Influencer questions and answers

A May 2015 survey of marketing and communication professionals worldwide found that 84 percent expected to launch at least one campaign involving an influencer in the next 12 months. Looking at a Google trends graph for “influencer marketing” from January 2015 through May 2017, you’ll see a steady climb upwards. So great has that jump been since the survey was fielded that I would hedge my bets that influencer marketing is on the minds and tongues of nearly every marketer today.

However, with increased interest follows the inevitable questions of how to get started, what to look for, how to measure, show value, and more. This post will answer some of the questions I encounter most.

How do you typically find influencers? Is there a specific phrase you search for, or are there tools that help identify good candidates?

I’ve tried a few platforms that are focused on helping people find influencers, but I have yet to find a tool that replaces a good old Google search and a direct email. I typically work from the audience a client is trying to reach and sleuth out the biggest and best influencers in the space. Once I have that info, I start searching on the platform of focus (Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) to find other influencers similar to the big guns to vet.

Who are some great examples of influencers? How have they been so successful in bolstering both their name, and a business’s brand?

There’s quite a list and many are successful through business strategy: Think of them as entrepreneurs of the digital age. Here are some great examples from a few industries.

  • Science influencer: Who doesn’t want to become Smarter Every Day? Destin Sandlin, the man behind this YouTube channel, is a husband, father, and full-time engineer making some of the coolest science videos I’ve seen. He’s been doing this since his days at the University of Alabama and has interviewed President Obama and worked with the likes of BP. Working with Destin gains a brand access and exposure to his more than 4.9 million subscribers.

  • Travel/Photography influencer: No stranger to a “best of travel Instagram” list (you’ll find her on Frommer’s, The Everygirl, and more), Kirsten Alana reinvented herself and her day-to-day by pursuing a lifelong passion. Through hard work and tapping her amazing photography skills, she’s worked alongside CNN, Travel+Leisure, and was even the first photographer to travel around the world aboard Four Seasons’ private jet. The visual content she creates and audience of likeminded travelers is worth its weight in gold for brands who team up with her.

6/6 from my #sponsored creative series in @theouterbanksnc with @borderfreetravels who took this photo with my camera while we were out on the water with Sail Outer Banks AND five years to the day that I was on another sailboat in Costa Brava • This was a sort of "saved the best for last" kind of deal since this is how we spent our last evening in the #OBX. There is a short list of things that bring out a smile this big on my face and sailing is one of them! When we were making our list of activities we wanted to try out during our visit to The Outer Banks, sailing was at the top for me. Then, when @jcrew gifted me the 'Hello, Sailor!' top that I'm wearing in this photo, which is still for sale FYI, I saw it all come together. Thankfully, Kristen felt the same way and we both loved our experience with Katherine and Dan who own the 41 ft teak-trimmed boat we sailed on and who were a joy to learn from as we navigated the waters of first Roanoke Sound and then up into Albemarle Sound. Kristen and I both were able to take a turn at the helm and I had flashbacks to learning how to sail at summer camp when I was a kid on little sailboats with not much more than a heavy keel and a mast!! As with almost everything, the company truly made the experience and I found myself grateful to have been able to work all week with such a wonderful person @borderfreetravels, constantly meeting people as friendly and open as Katherine and Dan were. The people are what make The Outer Banks special so if you are visiting, please check out www dot Sail Outer Banks dot com to book a few hours on this Gulfstar with this wonderful couple who have decades of experience on the water. They've inspired a desire in me to take sailing lessons back home this summer! #OBXNow #jcrewalways #jcrewstyle #sailing⛵️ #visitnc #getolympus

A post shared by Kirsten Alana • Photographer (@kirstenalana) on

  • Fashion influencer: Kristina Bazan is an absolute powerhouse out of Switzerland. She launched her blog in 2011 and was working with Louis Vuitton by December of 2012. She is a must-have for luxury fashion houses and even attends exclusive events like the Cannes Film Festival. Liken working with her to working alongside some of the day’s hottest models.

