Successful influencer marketing strategies have helped brands achieve amazing revenue growth. With hockey-stick growth as a potential outcome, brands cannot ignore the allure of tapping into the influencer marketing arena.
Riot Games’ influencer strategy for “League of Legends” helped the game become the most played video game of all time and a $1.6 billion gaming empire. La Croix won over Millennials in droves with its influencer strategy. And Fashion Nova is building an apparel behemoth focusing primarily on Instagram influencer content.
How did they do it? By working with influencers who were already engaging with their perfect potential customers. Today’s digital consumers rely on the content they actively seek out and want to engage with to make decisions. And this content lives in the social worlds of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and others.
It’s not enough these days to simply publish a blog post on your site and cross your fingers in hopes that it goes viral. Brands need to get their content in front of their audience.
So instead of pushing messages that may or may not be seen, these companies have built a strategy to effectively reach their target consumers where they were already paying attention: influencers.
Influencer marketing has inherent risks that don’t exist in traditional marketing. Brands are being forced to give up complete control of brand message and image — and that’s downright scary to any marketer all the way up to the CMO.
The Risks of Working With Influencers
Like any marketing campaign, there is financial risk. It’s possible that you pay an influencer to collaborate and create content, but then it doesn’t drive the ROI you’re expecting. It’s possible that you pay an influencer to collaborate and create content, but then the collaboration doesn’t drive the ROI you’re expecting.
Unlike the beautiful world of cost per thousand, cost per click, and cost per acquisition, influencers don’t actually control who sees their content. Influencers rely on “organic reach,” which means they’re at the mercy of the powers that be behind the Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube algorithms. And they’re reaching fewer followers than you may think — one recent study shows the average reach of Facebook page posts is just 2.6 percent. So if you’re paying based on the number of followers an influencer has, you’re likely to be disappointed by the results.
The second risk is that your sponsored posts come across as inauthentic. There must be a natural alignment between a brand’s message and the influencers it collaborates with. Consumers can see right through a brand-driven influencer campaign. In the worst of cases, a lack of authenticity can cause public backlash and damage brand equity.
There are numerous examples of sponsored content gone wrong. Consider the time Scott Disick copied and pasted posting instructions for a sponsored post on Instagram, for instance. He certainly drew a lot of attention, but it wasn’t the type of attention Bootea — the brand behind the post — wanted.
The Fyre Festival was an even bigger brand nightmare, with influencers like Emily Ratajkowski and Bella Hadid promoting the event and then deleting the posts during the aftermath. Then, of course, there was Kendall Jenner’s infamous Pepsi commercial, which was universally criticized for being inauthentic and insensitive.
Another risk to influencer marketing is that the actions of the influencer are associated with your brand. Brands want to be associated with influencers who ultimately end up personifying the brand because when people think of that influencer, they immediately think of your brand.
But this can go terribly wrong if your influencer is, say, Jared Fogle or Lance Armstrong. All the brand equity built up by Subway and Nike turned to crisis management when scandals broke. The risk is that without a brilliant crisis management team, your brand name will be tarnished along with your influencer’s reputation.
How to Choose and Vet the Right Influencers
Influencer marketing isn’t something that can be ignored because there are risks. Once you understand the risks, you can create strategies to find and vet potential influencers to minimize risk while still maintaining the influencer’s independence.
1. Understand Engagement and ROI
Just because an influencer has a lot of followers doesn’t mean your campaign will automatically be successful. Followers don’t create ROI — actual impressions and engagement do.
Before you begin a campaign, determine the actual reach and average engagement you expect your influencers to achieve. You can expect an influencer’s audience to engage at a similar rate when the content is in line with what they want to see, and an unrelated product pitch is likely to fall flat.
Once you launch a campaign, don’t just rely on organic reach. You’re putting in a lot of effort to have great content created — do all you can to get this content in front of your audience.
Tactically, this means if your influencers are creating blog posts, make sure you have a pixel in place. Pay to promote the blog post on Facebook and then retarget the readers of that post with paid social ads to increase the conversion rate. If you are running a social-focused campaign, don’t rely on organic reach. Negotiate with your influencers to boost the content and actually reach your intended audience.
2. Ensure Authenticity
Make sure the influencer is excited about your brand and can get behind your product. One approach is to only work with influencers you can contact and speak with directly because your chances of success go up dramatically if you speak with the influencer and not his or her agent (especially for microinfluencers with 50,000-100,000 followers). Go with your gut on the influencer’s reaction and response during that initial conversation to determine whether you should move forward.
Also, make sure your influencer is “authentic.” At a minimum, look at his or her audience demographics to ensure followers’ geography is what you expect, and check that followers are mostly real people and not bots. There are plenty of free (and paid) tools out there to help review an account for authenticity.
Once you’ve signed an influencer, provide guidelines and have an approval and review process in place before content goes live.
Content should be authentic and driven by your influencers. It’s a great idea to provide bullet points, talking points, or value propositions to cover, but avoid scripting. Let the influencer talk about your brand in his or her own voice.
3. Do Your Homework
Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to avoid the scandals and public backlash associated with your influencers. At a base level, though, you should do your homework to ensure the influencer doesn’t have a record of things that could be telling of future incidents. At a minimum, ensure the influencer’s existing content aligns with what your brand believes in.
In the (hopefully) unlikely event that a scandal breaks, be on top of it. If necessary, make sure you sever ties with the influencer and have a communications strategy in place to openly communicate that the actions are not acceptable and not what your brand stands behind.
Finding the right influencer is only half the battle. Before you commit to any partnership, have influencers share their audience demographics (including Google Analytics, Facebook, and Instagram) for instant visibility into the gender, age, and location of their audience.
You can also request that influencers share their Facebook pixel and custom audience data with you (from their blog), so you can retarget people who are exposed to your content and advertise to potential customers.
Most importantly, don’t build “one and done” relationships. With the exception of impulse purchases, most purchases require multiple touchpoints before someone is willing to buy. Leverage your influencer campaigns to deliver more than one impression of your brand to the audience. This not only makes customers more willing to buy, but it also increases the perception of authenticity and strengthens the bond between brand and customer.
Influencer marketing can be an incredibly powerful tool to reach consumers where they are, but it has to be done right in order to see positive results. Once you understand the risks involved and create a strategy to minimize those risks, you’re far more likely to establish a partnership that is mutually beneficial.