Having trouble getting your message noticed online? Unfortunately, cutting through the internet’s increasingly noisy atmosphere is a common problem facing brands these days, as consumers have learned to both ignore online advertisements and distrust the ones that do break through to their consciousness. So what’s the solution? If banner ads or traditional media buys aren’t getting you the results you want, it’s time to start leveraging influencers to help grow your business. Simply put, influencers are those that, well, influence others to action. They might be traditional print authors, bloggers, industry leaders, consultants, media figures or others in occupations that put their opinions in front of an audience. Think about your own field of expertise. Are there any company leaders whose careers you follow? Any bloggers whose recommendations you’re quick to act on? These are the influencers whose eyes you want to catch. That said, there’s a big difference between identifying the influencers in your field and actually getting them to promote your brand or product to their followers. Here’s everything you need to know about finding these authority figures and leveraging them to get your message heard…
Why Will Brand Influencers Be Needed in 2015?
Consider the challenge facing digital brands, highlighted by the following two statistics:
- According to a report from The Guardian, 69% of customers will use the Internet as their main source of information within the next five years.
- A recent study from Nike found that fewer than 25% of consumers trust most online advertisements.
As a result, it’s clear that the success of a brand’s digital marketing campaign hinges on its ability to build trust online. Further reinforcing this point, a recent study from McKinsey found that online word of mouth advertising drives twice as many sales as paid advertising and leads to a 37% higher retention rate. The best way to drive sales is clearly to identify influencers in your industry and leverage their voices to communicate your brand’s message.
What Makes a Good Influencer?
There are many different types of influencers that can help drive your brand. The success of your marketing campaign relies on your ability to identify the most trustworthy influencers, encourage them to promote your brand and maintain relationships with these authority figures so their message remains positive. Of course, leveraging leading influencers is easier said than done. Here are a few tips you’ll want to keep in mind:
Enlist Satisfied Customers
According to a recent infographic published on the Social Times, the biggest social media mistake that brands make when choosing influencers is emphasizing follower quantity over quality – a mistake that often carries over to their influence marketing tactics as well. These brands try to use celebrities and bloggers with large social networks to reach an even larger audience. However, while these influencers may have a lot of awareness, they aren’t always trusted as fellow consumers. A study from Nielsen found that 92% of consumers trust their peers, compared to only 18% that trust celebrities, bloggers or other influencers that they perceive as having an agenda. This doesn’t mean that other influencers aren’t also important, but satisfied customers should be the first place you turn. Solicit feedback from satisfied customers to promote your brand on Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, your own website and other online channels. A friendly phone call, email or shoutout on your social networks is often enough to encourage passionate customers to share their experience.
Look at Engagement
Many marketers choose influencers to target based on the size of their follower base. And while this can work in some circumstances, you’ll find that many influencers with large networks aren’t very engaged with their readers. Take Katy Perry – Twitter’s most-followed celebrity – for example. While her followers may read her tweets with passing interest, they are unlikely to look at any recommendations she makes with the same clout as they would give to a referrer who knows their personal circumstances. A friend, family member, or industry-specific authority figure is much likely to have a stronger influencing affect. As you seek out these referrers, look for influencers that are highly connected with their audience. The number of shares they receive, comments from their followers and references on other social media platforms are all indicative of the level of engagement they maintain with their followers.
Of course, while the size of an influencer’s network isn’t as important as the specificity of their audience, it’s still an important variable to pay attention to. Penny Baldwin of McAfee once stated that 80% of online impressions are driven by only 6% of Internet users. Influencers with higher follower counts tend to drive more exposure, as evidenced by data from Aaron Lee showing that all of the top 50 retweeted posts on Twitter come from users with over 250,000 followers. Ekaterina Walter on ClickZ states that choosing influencers with wide reach and a relevant voice for your brand is the best approach. However, you don’t need influencers with a large audience size. A recent infographic from Joe Burton of Social Chorus and Stephanie Agresta of MSLGROUP shows that influencers with 2,500 to 25,000 followers can offer the highest ROI. Working with 100 of these influencers can drive 1,000 actions over the course of three months.
Internet users tend to be wary of anyone that seems to have an agenda, so choose to work with influencers that seem genuine. Understandably, it’s best to avoid using influencers that are constantly sending promotional tweets, as followers will see that their loyalty lies with their advertisers, rather than their audience. This doesn’t mean that you can’t pay influencers to promote your message. Marketers often pay celebrity influencers substantial amounts of money to communicate their message. Khloe Kardashian, as an example, reportedly receives $13,000 for every promotional tweet. Even affiliate marketing guru Zac Johnson receives $69 to promote tweets to his 12,284 Twitter followers. These messages may still be trusted on some level, if audience members trust that these influencers only promote products or services that they believe in. You’ll need to be careful, though, to choose influencers that make building trust with their audience a priority. You can use services like Sponsored Tweets or Buy Sell Ads to find influencers that are willing to share your message for a fee, but be sure to carefully vet those that are clearly just looking to make a buck.
