People with a great following can become an influencer. This is even more pronounced today with the rise of social media. However, the changes of time have made the definition murkier that it has become a struggle for businesses to effectively use influencer marketing, most especially since everybody now claims to be an influencer. Breaking down the timeline, learn what does it really mean to be an influencer and how should it be used in your marketing plan; plus what is a realistic budget and ROI. Getting all of these together will help not only you and your business but also the entire influencer marketing game as a whole.
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Does Your Marketing Need An Influencer And Are They Worth It?
This is the crossroads where traditional PR know-how meets digital marketing expertise with me, Stefanie LaHart from BoomTown Marketing and my very best friend in the world, Miss Sharon Noot from Noot Inc. Sharon, welcome.
Usually, we follow this up by saying we help small businesses navigate the quickly changing world of business marketing but we’re going to talk about influencer marketing. That changes so quickly I feel like it’s hard to keep up even from our end. Sometimes you can get quickly outdated. With influencer marketing, it does change so quickly and people’s conceptions of what they think is influencer marketing, that’s murky. Why don’t we go over that? What is an influencer?
I’m going to give to you the boring textbook definition of influencer marketing and then we’re going to break it down in the right way and the fun way. It says, “Influencer marketing is a type of marketing that focuses on using key leaders to drive your brand’s message to the larger market. Rather than marketing directly to a large group of consumers, you instead inspire/hire/pay influencers to get the word out for you.” In PR, we already had influencers and those are traditional journalists. Before social media, what you would do is get a journalist to deliver the messages about your brand to readers and they would be considered a respected resource. That’s the way you would use an influencer.
I wasn’t aware of it from that point. I only started hearing the term influencer when social media started becoming such a big deal because people saw it almost as a get-rich-quick scheme. They’re like, “I’ll just be an influencer and these brands will give me tons of free products and pay me all this money because I have a couple thousand followers on social media.” In the beginning it was like that because your social media numbers meant something. I say it all the time that you can have 100 followers or you can have 10,000 followers and still get a good ROI. It depends if you have an actual real audience that’s engaged. With all the bots that happened in the last couple of years, it’s hard to tell by giving a first glance whether you’re 10,000 followers on any of these platforms means anything.Influencers are those whom an audience looks up to. Click To Tweet
We have ways of figuring that out too. Our question is, an influencer is going to help basically do what exactly what the word says, influence people to either buy or become aware of a product but as a brand or as a service, why do we want to work with an influencer? Is it going to give us more bang for our buck, better ROI? Is this just the way marketing is moving? Traditional marketing doesn’t work anymore or does it because PR has always used influencers.
We would call them influencers or leaders or basically anybody that your audience looks up to and respects the opinion of. There were journalists but also traditionally even before social media, celebrities were considered influencers. You would have a brand work with a celebrity and align themselves with that celebrity, whether it’s cause marketing or just consumer marketing and that spokesperson, that celebrity would be bringing their audience to your customers. Now, you’ve got social media where anybody can be an influencer. This started originally when PR folks started to look at bloggers and take them seriously when bloggers were emerging as a source. Then all of a sudden PR folks realize, “These bloggers are not real journalists but they still have a lot of power.” Once bloggers started getting taken seriously, the rest of social media also started taking off and now you’ve got everybody’s an influencer. You can have ten followers and you could think you’re an influencer, but that’s not the case.
That’s a good timeline to point out as far as where an influencer came from and where it’s morphed into now. If we follow that timeline, then the original influencers where people in the press. They were reporters, they were people who had access to the media outlets. Moving on then, when blogs became a thing and people were aware of them, started generating some actual interest and buzz, it’s such a natural progression how you put it, then blogs became the original influencers. That’s what we started hearing years ago where people were getting free services and people were building actual revenue from it, which was exciting. Moving on to social media, if you have a social media account, what makes you an influencer and what does that quantify as?
