influencer marketing - Mindi Rosser

As influencer marketing programs become more popular, businesses are wondering how they can create their own influencer programs without emptying their piggy bank to hire influencers experts to do it for them. Once you understand the basics of influencer marketing, you can craft your own program and launch a series of influencer marketing campaigns.

There’s a reason that 48% of surveyed marketers plan to increase their influencer marketing budgets this year. No matter your budget, you can design an influencer marketing program that generates more revenue for your business. Now, let’s explore the nuts and bolts of influencer marketing.

What is influencer marketing?

Influencer expert, Kyle Wong says, “Influencer marketing can be loosely defined as a form of marketing that identifies and targets individuals with influence over potential buyers.”

Influencer marketing is a customized marketing program using influential individuals to expand the reach of your company’s message to a new audience. Instead of directly targeting a group of buyers, an influencer program uses influencers to spread your message for your company. Imagine influencers are megaphones for your company’s messaging.

Influencer marketing programs are one of the best ways to reach your audience, increase thought leadership, raise brand awareness, and help you develop professional relationships. Your customers are listening to a group of someones, and those someones are influencers to include in your influencer marketing program.

There are prerequisites to influencer marketing programs. You must have a strong social media marketing and content marketing plan already in place. Since influencer marketing campaigns usually have a social media component, it’s not advantageous to have one without the other. There’s also a content component to influencer campaigns, because influencers are either creating content for you or vice versa.

What can influencer marketing do for your business?

According to a study by Nielsen Catalina Solutions in conjunction with Carusele partner TapInfluence and CPG company WhiteWave Foods, influencer marketing programs perform 16 times better than traditional digital marketing campaigns. Though your first influencer marketing program might not outperform your other marketing programs to that degree, it’s worth noting these benefits.

Raise brand awareness: influencers share your message with their audiences, and these people are likely outside your current sphere of influence.

Establish credibility: influencers help you establish your company as a credible expert in your industry, especially if you are a newer or unknown company. Influencers shortcut the process to consumer trust.

Improves SEO: influencers help you get more links to your site, and your SEO improves. That helps potential customers find your business when search online.

Leverages social and content marketing: influencers amplify what you’re already doing on social media or in content marketing, allowing you to get a higher return on investment from these efforts.

Who are these influencers?

Influencers are defined as influential sites and personalities existing in a specific niche or industry. These influencers could be colleagues, journalists, subject matter experts, speakers, or even competitors.

For example, Madalyn Sklar is considered a Twitter influencer because she has a great social following across her social channels and is a recognizable personal brand in the social media industry. You may not have heard of her, but social media experts pay attention to what she says. If your target audience is filled with social media marketers who are trying to learn how to use Twitter better, Madalyn is your go-to influencer.

How do you choose influencers?

Every industry differs when it comes to picking influencers who meet the right criteria. First consider who you are trying to influence and your objectives. Then, figure out who influences that target audience, both online and offline.

Social media influence is important, but it is only a starting point. Your influencers do not necessarily need to have tens of thousands of followers, but your influencers must actively engage with your target audience online. If a potential influencer only broadcasts their content, this person would not be a good influencer for your business. Influencers must engage and be open to partnerships with others. Look for those who take an authentic approach to engagement, as they are open to building new relationships with people or companies, like yours.

Look for influence and power—not popularity. The person with the most followers is not always the best at influencing your audience. You must look past the vanity metrics to decipher whether or not an influencer would be a good fit. It takes a good amount of time and a lot of trial-and-error to finalize your list.

What tools do you use to identify influencers?

BuzzSumo is a great place to start if you have no idea where to look for influencers in your industry. Type in a string of keywords, and you will get a list of potential influencers to choose from. I like this tool best because it provides a good selection of both top-tier and mid-tier influencers.

The downside to using BuzzSumo is that it ranks influencers based on their Twitter influence. If your influencers are not on Twitter, you should use a different method or tool.

Run a few Google searches for “top [type of influencer] in the [name of industry].” Be aware that these influencers may be top-tier and not the best initial targets for your first influencer campaign in your influencer marketing program. Look for influencers with a more moderate following and high online engagement levels.

How many influencers do you need?

It’s up to you. Select as few as 6-8 influencers up to 50-100 influencers for each campaign. My advice would be to identify more influencers than you think you need, especially if you are unsure how many will say “yes.”

What’s involved in nurturing influencers?

Be prepared to nurture relationships with influencers on an individual basis. Expect to use different approaches for each influencer because they each have a preferred social channel and way of communicating. Doing some good social listening will allow you to determine the best channel to engage them.

Here are a few good tips to get started:

  • join their newsletter lists
  • respond to their emails
  • share their content on social media channels
  • give them shout-outs and always tag them
  • mention them in your blog posts (with a link back to their sites)
  • engage where they engage
  • meet them in-person

A good tool for nurturing influencers is BuzzStream, as it allows you to set reminders to do all of the nurturing actions. You can also make notes about each engagement with the influencer, which helps you craft individualized approaches for each influencer.

Is there a perfect way to pitch an influencer?

Figure out what each influencer wants. Then, find a way to fill that need. Never approach an influencer with an ask until you’ve given them at least 5-6 times more than what you’re asking them to do. For example, don’t ask for a shout-out on Twitter if you have not already tweeted their content multiple times.

Set clear goals with your influencers. Once you have nurtured a relationship with an influencer, be up-front with the influencer about what you’d like them to help you achieve. Show them how the partnership also benefits them. Nobody likes a one-sided relationship.

Determine ways to partner with the influencers. Some ideas could be co-creating content, recording a podcast, interviewing them for an article, amplifying company announcements, joint contests/giveaways, getting product reviews, referrals, online or offline events.

Expect to get about 10% to say yes. Influencers get numerous requests on a daily or weekly basis from people asking them for something. Your email may not get through or may get lost in the shuffle. Try a few different approaches to communicate with the influencer, but don’t expect everyone to say “yes.”

Never expect influencers to be puppets. Influencers are trying to build their own brands. Support them. Don’t ask them to share a message with their audience that does not feel authentic to them.

Now how do I bootstrap the program? Or should I outsource?

If you have a limited budget or like to keep programs in-house, then I suggest running the program yourself using the tools and tactics mentioned above. Be sure to conduct enough research. Establish a solid strategy. Allow yourself enough time to actually manage the program. You might discover that it’s a lot more work than you expected. If you get to that point, it’s time to outsource.

Hiring a capable team to craft your influencer strategy and manage your campaign can be the best option if you want to launch your first campaign effectively and maximize your efforts. Because an expert team has already been through the process, they know exactly which pitfalls to avoid and how to streamline efforts for generating a great return on investment. Interview a few different influencer marketing companies to find the best fit.

It’s time to get started!

Now that you understand the basics of influencer marketing programs, you may be ready to pilot an influencer marketing program for your business. Before you sign up for BuzzSumo and BuzzStream, run an online search for potential influencers, be sure you understand why you want to run an influencer program and spend time developing your short-term and long-term influencer marketing strategies. Then set a timeline for your first influencer campaign and get started. There’s no better time than the present.