Is influencer marketing right for you?
There are all sorts of different ways that marketers can grow a business’ online presence through an effective digital strategy. These range from producing high-quality content all the way through to utilising SEO best practices, and each approach can have a substantial impact on how leads are generated and sales boosted.
One of the most interesting types of digital marketing campaign to emerge over the last decade or so is the use of ‘influencers.’ These are big names within a specific industry that are known to a target audience. By aligning themselves with such high-profile individuals on social media platforms, businesses are able to boost their visibility and amplify the reach of other content marketing strategies.
However, this isn’t an easy approach to master, and the challenges of influencer marketing are many and varied. Success relies on understanding how, why and when influencers can be effective, as well as whether or not they may be appropriate for a particular business.
By aligning themselves with high-profile individuals on social media, businesses are able to boost their visibility.
What is influencer marketing?
Piggybacking on the popularity of a celebrity or well-known figure in a particular industry isn’t a new phenomenon, and has been happening since the dawn of marketing. What’s changed with the internet, however, is the ability of brands to really maximise how they use an influencer. The single most important factor in this is social media, with platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook all blurring the lines between an influencer’s normal activity and their promotional efforts on behalf of a business.
This confusion between what’s ‘real’ and what’s ‘advertising’ is the most powerful component of influencer marketing, thanks to a very simple element of human psychology – that we don’t like to be sold to. Instead, it’s far more effective for members of an audience to see a trusted figure on social media recommending a product, and make a decision based on that to enter the sales funnel, in turn boosting click-through rates.
For some, this makes influencer marketing a misleading or even underhanded tactic – particularly if it’s not clearly expressed that a certain piece of content has been paid for. While there’s certainly some validity to this line of thought, particularly where mega-influencers with millions of social media followers are concerned, the simple fact of the matter is that influencers are incredibly effective, and therefore a key part of many content marketing campaigns.
As an example, let’s look at the masters of influencer marketing – the Kardashian/Jenners. The various members of the family have over 400 million combined followers on Instagram alone – 15 times more than the population of Australia.
As you’d expect, that platform makes the Kardashian/Jenners highly sought after as influencers, and you’ll duly see members of the family posting pictures of themselves with all sorts of different brands. These are typically accompanied by little more than a small tag stating ‘paid partnership’ to suggest they may not legitimately love the product. Just one of these posts can costs businesses upwards of US$250,000, a vast amount that underlines just how valuable alignment with a top-tier influencer can be.
Why so much? Well, because it works!
Why use influencer marketing
While the most obvious benefits of influencer marketing is an increased reach, the strategy is actually far more effective than many people realise, with two of the other big upsides being brand-building and increasing credibility.
More than just reaching your target audience with a particular piece of content, influencer marketing helps to establish your brand within the general conversation surrounding a specific topic. In the case of the Kardashian/Jenners, that’s usually fashion or beauty, and any business that enters into a paid partnership with the family immediately benefits from an implied association with expensive, popular products.
This sudden boost in credibility can be worth millions, something the Kardashians have recognised themselves in recent years, subsequently launching and promoting their own product lines on social media – an approach that’s set to make Kylie Jenner the youngest ‘self-made’ billionaire in history sometime over the next year or so. (She’s currently 21 and sitting on roughly US$900 million). Whatever you think of leveraging fame for profit, there’s no denying it’s effective, or that social media mavens like Jenner have redefined the way brands reach audiences.
So far so good, but by now you’re probably thinking something along the lines of: “Well, we don’t have the budget to get Kim Kardashian to promote our new accountancy software product, and her audience probably wouldn’t be very interested in it.”
You’d be right. Luckily, there are plenty of other influencers out there. You just need to know where to look.
It’s important to remember that ‘influencer’ is a very broad category, and can be defined simply as ‘someone that your target audience follows and trusts.’
Who are influencers?
One of the most common misconceptions about influencer marketing is the idea of who an ‘influencer’ is. While it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a Kardashian endorsing your product, that simply isn’t realistic for most brands. It’s also not necessarily the best voice to align yourself with. After all, what do they have to do with your product if you’re operating in the banking, construction or technology sectors?
This is where it’s important to remember that ‘influencer’ is a very broad category, and can be explained simply as ‘someone that your target audience follows and trusts.’ In fact, using celebrities without considering how appropriate they are for a particular message can backfire, something we’ve seen with the Kardashian/Jenners and Pepsi.
A great definition comes from Forbes, which states that:
“One of the biggest misconceptions about influencers is that they are someone with a large social media following. This thinking confuses influence with popularity. The act of influencing requires a specific result: a change in thinking or behaviour. An influencer, therefore, is someone who has the power to influence the perception of others or gets them to do something different.”
For smaller businesses, the benefits of aligning themselves with an influencer can be just as effective as mega-brands in the world of fashion, with the added bonus of often being cheap, or even free.
One example of this could be simply organising an interview with an expert name in your industry, and asking them to post a link to the piece on their social media platforms. Both parties benefit from the additional exposure, and any of the influencer’s followers who see the content will immediately equate your brand with the same feelings of trust and credibility they have for the expert.
Similarly, sending out free products (say, high-quality knives to a local chef) in return for a mention on social media is a low-cost way of leveraging someone’s reputation within a niche sector, even if they only have a few thousand followers instead of 100 million.
The appropriateness of influencer marketing is going to depend on how much of your target audience actively uses social media.
Is influencer marketing right for you?
Ultimately, the appropriateness of influencer marketing is going to depend on a variety of factors, including how much or your target audience actively uses social media.
For very niche industries, such as commercial real estate in rural Australia, or personal alarms for the elderly, there simply may not be any influencers for a brand to align with. That’s absolutely fine, and if there’s nobody for you to partner with on social media, your competitors will be in the same situation.
On the other side of the coin, if there are opportunities to utilise the reach and credibility of an influencer, it’s an approach that can pay huge dividends when it comes to amplifying the reach of your content as part of a comprehensive digital marketing strategy.