We can see it’s the engagement and it’s the actual activity more so than anything. Obviously, if you’re a celebrity, you have that built-in following, you have that name recognition. What brands, services and businesses have found that this smaller niche, micro influencers can actually do a lot more for their bottom line than hiring one of these big influencers. What I like to see and what I’ve seen on YouTube a lot is when they’re hiring these micro influencers, how they do it. We’ve talked about this before, you and I, where it’s not so much you go to an influencer anymore and say, “This is what you have to say and this is how you have to do it.” It is more like, “This is what our message is and we want you to put it out to your audience in a way that they are going to respond to it.” There have been some good examples of that. Our question is then, why do we want to work with an influencer? What’s it going do for my business?
It depends obviously on your brand and your service. I like to look back and see how it evolved. I might be wrong and everyone has a different experience, but I feel we went from journalists to blogger. I feel like mommy blogs were the first big ones to realize that brands realized if they sent their products to these mommy bloggers who had a strong audience, their audience would buy these products because they trusted this mommy blogger more than they might have trusted a journalist or a celebrity. That’s when they started to see the power. I think health and beauty fell into play after that. When people started doing the makeup on YouTube and showing people how to do it, all of a sudden those influencers started to become powerful brands, realized if they did a review of their palette or their lipstick, then the viewers would want to use that product as well.The number of followers means nothing. There has to be an engagement. Click To Tweet
It’s exploded since then and now it’s so large that brands need to take a look at the different tools that are available to identify what an effective campaign might look like with these influencers. You talked about numbers, we should probably explain what those numbers really mean and what some of the common pitfalls are when people start looking at these numbers and going like, “Stefanie, I’ve got this product and there are these influencers that have 100,000 followers. Look at their Twitter following. They have 500,000 followers, but it’s expensive. Should I be having them promote my brand?”
That’s exactly where the tools have to come into play because you can get seduced by those numbers. If you work in the industry, you understand quickly that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. There are a lot of tools now where you can go in and find influencers and then also be able to track exactly what the activity is. They can’t lie anymore, which still amazes me because I hear this stuff all the time from clients where they’re like, “I know the person who has X followers and I can get them to talk about it.” That means nothing.
You have to see what that engagement is like, what the actual response is like. There are platforms. You and I at least know five each on our sides. I don’t think we have to mention them specifically, but the good thing is these platforms do allow you to tell who actually is an influencer. Remember the one that reached out to me? It was an interesting platform because they were getting people to apply as influencers. It might have been some mommy product. If you were interested in promoting it and getting into the influencer game, you would submit almost an application. Then they would decide, they would pick through. It was almost like crowdsourcing influencers.
It’s because the industry is moving in both directions. There are a large group of people who want to become an influencer now because they think it’s the next professional athlete or celebrity. They see, “People make money and get free stuff by having a very strong social media campaign. Let me get my Instagram likes up. Let me get my YouTube views up. Let me get my Twitter followers up. As soon as I hit those magic numbers, then brands are going to come knocking on my door and want to give me money and products.” That’s not necessarily true. Why don’t you break down what engagement means and why that’s important?One thing that is cool about influencer marketing is it’s changing what it means. Click To Tweet
From the social media marketing side and honestly, back in the traditional PR side, it’s the same thing. It depends on how many people are going to take the time to stop and look at your story or also known as social media posts, and then have some response to it. It has to go more beyond just being a view at this point or an impression. If I put a post out there and people like it or share it or take the ultimate activity which is to click through to buy the product, that’s your base right there. That’s how you can tell it’s working. This whole thing about simply getting it in front of eyeballs that can work on some levels as we know when we’re doing awareness campaigns. That’s something that brands need to be aware of.
What are you hoping to gain by working with this influencer? Are you trying to get awareness of your product or brand or are you trying to instigate some action? They’re two very different things. A lot of the times when you hear these big celebrity ones, these brands are just trying to get their name noticed and the sales come later. I’d sometimes think too, does the super high-end celebrity get stink on products now because you know they’re being paid to say something about the product? Do you think they get stink on them? I think they do.
Consumers are very savvy. They know when there’s an inauthentic promotion of a product, so you have to be very careful. I would almost think that there might be an analogy here, where in traditional PR before social media, brands would pay their money for exposure by being affiliated with a celebrity perhaps. That’s some of the brandings, getting their end of the product, getting the product into the hands of the celebrity, getting the product on a television show as a placement. That will generate the awareness, but then the action comes from their direct campaigns to consumers. That means that someone is going to have a reaction and actually do something with that information. That’s where micro influencers are much more effective and they’re cost-effective too.