Your Influencer Action Plan
So now that you know what you should be looking for when it comes to partnering with influencers to promote your branded messages online, how do you go about getting these authority figures to work with you? You can use the ad programs mentioned above, but keep in mind that paying for mentions can add up quickly. Unless you’ve got an unlimited budget to work with, promotional fees ranging as high as $13,000 for a single tweet can drain your bank account, while leaving you without a sustainable stream of referrals. Remember, a single tweet might earn you a few conversions, but an authority figure who believes in your product and advocates your solution at every turn will send you customers for the life of your relationship. If you want to build organic influencer relationships, you’ve got to be ready to put in some effort. Take the following steps to find the support you need:
Step #1 – Make an introduction
Suppose, using the tips above, you’ve identified two influencers you’d like to have promote your product. We’ll call them Big Audience Bob and Small but Trusted Steve. Bob is a big name industry authority figure with hundreds of thousands of social followers, published books and a blog that’s viewed as the be-all, end-all source of information for your field. Steve’s audience, on the other hand, may be smaller, but his few thousand followers hang on his every word and follow through on every recommendation he makes. If you want to get either of these two gentlemen to promote your brand, you need to first get on their radars. You can do this in a number of different ways. Choose the approach that makes the most sense from the list below:
- Shoot over a quick email complimenting the influencer on a recent social network or blog post, or sharing a story about how the influencer’s content or product has helped you in some way. (protip: use Voila Norbert to find an influencer’s email address)
- Share the influencer’s social content or blog posts on your own profiles.
- Post a favorable review of the influencer’s product on your blog.
- Share a quote or piece of advice given by the influencer on you blog.
- Leave a meaty, worthwhile comment on the influencer’s most recent blog post.
- Meet up at an industry conference or networking event.
The specific approach you’ll want to use will depend on the influencers you’re targeting. Bob, for example, may not monitor all the comments left on his popular blog, but is available for meet-ups at industry conventions. Steve’s smaller audience, on the other hand, might make a thoughtful, informative blog post comment the best way to get yourself noticed. Also, note the common thread between all of the techniques described above. You may not choose to use these specific actions, but whatever approach you do take should reflect the helpful, supportive nature of these recommended behaviors. Remember, everybody likes to hear good things about their work. If you’re trying to get noticed, you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar!
Step #2 – Be genuinely helpful
Although this post discusses methods for leveraging industry influencers, keep in mind that your end goal should be a mutually-beneficial relationship – not a scenario in which you take advantage of an influencer’s good will to boost your own profits. As a result, it’s important that you parlay your initial contact into interactions that are genuinely helpful. Maybe you make it a habit to retweet your authority figures’ Twitter posts or to share their Facebook updates with your audience. Or maybe you offer to contribute a guest post that earns the influencer hundreds of website visit and dozens of new subscribers. This might sound like a lot of work for very little guaranteed reward, but remember that when it comes down to it, it is the influencer that’s doing you a favor. Big Audience Bob, for example, doesn’t necessarily need the social boost that comes from your retweets. Even Steve’s business probably doesn’t stand to grow all that much from one link shared on your blog. So no matter how you choose to approach your relationship with the influencers you’re targeting, be helpful above everything else. With time, the help you provide – as long as it’s legitimately helpful and not just surface-level gestures – will take your relationship with your chosen authority figures to the next level.
Step #3 – Prove your worth
If you’re diligent with your follow-up, you should find that your relationship with your targeted influencer deepens beyond simple, sometimes one-sided interactions. Perhaps, for example, you go from exchanging social network updates, to sharing emails, to meeting up in person for coffee and advice. At some point, you need to be ready to prove your worth and the value of your product. There’s no telling example when this opportunity will happen, which is why it’s important to be prepared. As soon as your relationship with a potential influencer moves beyond simple helpful gestures, be ready to explain how your product can benefit the authority figure’s specific needs, as well as the needs of their audience. Imagine that you’re pursuing relationships with both Bob and Steve. Odds are, your product will serve each of their businesses in different ways, given the different needs their own companies create. Say, for example, that you’re promoting your new timekeeping program. Bob might be interested in its employee-tracking features, while Steve may be more intrigued by its potential for measuring personal productivity. Your ability to secure either Bob’s or Steve’s referral will depend on your ability to clearly articulate these different benefits, based upon their particular needs and experiences. Keep in mind, though, that there’s no way to guarantee an influencer recommendation (that is, unless you’re willing to pay for it). While you may get lucky and get a referral right away, you may also work your ass off to try to grow relationships that never go anywhere. Influencers are busy people, and they aren’t required to like your product or brand just because you’ve followed these steps. So do your research, look for opportunities to be helpful and be ready to present the benefits of your product in relation to the unique needs of the influencer you’re targeting. With continued diligence, you’ll find your relationships growing and your brand benefiting as a result. There’s no doubt that online branding is becoming increasingly difficult, as consumers become less and less trusting of information they find online. As a result, brands need to work diligently build trust with their target consumers. Fortunately, earning that trust – and enjoying the business-building benefits that come along with it – can be relatively easy if you take the time to identify and work with the right influencers to convince them to highlight your brand in a positive way to their audiences. Have you worked with influencers to build your brand? Share any other tips or tricks you used in the comments below!