Influencer marketing is one of the latest buzz-phrases to make it into the vocabulary of brands and businesses that want to boost their reach, increase customer awareness, or promote a product or service.
Getting a top-flight influencer on side and having them talk about a product or brand in a positive light can result in a massive uptick in awareness of and interest in it, which can translate directly into increased sales and profits.
However, influencer marketing is not without its risks – and it can be very expensive, even for big brands with large marketing budgets. If you are wondering if you should be harnessing the power of influencer marketing, this article will explain the basics.
What is influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing, also known as influence marketing, places the onus on targeting an influential individual and encouraging them to highlight or talk about a product or brand, rather than advertising it directly to potential buyers.
Influencer marketing involves identifying an individual that already has a large audience of followers from within your target demographic and who holds authority in their field, and using their reach to raise awareness of your offerings.
This may take the form of a review post or article, testimonial advertising, or a shout out on social media with the influencer’s recommendation and views, among other things.
Is influencer marketing the same thing as celebrity endorsement?
Celebrity endorsement and influencer marketing are similar, but not the same.
Celebrity endorsement relies upon some of the celeb’s own fame and appeal rubbing off on goods and services they are seen using. Influencer marketing generates a form of semi-organic word of mouth advertising led by trusted authorities in a given niche.
Virtually all celebrities are influencers, but not all influencers are celebrities. An influencer is any person who has a significant following of fans and supporters and that holds some authority as an expert, credible source of advice, or a person who is admired and looked up to.
What constitutes an influencer?
An influencer can be a celebrity, but they can also be a blogger, vlogger, thought leader in a certain sport or industry, or any social media poster with a large following.
Virtually any niche or industry you can think of has influencers – from sportspersons and video gamers to beauty bloggers and social media stars, right through to hobby enthusiasts, business leaders, and journalists.
Different types of influencer platforms
Online influencers reach out to and engage with their followers and supporters in a wide variety of ways, using platforms such as YouTube, blogs, and social media portals such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
The rise of social media over the course of the last decade has in effect made the position of influencer one that anyone who has something to say and that can get people’s attention can potentially reach, and many of today’s best-known influencers have achieved this organically, which provides added value to their followers.
The value of influencer marketing
The value of influencer marketing comes from the influencer’s authority or plausibility when talking positively about a brand or product, and their effective reach to a large audience of followers.
For instance, if you are in the cosmetics business, working with a beauty influencer who has built up a credible reputation for sharing tips on hot up-and-coming products will get your product seen by a waiting audience of potential buyers, with the endorsement they need to want to purchase it.
If a beauty blogger with a social media following in the tens of thousands posts a Tweet saying that your mascara is one of the best they’ve ever tried, your product may soon be in great demand, and will begin to generate a social buzz that offers value long after the influencer’s initial post has been forgotten.
The potential value of influencer marketing is borne out by the results of studies into this type of marketing model itself. 95% of surveyed brands that used influencer marketing in 2017 found it to be effective, and RhythmOne’s Influencer Marketing Benchmarks Report 2015 identified an average of three times the ROI of traditional marketing alternatives, at a reduction of 62% of the cost.
Will influencer marketing work for everyone?
There are few products or services without a number of influencers within its niche if you know how to identify them. Effective influencer marketing depends on selecting the right influencer for the brand or product in question, and ensuring that their comments about it are positive – so that it highlights your USPs, and makes it easy for the audience to find out more or make a purchase.
If you can get all of these things right – starting with the selection of the right influencer for your niche – then influencer marketing can be very profitable.
Are there any risks involved in influencer marketing?
It would be hard to overstate the importance of choosing the right influencer to work with – because from the moment that they mention your product or service, your goods and brand itself become inextricably tied to the influencer themselves, their actions, and reputation.
You can’t un-ring the bell if things go wrong, so if your influencer of choice becomes embroiled in a scandal, or says or does something deleterious to your brand or offerings (whether deliberately or inadvertently) this may damage public perception of your brand as well.
Additionally, even if the influencer themselves is highly respected and widely followed, their endorsement or support of your product has to be plausible too.
For instance, Kim Kardashian-West is one of the best-known celebrity influencers of them all. Over the course of the last few years, Kardashian-West has worked with brands offering products ranging from self-tanning creams to at-home teeth whitening kits. However, the likelihood that such a high-profile celebrity actually uses these low-cost DIY products herself rather than relying on an army of professional beauticians, doctors, and stylists is low. This is something that many of her followers will be acutely aware of.
