metric alignment. Prior to Group RFZ, Jonathan worked at the Benenson Strategy Group, a strategic research consultancy, where he was one the firm’s digital leaders and innovators.