For people who are reading this and they’re totally new to the world of influencer marketing, they might have only heard this term thrown around on the news, what guidelines could we give them to say how do you build an actual campaign? What does that look like? We don’t want to mention specific tools, but when you want to build a campaign with an influencer, step one, you have to identify the influencer. There are so many platforms now that you could plug in a term. If you wanted to find a makeup influencer, there are tools out there where you simply search makeup influencer and it will pop up results. That’s pretty much how you start. Then you start sourcing down to specifically what they can do for you.
This is where brands need to be very careful. I’m not a programmer and the technology side escapes me. This is the reason there are so many companies sprouting up that basically they’re getting venture capital. They’re promising that they’re going to be the best tool to help brands find the right influencer. What they’re all doing is they’re getting access to the same data and that’s just going into the back end of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or YouTube and polling numbers automatically. It will ping the person and find out their number of followers, the number of retweets, the number of this and that. It will give that information back to the brand in a very beautifully laid out grid.You can’t just blindly base on numbers; go put your money behind a campaign with them. Click To Tweet
You’ve got to know that all those numbers can be somewhat manufactured if someone is buying their likes or there are bots that are following them. There are even very savvy bots that will leave comments. You have to be very careful and still do your legwork and get down into the trenches. You yourself observe those influencers and look at the engagement yourself, see how people are reacting, and look at the other brands they’ve been promoting. You can’t just blindly base on numbers, go put your money behind a campaign with them.
You brought up an excellent point. The bots overtook social media, let’s say over five years ago where suddenly you can just buy stuff. You can buy likes, you can buy followers, you can buy whatever you want with it and suddenly, it looks like you were like this big wig with your social media. Consumers are savvy, businesses are savvier. What happened was, finally, I feel like the tools caught up and are suddenly getting savvy. We’ve heard that not only Facebook, but Twitter and Instagram changed their whole API access, which means companies that were using this API on the development side and being able to log into the stats and things like that on the back end, suddenly were getting locked out in a big way.
These companies, these businesses they’re in the process right now of having to redo all that so it’s not as easy as it used to be simply to do this API and grab those numbers. I feel the social media tools were the last one to want to do something about the bot situation. It was part of their marketing plan or their growth plan in the beginning just to be like, “We’re going to have all these people using.” What they’re finding now, it was amazing just from me being a social media marketer that suddenly the tools I was using on a very above level white hat way, we were getting locked out hardcore. My one client got locked out of Twitter for a week because we were using a scheduler, which is a very well-known scheduler. It’s good and like above the board white hat but suddenly, Twitter just pinged us as a spammer.
The reason I mentioned this is because the social media tools now are much savvier and much more willing to be able to want to do something about kicking out accounts that are bogus. In the long run, it’s going to help this whole influencer marketing sphere because we’re going to get back to people who are real influencers, who have real audiences, and who have real engagement. This is shaking out some of the garbage that was out there. I’ll be interested to see what this turns into. That’s the other thing that’s cool about influencer marketing is it’s changing what it means. The mommy blogs are not what they used to be. Even the things that you see online. I find that fascinating with social media, how things keep moving.
As all of these companies evolve, they’re monitoring and measuring social media influencers. Then they’re offering a service to brands and consumers and charging for that. There are so many of them backed by venture capital and there’s going to be a shake out. A lot of them are going to fall by the wayside. What will happen is they’re going to start eventually buying each other until there are a few large ones left. I wouldn’t be surprised if a platform then purchased them or a media outlet might purchase them. What you’re going to see is a consolidation of the power of being closely related.
When you say purchase them, do you mean purchase these influencer tools?