The fact that Kardashian-West is well-known for posting paid influencer content and that the high amounts she commands for doing so is also widely commented on also goes some way towards weakening her message for individual endorsements, affecting their plausibility in its turn.
Finally, one other factor to bear in mind is that getting a positive comment or promotion from any influencer is not a given; an influencer will not automatically highlight your product or brand in a positive light unless this is part of your agreed terms of engagement.
Many influencers who have worked hard to build their personal brand and retain their audience by means of a reputation for honesty and integrity will only be willing to provide their impartial, genuine views of the product or brand in question. This means that there is a risk in assuming that your influencer will say only good things, or highlight the USPs that you want them to – unless you hire them specifically to do this, and pay accordingly.
Paid influencer advertising of this type must be clearly marked as ad content, in order comply with the Advertising Standards Authority regulations – which once again, can weaken its impact and effectiveness.
Should you be integrating influencer marketing into your business strategy?
There is certainly merit in considering working with an influencer if you want to boost brand awareness and perception, promote a product or service, or drive sales.
However, if you don’t pick the right influencer for your niche, or can’t get them on side, you won’t see the benefits. Additionally, it is impossible to predict what any influencer may say or do in the future – reputations are made and broken very quickly in today’s social media-savvy age. A careless comment on the part of your chosen influencer can herald not only the end of their own career, but that of the good reputation of your own brand too.
Working with an influencer who is controversial, edgy, or that strongly polarises opinions might be one of the best ways to reach a huge number of followers – but contrary to the old saying, not all publicity is good publicity, so proceed with caution.
How much does it cost to get an influencer on side?
The cost of working with an influencer can vary wildly, from the cost of the product itself (or in some cases, not even that) to six-figure sums that will put a significant dent in even the largest of marketing budgets.
Ascertaining the appropriate price point for working with an influencer is one of the keys to determining whether or not this approach is viable for you, and how much value a successful campaign will provide in return.
Sometimes, influence marketing is organic, for example if an influencer has bought or chosen one of your products for personal use, and likes it so much that they want to tell their fans. However, striking it lucky in this way is unusual, so you will generally need to be rather more proactive about reaching out to the relevant influencers.
Influencers who are not celebrities – like well-respected bloggers, some niche sportspersons, and individuals who have a large organic following on social media, might review or comment on your product in return for the product itself. You can further incentivise this by offering the influencer an exclusive special deal or promotion to share with their followers, to raise their own profile and boost their traffic.
This has an advantage for the influencer too, and so is a win-win for both parties, assuming that the influencer’s review or commentary is positive – which let’s be clear, is not a given.
On the other hand, if you represent a large multinational corporation, a big brand, or have a large marketing budget available to you, reaching out to influencers who charge for the service usually offers an added layer of security in terms of getting what you pay for – but it can be costly.
Financial incentives for paid influencers can range from a few hundred pounds up to tens of thousands of pounds or even more – so before you dedicate part of your ad spend to influencer marketing, do the maths and ensure that the potential yield your endeavour will return will be worth your initial outlay.
How do you reach out to an influencer?
If you have decided that influencer marketing is right for you, the first step is to identify some potential influencers that you would like to work with. Depending on who they are and how they work, some of the ways in which you can make contact with them to get the lie of the land and open a negotiation include:
- Working with a PR agency or marketing agency to identify, target, and approach influencers within your niche.
- Making contact directly with the influencer’s manager or agent, if relevant.
- Sending a direct message via the social media channels that the influencer uses.
- Searching for “PR friendly” bloggers, and contacting them directly.
- Emailing the influencer personally.
If you’re reaching out to an influencer personally or contacting someone for the first time, it is important to ensure that your first contact is short, direct and to the point, whilst also outlining the benefits for the influencer as well as yourself.
Many influencers will apply strict criteria to the types of products or brands that they will consider, and how much freedom of expression they will have when doing so – so ensure that you are both clear on what is expected if you decide to go ahead.
If you will be paying for influencer content, it is also important to ensure that you have a formal contract drawn up to clarify expectations on both sides, and that the content itself is appropriately labelled as an advert in compliance with the law.