  • Tech influencer: Marques Brownlee, or MKBHD, is a YouTuber known for his reviews of the latest and greatest gadgets. He started producing his own product reviews while he was still in high school and is now arguably as influential in the consumer tech space as any top-tier reporter. When companies launch new gear, you can bet MKBHD gets an invite.

How do you typically approach an influencer? Is it different than pitching a media contact?

Having started in media relations, I see a lot of similarities in the communication style. I do however, take a more friendly, conversational tone, and let them know what I really think about what they’re doing (hey, most of the first influencers I started contacting on behalf of clients were ones I personally followed and loved). Keeping initial communications short, sweet, and to the point is important too.

So many influencers are paid. How do you try to get around that roadblock when you don’t have a big budget to work with and convince them to write about your product/service?

Tie into their audience. Get creative. Give them a reason why they should give your brand at least a once over. That said, be realistic. If you’ve got a beer budget (or no budget), the champagne dream of having an influencer with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers feature you probably isn’t reality. Always remember that influencers are brands and businesses too. They work hard to build their followings, capture images, write, travel, and more. Look into what else you have to offer them if paying for a sponsored piece isn’t on the table. Product, featuring them on the brand’s blog, social, marketing collateral, etc. might help get you over the hump.

Which platforms (blog, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) do you see the most success on, typically?

Success on a platform should be looked at through the lens of the end goal. What is the brand trying to achieve? Some platforms are better suited to position and convey thought-leader ideas while others give a better sense for what a product can help someone achieve. For our client Ventev Mobile, Instagram has been popular and a great tool for showing various lifestyle use cases for the product.

How do you demonstrate ROI to clients?

Similar to rolling out a new PR campaign, setting goals and KPIs at the on-set is crucial for showing ROI. What’s challenging is that there are so many different expressions of value for influencer marketing activity that no single metric can capture total impact. Measuring the brand effect though can be broken down in a variety of measures – awareness, engagement, value of visual content created, rate of promo code redemption, etc. Roll all these together as a demonstration of effectiveness, reach, and return on any dollar spent.

What are some campaigns you’ve seen that stand out as good examples of what worked well?

One that really stands out is from Swedish watch company Daniel Wellington. Just give #danielwellington a search on Instagram – you’ll find over 1.3 million posts! I was first introduced to the brand through a watch aficionado friend in the summer of 2014, when Daniel Wellington offered two watch styles. The way it leverages social channels and affinity for its products – and taps some top-notch influencers – gets people to share and undoubtedly helped grow its brand.

What doesn’t work well when it comes to influencer marketing?

Campaigns that come across as inauthentic or forced. One of the most important aspects is finding the right influencer who shares values, aesthetic, voice, and most importantly, an audience, that would jive with the brand.

When it comes to brand awareness and working with an influencer, is it better for one company to work exclusively with one influencer, or do you want to spread that love over a larger influencer community?

I’m a proponent for working with a variety of influencers, across audiences. Think of it this way: Would you only work with one media outlet to tell your brand’s story? The answer is likely “no.” Each influencer, like each publication, brings a different audience, viewpoint, and style of communication that help to expand the narrative and build momentum.

On Instagram, you’ll see celebs put #ad at the end of a post. What’s the difference between this and an influencer that maybe isn’t putting that hashtag? Is it deceptive not to include #ad? Are there currently regulations set up that businesses should know about when it comes to partnering with an influencer and getting their brand out there?

I’ve seen it both ways. In many respects, it comes down to how aware the partner brand is regarding the regulations that the Federal Trade Commission has laid out. A recent study found that six out of ten U.S. influencers were aware of or understand the FTC guidelines, but only 11 percent of marketers reported the same. Some influencers use #collab, #sponsored, #sp, or #ad in a post, or disclose on their blog that they are provided product/compensation in return for their reviews, receive affiliate commission, etc. Brands should always ask and ensure that influencers they engage with are clear in disclosing partner relationships.

What other questions do you have about influencer marketing? Let me know!