Wouldn’t you expect that someone like Google or Facebook, they’re going to own everything? Then of course, the influencers who are on Facebook are going to be connected right to the tool that connects them with the brand. It’s all going to become very streamlined. I don’t know that that’s going to be a good thing. I don’t think it is. What’s going to happen is, consumers are very savvy, your audience is very savvy, the thing you need to do is make sure that when you pick an influencer to work with, you are in the weeds with them. You are actually seeing what they’re doing and you are connecting with an influencer that’s right for your brand. Otherwise, it’s going to backfire and it’s going to look horrible. We’re all aware of a popular celebrity who put out a sponsored tweet in an Instagram post, but included in the post the instructions for posting the post. Of course, the audience knows and they get a laugh at it. This person obviously doesn’t care about the brand. They’ve got the check. They’re copying and pasting and didn’t even read what they’re supposed to do.With influencers, you have the opportunity to start small and scale. Click To Tweet
That’s a good point and that’s not something we brought up, that these social media tools, all of the platforms are much stricter now. When you’re doing promotional posts they want you to mention that it’s a promotional post, but I don’t know what police things are going on with that? I’m not aware of any. I haven’t heard of anybody getting their hands slapped.
I’ve seen a couple of things that happened in the online gaming world that was salacious. As far as policing, I wouldn’t be surprised if the competitors police each other. They would be telling on each other.
We’ve covered a lot of good stuff. Why don’t we give three takeaways for someone who is either interested in influencer marketing for their business or is something that they’re like, “This may be something that would be good for my client.” Let’s do some three takeaways that they could use to start getting involved with influencer marketing. Number one and something we’ve already covered is, have a clear idea of what your ROI is, what you’re expecting out of it.
What I would tell our audience is with influencers, you have the opportunity to start small and scale. You’re going to be able to determine whether or not you’re spending your money wisely. I would highly suggest taking a micro influencer. That’s an influencer with, different people measure it different ways, but less than X number of followers, maybe less than 100,000. Some people might even say less than 10,000 followers on their channel or whatnot. Pick a geographic location, pick an age group, and narrow it down. All these tools give you the ability to break all this down. You’re going to start small, you’re going to pick a region, you’re going to do a test, and then you grow it out from there. Rather than trying to tackle the idea of a national campaign or something larger or an all in one, blow all your money in one big campaign, start small. See what the results are, see how it is working with the influencer, and then replicate that through other markets.
Number one is know your ROI. Number two is start small and scale. Number three for influencer marketing and this one’s important is understand and accept that influencer marketing is changing on a daily basis. Make sure that your plans are flexible, that you’re not putting all your eggs in one basket thinking, “I’m going to build my business or launch my product or make my million dollars by doing this one campaign.” That’s never going to work. You have to be flexible. Understand that influencers aren’t everything and traditional marketing is always still a good idea.
Always go back to the good old-fashioned PR. It’s never going to fail you. I would say for my second suggestion or take away is to not be distracted and romanced by the glitz and glitter of all the fancy tools that are out there. When you’re looking at different tools or you’re going to pay a social media expert agency that has all this data and promises you the world, you still have to be very cautious and do your homework. A lot of these companies do a good job in packaging the information, but there’s not a lot of substance behind it. Dig down into what that data means and what does it mean for you and your business before you commit any dollars to it.
You see it all the time where you see the service, you’re like, “This sounds great,” and it doesn’t do anything for you. You said about you’re doing your own research. You’re looking at what the actual engagement is. Instead of using tools that you were diving in and doing it manually.
You’ve got to go in and get down into the weeds. You’ve got to get your hands dirty. You’ve got to get in there with those influencers.
We have way more than three takeaways but in a nutshell, know what your purpose is, start small and scale and do the dirty work.
This could be my takeaway for every podcast we do and it is old school Sharon coming out again. It’s that you have to be authentic with yourself and with your consumers. That means that there’s no fancy way to fool or to manipulate or to a get rich quick by being fancy with your maneuvers. You just need to be authentic about your product and about you or your service and make sure your influencers are doing the same. Otherwise, it’s going to backfire. You’re never going to win.
That is so true in every aspect of life and that is why I love you so much, Sharon. You’re always logical, you’re always grounded and you keep me out of the social media firestorm in a lot of ways. This was a great show. I am glad that we finally got to cover influencer marketing. Join us again for another episode where we like to mesh the old school with the new school because all the schools are good in our book.