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Influencer Marketing: Everything You Need to Know

As social media marketing continues to revolutionize the marketplace, businesses are finding new and innovative ways to use its growing power and influence. Sometimes, however, the most innovative thing that a business can do is to put a new twist on an old theme. Influencer marketing is one such example of an old concept of celebrity product endorsements and evolving for the social media age.

Bloggers, Vloggers and YouTube stars are the new celebrities and are using their mass following on Social Media to recommend and endorse products with great success. Much like the hysteria Michael Jordan used to get advertising Nike, a product mentioned by the YouTube sensation Joey Graceffa mentioned product will drive huge sales for a brand.

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YouTube, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Pinterest—these are the visual platforms where you find young buyers waiting to be influenced. As of today, this form of customer acquisition is growing in popularity at a rate that surpasses many other forms of online marketing – including email marketing and both organic and paid searches. As many as 60% of marketers are investing, according to data collected from the cloud communication company Augure and this is soon set to be a billion-dollar segment of a half-a-trillion industry.

Companies that ignore the inherent power of this influencer marketing run the risk of falling behind competitors who embrace it. But what is Influencer Marketing Anyway?

Before you can understand how influencer marketing might be right for your business, you first need to understand what it is. In traditional brand marketing campaigns, companies have relied on various celebrities – movie stars, athletes, etc. – to try to influence customers to purchase different products or services. The entire strategy was premised upon the belief that people would buy products that were being championed by certain popular stars. Those stars, just by virtue of their fame, were believed to have some mystical connection to potential customers. And guess what? For many companies, the strategy worked!

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Influencer marketing relies on basically the same strategy, except in its case it focuses on the influence certain influential online personalities have with their own audiences. Thanks to the power of social media, there are many online personalities in the marketplace today who have earned tremendous followings on their blogs and social media pages. Some of these personalities have demonstrated a level of expertise in one or more areas of life that makes them respected voices on those subjects.

One prime example of Michelle Phan who started off making YouTube videos where she gave easy to follow makeup tutorials and demonstrations. Over time, she has amassed over 7.7 million subscribers, 1.1 billion lifetime views, and 350 uploaded videos. Perhaps more important than the number of her followers is the personal brand image she has been able to build.

Big cosmetic companies like L’oreal have recognized this power, authority and influence over the market and co-branded a cosmetic line with her. Michelle Phan has become a cosmetics authority – one that many consumers would trust – rather than a faceless model or actor endorsing a product.

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Influencer marketing involves companies identifying those personalities whose expertise fits with the company’s products and services, and then aligning themselves with those influencers. The premise underlying this strategy is, of course, a sound one: put simply, consumers are more likely to buy products that are recommended by people they trust and respect.

To truly understand why this is important, all you have to do is consider the power of traditional word-of mouth advertising. Most of us are far more likely to believe a trusted friend’s recommendation than any advertising that a company offers.

The Growth of Influencer Marketing

What would you say if someone told you that bloggers were now one of the most important sources consumers consult before making any purchasing decisions? It’s true! And while retail websites and product brand pages still receive more traffic than those blogs, they lag behind considerably when it comes to consumer trust. More than 9/10 people say that they rely far more on recommendations from others than on information provided by companies.

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Moreover, that reliance is not restricted to recommendations from people that these consumers personally know. The fact is that 92% of the consumer population would rather take the word of a complete stranger over any paid marketing message! In addition, seven out of ten consumers list reviews they read online as their second option when it comes to trusted recommendations. That’s a remarkable evolution in the concept of word-of-mouth, and one that has not gone unnoticed by the business

If you think about how young the commercial internet really is, then the fact that nearly two-thirds of all brands now make some use of influencer marketing should demonstrate how powerful this trend has become. Companies are sponsoring social media influencers and their content at a rate that continues to grow with each passing year. Today, only 35% of all available brands have no direct interaction with the influencer market.

That percentage is expected to shrink even more in the coming years as more companies come to realize that the marketplace ground has firmly shifted beneath their feet. Many will struggle as they try to adapt to these changes, and those that simply try to wait for this new paradigm to pass from history may themselves disappear from the market

Hard Facts on Why Businesses Need to Take Notice of Influencer Market.

