What is Influencer Marketing? Your Guide to Successful Influencer Collaborations

What is Influencer Marketing? A Definition and Guide to Successful Influencer Collaborations

With influencer marketing creating more buzz than ever in our circles, I thought it was time for a refresher on the topic for those who haven’t read The Age of Influence. Newcomers and old hands of our industry alike are seeking more information about this phenomenon. In particular, people are asking “what is influencer marketing, and how do I get started?”

Answering these questions requires that we discuss the “why” behind the trend. In short, influencer marketing is a new take on the old technique of asking for celebrity endorsements. However, it is done in a way that adapts to today’s world and the modern consumer. And the democratization of influence makes it more attractive and practical with each passing day.

Check out my video below for an easy-to-understand definition of what is influencer marketing, and then keep reading for the full details!

YouTube video

A definition of what is influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is a marketing strategy of collaborating with social media users and other content creators who have influence over communities of varying sizes. This collaboration usually includes some sort of co-content creation or promotion of the brand by the influencer to their community.

What are the benefits of influencer marketing for brands?

what is a _____?

It almost goes without saying that not every trend in marketing, sales, or public relations is highly successful. In fact, some of them even fail early on because they are poorly designed or don’t mesh well with consumer tastes. Fortunately, influencer marketing is proven to benefit both brands and consumers. Let’s look at some of them.

Increased brand awareness

Especially if your brand is new or expanding into new markets, increased brand awareness is very important. Often an industry is dominated by a few big players and the small ones get squeezed out.

For instance, let’s look at fizzy drinks. Most of us immediately think about Coke and Pepsi, but there are many more brands as well. Those brands can expand by increasing brand awareness. Customers can also win by finding a great new product they enjoy.

Reach new audiences for less money

Reach new audiences for less money

At the end of the day, one of my answers to “what is influencer marketing?” is “when people introduce great products to their audience for a type of compensation or through a relationship.”

This compensation is typically less than the cost of producing similar results only by purchasing advertising. Ads on Google or social media are getting more expensive, and people tune them out. So, with influencer marketing we pay people to be our online sales force. Not only is this method cheap, but it’s very effective at reaching new markets.

Of course, when you tap into my brand affinity model for influencer marketing, there are many out there (your employees, customers, fans, et. al.) that don’t necessarily need compensation in order to incentivize them to talk about your brand in social media.

Create great new content

Influencer marketing results in the creation of new content because an expert content creator who knows how to engage social media audiences is doing the creating.

This content originates outside your typical content studio, giving it a new look and different personality. Not only do your content people get a break, but the new content appeals to the influencer’s demographic. In other words, no guessing about what each potential customer will respond well to, because, at the heart of it, influencers are masterful content creators.

Best of all, hiring an influencer helps take the heat off of your COVID-impacted team.

What is a social media influencer?

What is a social media influencer?

Briefly, a social media influencer is a content creator who has a significant following on social media. Here, we don’t necessarily mean a large number of people: paid influencers can have as few as a thousand followers as a nano influencer. Rather, these are dedicated followers who frequently take the advice of this influencer.

Influencers can occupy different roles within a niche or industry. Some, especially in the B2B space, are industry thought leaders. Others have a hobby, run a blog, or enjoy taking photographs of everyday life. Regardless, they are sharing these passions with a wider audience on social media. Over time, they become a social media influencer.

How to Get Started: Develop Your Influencer Marketing Strategy

Before you do anything else, ask yourself “what is influencer marketing for my company?”

In other words, what are your overall goals.

Do you want to use influencer marketing to increase brand awareness? Augment your content strategy? Save money? Directly drive increased sales ahead of earnings season?

Whatever those goals are, it is important to have those questions answered upfront. Keep in mind, you can always pivot that influencer marketing strategy later as needs change.

Show who you are

One of the great advantages of influencer marketing is it helps show the human side of a brand. Especially in tough times it’s easy for consumers to get jaded about advertising under the assumption that everyone “just wants money.” No matter your end goal, be sure to project social responsibility through influencer marketing this year and beyond.

Size up your competition

Size up your competition

When reaching out to influencers, ask them how they collaborate with other brands so you can be inspired by the playbooks of your competitors.

Influencers also have a great feel for your market and can often give you invaluable advice on what your competition is doing and what about your competition resonates with your audience.

Practice social listening

While working on your influencer marketing strategy, it is critical to practice social listening. Social listening means using software or manpower to see what people are saying about you online. It should also be practiced in regard to your competitors and overall niche. This way, you can take the pulse of the community.

One answer to “what is influencer marketing?” is “reaching out to the community through others.” Be sure to know how this needs to be done and to who is already talking about you in social media that you can reach out to.

Which Influencers Should You Recruit?

Which Influencers Should You Recruit?

One of the considerations with influencer marketing is the types of influencers you want to recruit for various campaigns. I would generally recommend a mixture, though all of them should cater to your niche or buyer persona.

By brand affinity

Influencers have different levels of brand affinity, no matter what industry you’re talking about. Influencers with an affinity include company stakeholders, customers, fans, and brand ambassadors. All of these types can be useful to an influencer campaign depending on your goals because there is already an element of like, know and trust with your brand.

