In the social media age, companies are forced to find new ways of getting their products in front of potential consumers, says Hamna Amjad, Community Manager at Gigworker.com. “This is why influencer marketing is growing rapidly,” she says.
Influencers are people within a particular niche who have an engaged social media audience. Their trusted followers look to the influencer for advice or inspiration. Companies can leverage these relationships by having the influencer promote a product or a brand to that audience.
But how does a company decide if and when they should hire influencers, and what kinds of parameters they should set on that relationship? Experts share their tips:
The influencer’s audience has to align with your brand or product first and foremost. This requires forethought and pre-planning.
“The key element to consider while choosing the influencers for your brand is their audience,” Amjad says. “You need to define whom you’re targeting. This will help you identify the influencers who have followers with similar interests as your target audience.”
ENGAGEMENT AND AUTHENTICITY
Just because an influencer shows you a huge number of followers does not mean that audience is engaged with them.
“The right influencers are those who have a real audience, connect with their followers and have an authentic relationship with them,” Amjad says.
Consumers are sensitive to being played the fool, says Katherine Rowland, Digital Marketing Executive for YourParkingSpace.co.uk. They’ll sniff out inauthenticity.
“Companies must be careful to ensure that the influencer they choose fits with their brand, and by extension that [the influencer’s] followers will, too,” Rowland says.
While your first instinct might be to go toward the biggest influencers with the hugest follower numbers, Rowland says that ”mega-influencers” are not typically the right starting point.
“Smaller influencers are much easier for brands to work with; they will often promote in exchange for free products, or a small commission,” Rowland says. “The size of influencer you choose may depend on the marketing budget you can throw at it.”
Informal agreements with influencers might work well at first when you’re just trying such a relationship, but in the long run, it will make more sense to have a concrete contract that defines the terms of the engagement.
Maggie Schott, Marketing Manager for Gurus, Inc, in Pittsburgh, Pa., says, “We’ve noticed that influencers can be a bit fickle in that their loyalties lie with whomever is most willing to give them product.”
She says they have had instances where they sent their pricey $90 cork-top yoga mat to an influencer and within a couple of months noticed that the influencer was suddenly using a competitor’s product instead.
“The more sophisticated and experienced the influencer is, the more exclusive you can get,” Schott explains. “They’d be more willing to enter into a contract.”
CONSIDER THE COMMUNITY
Influencers work best when your product or brand lends itself to some sort of community, according to Jacob Beckstead, Director of Marketing and Technology at Bailey’s Moving and Storage, in Denver, Colo.
He gives the example of something that wouldn’t lend itself to an influencer. “People don’t tend to form communities over batteries,” he says, “so influencers are just likely to be noise in that market.”
Additionally, he warns that if people tend to become easily polarized in your industry, an influencer may not be a good fit.
An influencer has to be able to bring up a company’s product or brand naturally, Beckstead adds. “They don’t sound like product pitches so much as they do just an honest review.”
Up until now, influencers have existed in what Schott calls “a really murky area” that is only just beginning to catch the eye of state and federal governments who would like to legislate it.
Just as laws apply to TV and Radio commercials to protect the consumer from dishonest or misleading information, soon, similar legislation may be passed to cover influencer marketing, as well.
Schott says that some big companies are forcing their influencers to state that theirs is a sponsored post or put in their bio that they’re being paid by [that company].
However you go about beginning a relationship with an influencer, be sure that you know what you’re getting and have some sort of metrics in place to track the results.
“If your influencer program isn’t generating revenue, it’s probably not worth it,” Schott says.