These facts brands just can’t ignore…

  • Marketing-lead consumer to consumer word of mouth generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising. NeoReach

  • Customers who were acquired through word-of-mouth have a 37% higher retention rate. McKinsey

  • On average, marketers who executed an Influencer Marketing program in 2014 received $6.85 in earned media value for every $1.00 of paid media. Burst Media

  • 59% of Marketers are intending to increase** their influencer marketing budgets in 2015 Tidal Labs

5 Reasons Why Your Brand Needs Influencer Marketing

Of course, no one expects you to just adopt some new strategy for customer engagement and acquisition just because everyone else is doing it. After all, you probably never would have gotten to where you’re at today if you just did what everyone else did, right?

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Well, here are five reasons why your company and brand needs influencer marketing to remain competitive and vibrant in this ever-changing economy:

  1. Influencers help with real user-created content. This is important for one simple reason: every study demonstrates that consumers trust content created by other users far more than they trust paid branding messages. This content helps to provide authority from a trusted source, and can increase brand awareness across not only the influencer’s audience, but among the extended audience represented by that audience’s own followers and friends.
  2. Influencers provide vital education about your brand to their audiences. Often times, companies do a pretty poor job of educating consumers about their brands, products, and services. An influencer can close that gap with video tutorials, and real case studies that demonstrate the actual benefits of any product.

  3. An influencer’s positive reviews can outweigh negative feedback. Negative feedback – customer complaints, etc. – are almost impossible to avoid when you operate a business. After all, you can’t please everyone, no matter how hard you try. However, an influencer’s continued positive reviews and recommendations can quickly and effectively bury those negative views and even reverse negative opinions about your brand over time.

  4. Influencers add to your search engine optimization by providing real authority to your brand. When the search engines see your website linked to from a blog or other platform that is considered both reliable and popular, it enhances your site’s reputation. That can give you a tremendous increase in SEO power and help to elevate your search rankings.

  5. Influencers can increase your sales. This one is almost a no-brainer. Just ask yourself one question: do your sales pick up when customers are out there telling all their friends and family members about your wonderful products and services? Of course they do. Well, the same thing happens when influencers share your brand with their audience. The only difference is that instead of word-of-mouth that reaches perhaps a few dozen people at most, these authorities can promote your brand to hundreds of thousands of people at once!

Who Uses Influence Marketing?

You might be wondering who actually uses influence marketing, and why – especially when presented with those impressive numbers cited above. Well, the truth is that companies are using influencers for a variety of critical goals. Many brands rely on these influencers to fill a crucial niche in their product launch strategies. Others depend upon them for distributing relevant user-generated content. Still others turn to these authorities for promoting information about events or helping in the management of various crisis situations.

The companies that utilize this strategy include entities both large and small. One clear example of the benefits of this approach is seen in the area of online fashion sites. There are a number of recognized blog and social media authorities, and fashion companies routinely send them products to be reviewed. These influencers then present their opinions to their audiences, and spark new interest in the companies they promote.

These “Influencers” get paid per tweet, post or mention, some either work under contract on big worldwide campaigns. Some of these rising stars get connected with companies covering multiple social media platforms, like theAudience and CollectiveDigital.

In fact, every platform has an influencer agency:

Business is booming for these agencies and top influencers can make thousands of dollars a day for shout outs and endorsements. Big money is changing hands, for example, Hot Pockets hired gamer Toby “Tobuscus” Turner and SpikeTV hired iJustine. These young influencers have begun muscling out the Kim Kardashian’s of the world for celebrity endorsements.

The fact is that just about any company that can benefit from the advocacy of a trusted authority can realize the potential of this new strategy. The key is to identify the right influencer for your brand and then figure out how best to reach out to that person to develop the type of relationship you need to advance your goals.

Where to Look For Your Influencer?

Before you can even begin to think about where you can find the right influencer, you first need to spend some time thinking about the audience you’re trying to reach. You have to have some idea of the type of content your audience typically follows to understand how you can reach them with your message. That means learning about the blogs, tweets, and other content that your target audience relies on for their brand information.

A good influencer for your brand would be someone who is a solid fit for your company and its offerings. When you start reviewing tweets and blogs that deal with brands like your own, you’ll be able to identify which people in any discussion are having the most influence over the audience as a whole. When that person also demonstrates knowledge about issues related to your brand and seems to possess stature as an authority on the subject, then you know you have found a good candidate.

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Naturally, that potential influencer has to have a few other characteristics as well. It would be pointless to reach out to even the most authoritative candidate if he or she had minimal reach. To be useful, any blog or twitter user has to actually have a sizeable following. Anyone with 250,000 to 300,000 followers is influential enough to work with. Plus 500,000 then you’re entering into influencer marketing gold.