By follower numbers

The traditional influencer marketing industry classifies influencers by the number of followers they have. The levels are celebrities, mega, macro, micro, and nano. Celebrities are people with millions of followers on social media, but they may or may not be famous off social media. Other celebrities are famous both online and offline. Each classification has differences in terms of costs, ease of engagement, and other factors.

There have been very successful campaigns done with influencers of all levels.

How to find the right social media influencer: Macro influencer vs. Micro Influencers vs Nano Influencers?

How to find the right social media influencer

Before choosing a social media influencer, if you want to go the traditional influencer marketing route, you need to decide how big of a following this person should have. Brands have had great success with influencers at all levels, but not all campaigns work well with all of them. In addition, your choice should be informed by the type of people you want to reach.

Macro influencers

As a rule, macro influencers are relatively expensive to engage, so you need to justify that expense. This is easy to do, however, if you want to reach a broad category of consumer. In this case, pick a macro influencer who appeals strongly to the desired demographic, but the influencer doesn’t have to be a member of that demographic. Macro influencers are also great for product launches where there’s a mass appeal, and to increase brand awareness.

Micro influencers

With micro influencers, you get a highly engaged content creator who is highly effective. This person knows how to do a sponsored campaign but isn’t terribly set in their ways. They tend to offer great ROI and are excellent for driving direct sales. However, the tradeoff is a smaller audience.

Nano influencers

These are the new kids on the block, especially when it comes to sponsorships. Brand awareness campaigns do well with nano influencers in niche markets. This is especially true if your product appeals to smaller customer groups, or if you are trying to “break in” to that demographic. Nano influencers are inexpensive to work with, but highly effective.

Furthermore, when beginning an influencer marketing program based on the brand affinity model, a majority of your participants will probably be at this level, so it’s a good place to start a program.

At the end of the day, I recommend that you choose your influencer level based on your target market and other goals. In some cases, it’s worth paying more to work with macro and mega influencers. In other situations, this will be a waste of money. Here, it’s a matter of crunching numbers and weighing alternatives.

But regardless of which size you choose, I highly recommend that a good portion of your program is about working with those that already love your brand.

What Does An Influencer Campaign Look Like?

Describing influencer campaigns is a bit more difficult than answering the question “what is influencer marketing.” That’s because campaigns come in many shapes and sizes, from individual sponsored content pieces to elaborate product collaborations.

However, there are some commonalities. For instance, a traditional influencer campaign always involves a company paying an influencer with product or money to recommend a product to their audience. With broad category of consumer you normally arrive at an agreement for them to make you content, post it on their social media, and get paid for it.

Product collaborations involve developing a version of a product that reflects influencer’s unique style or specifications.

Finally, the newest kid on the influencer marketing is content collaboration. In this case, you are leveraging influencers for their content creation, not content amplification, capabilities.

For all of these options, the influencer is expected to follow guidelines and comply with applicable laws. This is because you need to protect your brand’s reputation and legal interests.

What Does Success Look Like? How to Measure Influencer Marketing ROI

With influencer marketing, there are several ways to measure success. For instance, you can strive to get a certain number of engagements with the content. Engagement can include a “like,” comment, share, or even click through. These are easy to measure through analytics data. In this case, you measure ROI in terms of “cost per engagement.”

Another way to measure is by estimating the number of people who saw the post, called an impression. Again, analytics will help to get a view count. However, views which are the result of sharing on other social networks are harder to quantify. You’ll measure ROI as “cost per engagement.”

There’s also cost per lead or per sale. In this case, you can use landing pages with lead generation forms. If they come through the landing page, you credit this to the influencer. Sales can be tracked with affiliate links and discount codes for content-related collaborations.

For product collaborations, it’s the number of units that sell. Unfortunately, there will be a few sales that fall through the cracks if it is a “pop-up” short-term product collaboration because a code or link isn’t used, or has expired.

Content collaborations can be measured in two ways:

  1. Comparing the cost of influencer-generated content vs. your in-house or agency costs related to content creation
  2. Analyzing how better your ads or shopping carts convert using influencer-generated content vs. your own

In all circumstances, you will have to decide if the influencer marketing ROI was good enough for the collaboration. That means deciding if there were enough engagements, impressions, leads, sales, quality content, or converting content to justify the expense. If that doesn’t happen for a collaboration, then you’ll want to alter your strategy.

Also, don’t forget that similar to social media marketing as a whole, there are a plethora of intangible benefits in building an army of your Brand Ambassador influencers in social media.

Is there an influencer marketing software that aids the whole process?

As a matter of fact, there’s a large selection of software available. These range from simple discovery tools to elaborate social media marketing suites.

I recommend that you use at least one social listening tool, because it helps with both influencer discovery and campaign monitoring. Brand 24 is a great example of one.

A standard social media marketing tool like Agorapulse can help integrate influencer marketing campaigns with other efforts. Finally, be sure to check out some influencer marketplaces to see what’s available. There is an extensive list of these influencer marketing tools on my website.

In conclusion, the answer to “what is influencer marketing” is the practice of sponsoring content on social media, or engaging in a product or content collaboration, with an influencer. These influencers will introduce your product or service to their social media following based on their expertise and audience trust.

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Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in late 2019 will publish his 4th book, The Business of Influence (HarperCollins), on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.

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