Although influencer marketing is a rapidly-maturing industry and an essential part of digital marketing as I write about in The Age of Influence, it’s often hard to know where to start. For this reason, I’ve prepared this guide to finding and engaging with brand influencers. Generally speaking, your first step is to find the right influencers, and this is harder than it sounds. Pick the wrong one, and you might end up with a public relations nightmare if they get involved in some scandals. On the other hand, choosing the right people can be a very profitable enterprise when ties between influencers and their followers are close. Once you’ve found the right person, it’s important to know how to work with them.
Who are brand influencers?
Before talking about how to find or work with brand influencers, it’s important to understand how we define them in the marketing industry. In short, they are bloggers and social media personalities who influence people to buy products or try services. Generally, this is done by producing sponsored content, but they start out by talking about things they love. So, you’ll see an influencer in the car industry driving cars they’ve rented on vacation and talking about how awesome they are or discussing the merits of a car accessory.
Another example could be sports equipment. Brands have used celebrity athletes to advertise for years, but not everyone is a professional athlete. Influencers in this area might be small-time competitive swimmers, or play college-level football. When not wearing the team uniform, they might like a particular brand of swimming goggles or football cleats. Over time, these people become influencers as people buy the products they talk about and come to trust their judgement.
How do they exercise influence? By being content creators. For instance, you can hire me to write a guest blog post, and this is true of many other blogging influencers. YouTube personalities might make a video review of a particular product, and Instagrammers can do pictures or Stories (or the latest Instagram Reels). Which type of content you choose is influenced heavily by the platform where the influencer operates, your budget, and your goals.
What sets influencers apart from celebrities is that they are “everyday people.” Lifestyle bloggers might, in their everyday lives, be someone who travels all the time for work. Or, a brand influencer in the beauty industry might be a student who likes to look beautiful everywhere she goes. Stay at home moms often have blogs that center around household topics like quick lunches for the kids. All of these lifestyles offer amazing opportunities to become experts in the products that make life easier. In short, they often are effective marketers because they fit your buyer persona.
Why engage with them?
Not many years ago, we marketers didn’t take advantage of the power of brand influencers because we didn’t know their value. More than that, influencers are a product of the Internet age. Early on, it was bloggers and their AdWords or affiliate links. Such efforts were mostly used to cover the costs of having a blog and making the time spent worthwhile. While this type of influencer marketing still exists, and is still profitable, there are many more opportunities out there. Furthermore, there are a lot of benefits to engaging with these people.
Probably the biggest reason to engage with brand influencers is the trust they’ve built up with followers. Remember, nobody wants to waste their time reading or watching things that aren’t worthwhile. Most of us are busy, and consumers are no different. Producing content in a particular niche that people find useful is a great way to get their attention. Over time, products are recommended and tried, both by the content creator and those who consume the content. This builds a trusting relationship that marketers can take advantage of.
Similarly, by engaging with influencers you can save money on social media. That’s because social networks penalize organic content from brand pages. However, influencer marketing lets you reach audiences without spending so much money on ads. Networks place these posts on par with non-sponsored posts made by everyday people (or even the influencers themselves). While traditional ads get ignored, influencer contact gets people’s attention.
Better yet, not every influencer marketing campaign needs to be sales-oriented. While traditional ads are expensive and generally must be aimed at getting sales or leads, influencer campaigns can focus on brand awareness. This is where a brand just wants people to know who they are and what they have to offer. Sometime in the future, brands might get a sale from those consumers as they find a need for the product.
Let me give you one more reason, though there are others. One of the best advantages of brand influencers is that they give your brand a human face. With traditional marketing, it’s easy for consumers to think “of course they’ll say that, they’re trying to sell something.” Influencers don’t have that problem. Rather, they can not only show off great products or services, but they can also talk about shared values. This way, a common bond can be built between brands and consumers.
How to find your brand influencers?
It’s one thing to talk about the value of brand influencers, and something else to find them. Not so long ago, there were stories all over the place about people wanting free stuff because they are an “influencer.”
Some smaller businesses saw that as a sort of shakedown because Yelp reviews are free, right? In this case, the bigger issue is that you can’t really figure out who is a real influencer by talking to them on the street. Unless they’re well-known, you’d need to check out their social media accounts. Even then, they might not be in the right industry.
With all these problems, how do you find the right influencers for your company? First, try to see who is already following your brand that might be an influencer. Often, you can identify these as people with a large number of followers or who do sponsored posts. You’ll want to go with the ones who are in your niche, though. Many influencers follow brands in other industries because they find them personally interesting. Remember, not every personal interest is the business one. At the same time, check competitor’s pages and see who you might have in common.
Next, do some old-fashioned research. This can mean doing hashtag searches to see who pops up, or taking it to Google, among other things. By doing these things, you can find people who are interested in various topics that are relevant to your brand. It’ll also give you the opportunity to see how much people post sponsored material or act as a subject matter expert. People like this often make excellent brand influencers.
When you’ve found some interesting possibilities, check them out more thoroughly. In particular, you’ll want someone who is authentic, and has genuine engagement. Authenticity means that they say what they really think and don’t act like too much like a salesperson. Someone who is authentic will only endorse brands that they think are worthy of lending out their good name. On the opposite end of the scale, some influencers will pitch anything if you pay them enough. You don’t want those.
Genuine engagement means that the influencer isn’t paying people to engage with their material. Instead, people engage when genuinely interested. These authentic and genuine influencers will give you the best ROI. Fraud is unfortunately rampant in the influencer world because everyone wants attention and to get rich. Asking random business owners for free stuff is just the beginning.
Finally, once you’ve found influencers who meet basic criteria of effectiveness and honesty, pick one that fits your buyer persona well. Want to sell cleaning products? Don’t go for the mom who reminds you of Real Housewives of Orange County. Not many housewives are really like them, and some find reality TV personalities obnoxious. Pick the mommy blogger instead. Want to sell fake tans and false nails? The reality star is your better choice.
How to work with them
When working with brand influencers, it’s always important to remember that these collaborations are supposed to be a win-win proposition. Even if you aren’t going to pay him or her a sum of money, there needs to be some sort of reward that you give the influencer for work done. For instance, many influencers who are just starting out will create content in exchange for free product. Think about it this way though: any reward needs to be fair compensation, so always consider the cash value. No other type of advertising works as a quid pro quo, and you don’t want to have that relationship go sour over the influencer feeling exploited. On the other hand, you shouldn’t get ripped off. Find that happy medium and stick with it.
Next, think about how to reach out. I’m not the only one who advises engaging with influencer content before pitching them. Remember that larger influencers get pitched regularly, so it might take some effort to get noticed. By showing interest in their content, you express a willingness to invest in that influencer and a genuine appreciation of them. Nobody likes to be a number or object, and influencers are no different.
Make sure you have a goal for the collaboration. Not only does this help you monitor performance, but it also helps the influencer when creating content. Think about it this way: as a writer, I can tell you that there’s more than one way to express your thoughts. However, one method might be more effective for lead generation, and another for brand awareness. By knowing what your goal is, I can tailor my writing accordingly.
Lastly, give influencers creative freedom. Before they were brand influencers, these individuals were simply content creators sharing their passions. Even though it’s become a business, influencers will feel less appreciated if you micromanage them. Give them freedom, however, and you’re more likely to enjoy a long and profitable relationship with them.
There’s no question that influencer marketing is here to stay, but it isn’t always as easy as it sounds. This guide has given a basic overview of working with brand influencers. Do it right, and you’ll probably enjoy excellent ROI. Be sure to check out my other posts for further influencer marketing industry tips.
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