In addition, he or she has to actually have a following that actively engages in any discussions. That engagement is critical, since it determines whether the influencer’s recommendations actually carry weight with the audience.

As a general rule, you can assume a certain level of loyalty from any influencer’s followers, just by virtue of the fact that people have to opt-in to access the content on a regular basis. That demonstrates some degree of loyalty. The actual dialogue and engagement between influencer and audience, however, gives broader clues to whether that loyalty translates into anything that is actionable from a marketing standpoint.

Once you’ve identified an active social personality who is recognized as an authority by his or her audience, then you can reach out and explain how you could work together. This should involve content creation of some sort, as well as the influencer trying out (free) samples of your products.

Sometimes you can provoke a positive response just by sending out unsolicited product offerings. Other times, you might even need to consider monetary compensation – though that can defeat the purpose if you remember why you’re choosing this option over paid marketing efforts.

The 4 Ms of influencer Marketing

Many who rely on influence marketing neglect some fundamentals that can help to shape those campaigns. These fundamentals are best embodied in the Four Ms of influencer marketing: make, manage, monitor, and measure.

Use of these 4 Ms is essential for understanding how effective your influencer marketing efforts actually are.

  • Make

The first of these Ms involves a complete focus on the customer rather than the influencer. All too often, companies look for the right influencer to fit their brand, and fail to realize that this requires finding someone who best matches the needs of the customer audience they are trying to reach. To make an influencer you first have to identify your customers’ needs. Are they still searching for the right product, have already found yours but just need a second opinion before buying, or are already to buy and unsure how to complete the process? Knowing those things should help determine what you need in an influencer since that influencer’s role should be to assist your potential customers to advance to the next stage of the purchasing life cycle.

  • Manage

The manage phase of the process involves even more research, as you try to determine which actions taken by your influencer impact your audience, and in what way. Analytical tools can help to determine which language used by the influencer produced which results. Those results might be a positive reaction, negative feedback, a new inquiry or purchase, or even someone just deciding to skip your brand altogether. By understanding that dynamic, you can better manage the way in which you approach your influencers.

  • Monitor

The monitoring stage entails exactly that: tracking the impact that potential influencers have on their target audience by monitoring the dynamic within that group and comparing it to your brand activity. For example, you can determine how that dynamic impacts a customer’s decision to buy your product, consider buying it, or refuse to buy it. Any potential influencer’s ability to provoke real dialogue from his audience can provide you with critical marketing data that can be used to not only choose the influencers you need, but adapt your marketing strategy to those customers’ expressed needs.

  • Measure

When it comes to the 4 Ms, the measure part is perhaps the most critical. This is where the rubber meets the road and all your plans and efforts are actually evaluated within the context of one essential metric: did they work? You’ve developed a plan, executed it at the influencer level, and monitored the incoming data in real time (or as close to real time as possible) and now it’s time to actually evaluate all that information and see what worked and what didn’t.

To properly measure, you have to evaluate a number of factors to determine who actually had the most positive impact on your brand over the course of your campaign. Which of the influencers you targeted were able to influence their audience in accordance with your objectives and which has the most impact on conveying your company’s message? In most instances, you can directly correlate these influencer activities to the actual financial results you experienced during that time. Was there a positive benefit? Was there an impact on competitors? Did you learn anything that can improve your brand, your products, or your services?

This analysis process is essential to understanding how your campaign impacts your bottom line. Without it, your influencer marketing efforts may amount to little more than wishful thinking as you focus on strategies that may or may not be producing any real, tangible results for your company and its brand.

Final word

There is no denying the fact that marketing has been changed forever by the advent of the internet age. Outbound marketing strategies that once seemed fundamental have now given way to more closely-knit consumer groups that rely on different sources for their product and brand information. Nowhere is this truer than in the case of young people, who overwhelmingly opt for recommendations from social media personalities over better-known celebrities or canned corporate content.

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In one sense, though, this is nothing new. Many salespeople who grew up in the era before giant impersonal multinational corporations might remember being taught that most basic of sales truths: people buy from people. The phenomenon of influencer marketing is just the latest and most effective realization of that essential truth. Companies and marketers that are quick to adapt to this new realization and implement this strategy within their own brand marketing efforts will find that the power of influencer marketing can do wonders for their businesses.

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