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How to discover the value of influencer marketing

In a highly social web, information travels like waves -- and influencers are the wavemakers. They have the following, trust and influence to guide an audience toward loving, listening or leaving brands.



At its most basic, Influencer Marketing is like a hybrid of old and new marketing tools, taking the idea of the celebrity endorsement and placing it into a modern day content-driven marketing campaign. The main difference is that the results of the campaign are usually collaborations between brands and influencers.


The term “influencer marketing” increased by 325% in Google searches over 2017. Making it the fastest-growing online acquisition method. This trend is likely to continue in the future, as roughly two-thirds of marketing departments are looking forward to increase their budget for influencer marketing. Although influencer marketing is not a new concept within the industry, it has become wildly popular in the past few years. As the world around us becomes more technologically advanced, influencer marketing has made its way to the forefront and companies are devoting more time and effort to the tactic than ever before.


This form of marketing is focused on influential people rather than the target market as a whole. It identifies the individuals that have influence over potential customers, and orients marketing activities around these influencers.


Influencer content may be framed as testimonial advertising where they play the role of a potential buyer themselves, or they may be third parties. These third parties exist either in the supply chain (retailers, manufacturers, etc.) or may be so-called value-added influencers (such as journalists, academics, industry analysts, professional advisers, and so on).


In the United States of America, Influence marketing is treated by the Federal Trade Commission as a form of paid endorsement, governed under the rules for native advertising; the agency applies established truth-in-advertising standards to such advertising and establishes requirements for disclosure on the part of endorsers (influencers). Other countries' media-regulatory bodies, such as Australia's, have created guidelines around influencer marketing following the decision of the FTC.

Promoting products via social media influencers can be categorized as a form of subconscious marketing. For ages, brands and advertisers have been seeking to shape consumers’ thoughts, attitudes, and behavior, without us even being aware of it.


Today, the biggest platform for influencer marketing can be found on Instagram. 2019 saw a whopping $3.1 billion brand sponsored influencer posts. And that number is estimated to double in 2020, creating an estimated market size of nearly $6 billion. Understandably, brands are lining up to be associated with popular social media personas. As a matter of fact, this high demand has created a whole industry of its own, with intermediary agencies popping up left and right to serve as matchmakers between companies and their desired influencers.


While the numbers may speak for themselves, that still leaves us with our main question: who exactly are these people?


Well, basically, everyday people. They’re people who have a passion and aren’t afraid to tell the world about it. Whether that be cooking, fashion, comedy, or gaming, the possibilities are endless. And by posting about their passion on social media, influencers have gained immense Internet popularity, allowing them to shape and influence audience opinions on matters through blog posts, videos, pictures, tweets, and so on.


So why are social media influencers so influential?


So far, we have established who influencers are and how they are on the rise in the field of online marketing. But you may still question why.


What makes influencers so attractive for online marketers?
What makes their opinion so powerful?

Credibility and social proof - Studies have shown that the credibility of a peer endorser depends on the factors of trustworthiness, expertise, attractiveness, and similarity. Taking the first two into account, we can note that the degree of influence a person possesses depends on his degree of perceived power.


According to French and Raven’s (1960) framework of power bases, one of the key elements to perceived power lies in expertise. A blogger that focuses on one particular subject, let’s say cooking, will be perceived to have more authority when it comes to a particular brand of food (as opposed to a technology or sport blogger). This authoritative position is further strengthened by a game of sheer numbers: a large number of followers, shares, and likes will provide viewers with a form of social proof. The notion that others value the opinion of an influencer, and adhere to their judgments, assures viewers that doing so is okay. If the majority is doing something, they must be right.


Attractiveness - Then there’s the matter of attractiveness. This is a strategy that marketers have already been using for ages — example, there are numerous  advertisements featuring some handsome Hollywood actor recommending a certain luxury product. This is purely a psychology play, as humans are susceptible to attractiveness bias, we subconsciously attribute attractive or charismatic people with many other qualities simply because of the good looks. Furthermore, this could lead to positive associations between the person and the brand as well. These opinions influence the subconscious of the viewer, potentially priming them when faced with a product-related decision.


Relatability and the millennial crowd - But, what really sets social media influencers apart from other types of endorsers is their relatability. Despite having a large popularity and Internet following, influencers are still perceived as mostly normal, down-to-earth people. They post about their everyday life, stay connected with their followers, and are able to interact directly with them. Plus, they often share the same age group, demographics, interests, and behaviors of their target audience.


This ties in closely to social identity theory, the part of psychology that deals with how people view themselves as belonging to a group of similar individuals, and basing part of their personal identity on their membership to said group. Naturally, the opinions of members of the same group are worth more to people than those of a different group.


More importantly, most influencers belong to the younger age group of millennials, a demography that is notoriously difficult to reach for marketers. They’re a group that places strong value on forming their own identity, one of the most important parts of growing up. To do so, teens often look up to role models to shape their own behavior. Having a role model that is relatable and easy to identify with makes it all the more likely that teens will copy their behavior. With this in mind, there are a few tips and potential pitfalls to keep in mind when choosing to promote promote your brand via an influencer marketing strategy.


Authenticity is key - Ever heard of the TARES test? It’s a set of five principles that serve as a guideline for persuasive communication. The A stands for authenticity, which can be explained in many different ways, but is arguably the most important criterion that has to be met in an influencer campaign.


Does the influencer match the values of your brand? Would he/she use your product in everyday life?

Is it something he/she wholeheartedly believes in, and would recommend to his own friends and family? Taking your time to select the right influencer that is the perfect fit for your brand will make the message much more believable.


