Influencer_Marketing-1.jpgMel Carson is a speaker, author and founder of Delightful Communications, a Seattle-based digital marketing and branding firm. Previously, he worked as Digital Marketing Evangelist at Microsoft Advertising. He began his digital advertising career as an editor at the search engine LookSmart.

UnboundID: Influencer marketing has been getting a lot of attention lately. What should marketers consider?

Carson: Influencer marketing is a channel within a company’s overall marketing and PR program and marketers are seeing it pay dividends. Research has shown that one of the best ways to reach your audience is through advocacy. Where an average 50% of people trust what the brand says across all forms of ads, 83% will trust what their peers and friends say, according to 2015 data from Nielsen. Our clients want to find knowledgeable people in their industry who write blogs or articles but who also have a presence in terms of their social following. They must have a successful track record in their sector. The basic idea is to build a relationship with influencers, so that they will talk about your product or service within their circles. Some companies will even bring these influencers in house to meet with their marketers and designers, and learn more about the products.

UnboundID: What’s in it for the influencer?

Carson: They have a lot of knowledge in their space, and need that knowledge to be thought leaders, so the advantage is they can get more followers and readers. By participating in influencer marketing programs, people can build their personal brands. The sweet spot is people who are seen as experts in their space. We don’t pay influencers at our agency. There are some FTC guidelines around not doing that which marketers need to consider.

UnboundID: Who are these influencers typically?

Carson: They could be journalists, analysts, consultants, business leaders and even celebrities. We don’t work with celebrities at our agency, but in those types of relationships it’s usually more obvious to the audience that these people are getting paid for endorsing the brand on social media or other digital channels. In my view, influencer marketing is more about building long-term relationships with people who are influential in their niche industry. Employees can also be wonderful advocates for your brand.

UnboundID: What are the tools needed and how can you best begin a relationship?

Carson: There are a number of tools available to help marketers discover influencers and manage relationships with them, such as Traackr and Buzzsumo. However, it’s important to understand that technology can only take you so far. The tools can deliver a large number of possible influencers, but you still need to check these people out yourself. Talk with colleagues and others who can verify their status. Some people are just gaming the system on social media to generate a large number of followers.

Our agency is very careful about authenticity. We recommend that companies begin slowly with a small cross-section of influencers. Brands make a big mistake when they use tools to reach out to a whole bunch of potential influencers, and then they end up damaging the brand or not getting the results they want. As far as engaging influencers for the first time, it’s much the same as pitching a reporter. You need to have done your research and ensure that you have identified the right person to contact, and that the pitch is of value to them, not just to your business. Keep it simple. Try to initiate a conversation. Also, don’t think about influencer marketing as something to try right before launching a product. You need to develop relationships earlier and think about the long-term view.

UnboundID: What considerations should companies make regarding identity management and privacy protection of influencer data?

Carson: Typically, influencers are aware that they are on a program. For our clients, we report on various metrics, such as how easy it is to work with the influencer and whether and how they share information about the company in response to our outreach. We protect and keep that data private, just as with any other marketing data. Treat influencer data the same as you would customer data, because a lot of these people end up being customers eventually. You never want to share influencers’ data publicly or with other companies. Influencers understand this and with that trust, they in turn have a back channel into your business. They often sign NDAs and may receive early knowledge about product plans and other confidential information. Influencers are special relationships for marketers, and they can play a crucial part in the success of any company’s digital marketing and PR. Delightful’s mantra is to help our clients be more discoverable, shareable and memorable, and influencers can go a long way to strategically and authentically help businesses reach that goal.