It’s okay to be transparent - In order to establish trust, transparency is key. The millennial crowd seeks out transparency in a brand, which also happens to be the number one factor that promotes brand loyalty. Young people are well enough informed to know that influencer marketing exists. Adding a simple #ad or #sponsored hashtag to a sponsored post will prevent the audience from feeling deceived and will likely reduce any feelings of animosity towards the brand.

To be truly influential online, not only do you have to be popular, but you have to be able to get others involved in spreading your message.


In other words, if you’re looking to spark an ongoing conversation about a new product in the hopes of going viral, you might be better off pursuing different methods. Don’t fixate yourself with the number of likes or followers of your desired influencer alone. For an effective influencer campaign, choose quality over quantity. One influencer may have a bigger audience than the other, but the one that is a better fit to the specific target audience you’re trying to reach will ultimately help you further. Using social media influencers as a marketing tactic is an effective method to reach a large audience and increase brand awareness.


A good example of this would be Youtube celebrity PewDiePie. He teamed up with the makers of a horror film set in the French catacombs under Paris, creating a series of videos in which he underwent challenges in the catacombs. It was pitch-perfect content for PewDiePie’s 27 million subscribers, and received nearly double the views as the movie’s trailer. Everybody won. Within any industry, there are influential people—you just have to find them. They are easily recognized by their hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of followers, and that’s the target audience you’re after.


Don’t jump into this trend haphazardly — take your time to find an influencer that matches your brand, is able to deliver an authentic message to the specific target group you’re trying to reach, and be upfront about it. Carefully consider your approach in influencer marketing; Be organized, put together a strategy, plan and budget, spend time on research; Develop a schedule; Integrate with your PR schedule, product release schedule, etc.


What Influencer Marketing is Not


This is a good time to point out that IM isn’t just about finding someone with an audience and offering them money or exposure so they can say good things about you. That’s what viral celebrities are for. Influencers are people who’ve spent time building their own brand and cultivating their audience; they will be naturally protective of their reputation and the people who trust them. They’re people who had the patience and focus to succeed in social media, one organic follower at a time—people like this aren’t interested in a quick payout. Influencer Marketing is also not about quick payouts. It’s the same kind of slow-and-steady approach as Social Media and Content Marketing, where your campaign isn’t about directly selling your wares. It’s about demonstrating your authority, credibility, and thought-leadership within your industry. It’s about becoming synonymous with whatever it is that you offer, like when people say they’re going to Xerox a document instead of photocopying it. With Social Media Marketing, it’s a slow game of acquiring the kind of followers who are going to be loyal and engaged. It’s tempting to think that joining forces with an influencer is going to be an easy way into the hearts and minds of her followers—it’s not that simple, though. Because to ally yourself with influencers, you’ve got to earn their trust and respect. IM tells us that our time is better spent in marketing directly to influential people whose likes and dislikes we already know — are well aligned with our own. While it’s the influencer’s audience that’s the ultimate prize, the target market for brands comprises the influencers themselves. On Instagram, industry experts suggest a price point of $1,000 per 100,000 followers. This price should be adjusted further depending on the reach and relevance of your influencer. On YouTube, a price point of $100 per 1,000 views is standard. The beauty of influencer marketing is that anyone can become an influencer, and businesses have a plethora to choose from, allowing them to reach large target audiences.


Why Is Influencer Marketing So Important?


Not long before technological advancements, scheduled television was virtually the only mass media consumers had access to and was one of the main platforms marketers used to advertise to the masses. Today, with the Internet and the popularity of social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, consumers have unlimited freedom and choice over the content they wish to view. This creates a problem for brands. As their target audience continues to spread out over various forms of media, it becomes increasingly difficult to reach them. Consumers are becoming increasingly skeptical of brands and their marketing tactics, and building trust is crucial. Advertising through influencers allows brands to promote through someone that a niche community watches, engages with and trusts on a daily basis. So, instead of being skeptical of a commercial or social media ad, consumers are trusting that if their influencer of choice loves the product, they will too. Unlike most marketing strategies, influencer marketing requires a high level of trust between a brand and a third party. Although influencers are often required to sign lawful contracts, the care of the brand's reputation is essentially in their keeping. A brand must be sure the influencer’s content aligns with their overall image. The use of uncanny or offensive content could have negative consequences on the brand's reputation. This is especially important when working with young influencers who may lack maturity and professionalism. Rather than marketing directly to a large group of consumers, you instead pay influencers to get out the word for you. Consumers of today are not the same as consumers of the past. They don’t listen to everything they hear on television or the radio. They don’t read billboards and take the information to heart. They do, however, listen to what other people have to say. Influencer marketing can make up a large portion of an inbound marketing campaign. When influencers recommend your brand to their following, they become an extension of your company’s marketing department. Both the ROI and marketing potential of influencer marketing are immense. Certainly, the value of influence over customers is not a novel concept in marketing. But as online customer conversations continue to evolve so drastically, influencers are playing a critical role in breaking online clutter, creating relevant customer dialogue and bringing trust to the table for brands and marketers alike. 


So why are influencers the lifeblood of your inbound marketing? Utilizing an inbound approach to influencer marketing drives awareness, cultivates an audience, and bolsters owned media over time. The effects of influencer marketing on your inbound efforts include: Improved word-of-mouth advertising Increased number of expert opinions gained So, how is this different from public relations? Influencer marketing is about unique, honest, legitimate relationships between the customer, brand and influencer. Which is exactly what makes influencer marketing so unique from other marketing tactics. When brands commit to influencers, they are also committing to being long-term advocates for their audience and customers. Being influential is also about content. You will need to find people who produce and share content that can impact your business or your buyer’s decision making process.

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©2019 by Shanu Thakur.